Chapter 4:

Chapter 4. Reunions

Zero to Hero

Long, flowing white hair, large fluffy wolf ears, a bushy tail, and piercing yellow eyes—undeniably the distinct features of a wolf beastman girl.

Obviously, the girl recognized me, yet her expression didn't hint at pleasure in my sudden appearance. Yami, my wolf companion, bristled, growling fiercely at the beastman girl. Simultaneously, Candace's temper flared, her hair starting to ignite.

"Tina! Last I saw you, you were just a kid. How time flies!" I greeted her in an overly friendly tone, despite the blade pressed against my neck, aiming to calm the tension.

"Shut up! Leave now if you don’t want to get hurt," Tina retorted angrily, her hostility unwavering despite my amiable approach.

"Tina, I understand your anger concerning Lovetta. It was entirely my fault, but I was in a terrible state, physically and mentally. I can never go back, but I'm trying to move forward. I need to apologize to Lovetta for everything," I earnestly expressed, hoping to quell her hostility.

"Follow me. The chieftain will deal with you," Tina replied after much thought, her tone softening slightly as she sheathed her weapon, leading the way toward the village.

A sigh of relief escaped me; things hadn't escalated into a physical altercation. "Nice wolf you've got there," Tina commented as we navigated the maze of bridges.

"Can you believe it’s only been a day since we met? We've bonded fast," I replied cheerfully, glad to witness a slight improvement in her mood.

As Tina warmed up ever so slightly, casual conversation ensued while we walked, though Candace observed with a tinge of jealousy.

The village remained much the same after seven years, welcoming me once again. Simple houses carved into colossal trees dotted the area, while curious children peeked from behind various objects.

Arriving at the familiar house that belonged to the chieftain, my heart started pounding and my mind started racing as doubts started creeping up once again.

"Hello, Chieftain, Mrs. Wulric. I'm glad to see you both in good health," I greeted politely, relieved at Lovetta's absence until thoughts started to swirl.

What if she got married and moved into her own house? Is that why she isn’t here? The sudden thought pained me greatly as my relief of her absence turned into dread.

"I apologize for how I treated Lovetta. For leaving her without any contact. I hope I could see her and seek forgiveness," I confessed, the unease palpable.

"You abandoned my sis and disappeared. And now you show up with another girl, wanting to apologize? Leave your woman at home if you're sincere," Tina interjected angrily before her parents could speak.

"Tina, don't be too harsh. Ken's been through unimaginable hardships," Anita, her mother, quickly intervened, defending me.

Before I could express my gratitude, the chieftain approached me, towering over me, a mentor and father figure.

Boris Wulric, the imposing chieftain of the werewolf beastman tribe, stood before me, his presence commanding respect and fear.

"Sorry, my boy. Lovetta isn't here," the chieftain consoled, patting my shoulder.

"Tina, fetch Keev and Ruth. Go greet the villagers, Ken. We'll talk after dinner," the chieftain instructed, ushering me to visit the village while they prepared the meal.

"Is everyone here a wolf beastman?" Candace queried as we greeted the familiar faces and the new generation of children born since my last visit.

"In remote villages like this and your own, diversity isn't common. They're wary of outsiders," I explained as we traversed the village.

"True! I never met anyone who wasn't a fire fairy growing up. Visiting Darrumburgh shocked me—so many humans and other races! Meeting that country bumpkin who didn’t know what a fairy was surely was the highlight," Candace recounted, her mood lightening from the warm reception, contrasting the earlier tense encounter when I faced a blade.

After socializing and reconnecting with the villagers, we returned to the chieftain’s house, greeted by tantalizing aromas escaping through open windows.

"Help set the table," Tina casually tossed a tablecloth at me, a stark contrast to the admiring little girl from years past.

The family gathered for a feast, yet key members were noticeably absent. "Sorry, Ken, Candace. We pretty much only meat during the winter months," Anita apologized, though the spread was impressive.

"Mrs. Wulric, this is amazing!" I praised genuinely, taken aback by the delightful meal she conjured in such a short time. Candace echoed her approval.

After five years of bland self-cooked meals mostly over an open flame or stewed in a pot of water, this was a culinary delight. Despite a flurry of questions, I indulged in the feast before my curiosity surged.

"Thank you for this incredible meal," I expressed earnestly to Mrs. Wulric, my best meal in five years.

Following the sumptuous dinner and assisting with cleaning, we congregated in the living room, marking the start of a pivotal moment.

"Bringing you here might've been a mistake; it's kind of awkward," I murmured to Candace, who sat beside me, playing with Yami, contemplating if she should be part of the impending conversation.

"Ruth! I noticed Zeev is missing too. Did he and Lovetta go somewhere together?" I questioned Ruth, noticing the obvious absentee of her husband, Lovetta and Tina’s older brother Zeev.

"Don't rush, son. Have some tea, and I’ll explain," the chieftain interjected, handing me a warm mug.

“Tell us what happened and why you abandoned my sister first!” Tina jumped in as she got in my face and demanded answers.

"Tina, let Ken speak. Don’t jump on him," Tina's mother intervened, defending me, reminding me of her past support once again.

I sipped the tea, allowing memories to resurface, the first time I’d spoken them since that dreadful day.

"When Genesis declared her intentions and vanished, the King of Yelwraek decided I was no longer an acceptable match for his daughters. It shifted from the day I was to be wed to learning a woman I loved was a mass murderer. I opposed the king and tried to take Clare and Cecilla, only to be beaten by Zishell. The girls saved me from death, but I was barely able to move from the injuries. My mind was shattered. I couldn't comprehend what had happened or how to cope," I admitted, recounting the events that shattered my life.

"So, you just vanished without a word? Why does it matter if one turned out to be unstable? Or if two were taken from you? Didn't you care about the others? Or maybe you never truly loved them, considering your newfound companion," Tina retorted, glaring at Candace, failing to empathize despite her misguided assumptions.

"Ken and I met by chance yesterday. He has been living alone in this forest, isolated, for five years," Candace clarified, unwilling to let Tina misjudge the situation.

Before Tina could respond, the chieftain intervened to provide the information I sought.

"On that day, things felt different. New creatures suddenly appeared, and Lovetta returned from Dragonspire after only a few days at the academy. She explained the world's changes, how most people left Dragonspire, and how you vanished without a word," the chieftain revealed, calmly sipping some tea.

"We immediately noticed the changes in Zeev. He never possessed the same talent or potential as Lovetta, but suddenly, his abilities and skills improved dramatically.

"At first, I was thrilled by the prospect of the blessing, thinking my son would one day surpass me and assume the role of chieftain to protect our village. The initial years were promising. Zeev remained the same boy, albeit stronger. However, after defeating me at full strength one day, his demeanor shifted.

"He became discontent with life here, seeking greater challenges, and his personality underwent a transformation. Two years ago, he disappeared, leaving only a note saying he is off to Ostrium city for a greater purpose," the chieftain elaborated, the sorrow palpable.

“He abandoned his tribe, his family, his wife, and even his son. After not hearing a single word from him for a year, Lovetta decided to go after him. She's the only one with experience in the outside world, and I had to stay behind to protect the village.

"That was a year ago, and we haven’t received any word from her either. While I have confidence in her abilities, the world has changed drastically from what it used to be. I won't deny my worry for her safety. As the chieftain, my primary responsibility is ensuring the safety of the entire tribe. Tina is too young, inexperienced, and hotheaded to be tasked with leaving the village.”

“I am not! You just don’t trust me like you trusted Lovetta!” Tina shouted in protest, while I found myself in complete agreement with the chieftain’s assessment.

"I was planning to head to Ostrium after apologizing to Lovetta to get a teleport artifact and return Candace home. I'll update you on Zeev and Lovetta once I reach Ostrium," I reassured, sensing relief from Ruth and Mrs. Wulric.

"Stay with us, Candace. We have an extra room in my house you can use," Ruth offered, noticing Candace's weariness after a day of travel with minimal rest.

After bidding Ruth, Keev, and Candace goodnight, the trio departed the warm wooden house, ready to retire for the night.

"Thank you, everyone. Goodnight," I softly conveyed, drained from the day's activities as well, my first prolonged interaction in five years.

"Get a good rest, son. We will spar tomorrow," the chieftain replied, while Mrs. Wulric also wished for me to have a good night of rest.

"Goodnight, Tina," I uttered, receiving only a dismissive snub from the beastman girl as she left the room.

Lying on Lovetta's bed all alone, once a place of affection now a source of fear, I pondered her year-long absence without any communication. Fatigue and a belly full of delicious food eventually granted me the respite I needed as I drifted into a slumber, deterring further contemplation.