Chapter 160:

First Meeting

Mad God

It was an ancient city, more than 2,000 years old, at the foot of the Wall of the World. In the old times, it started out as a mining town before growing into a huge city later on. But time is merciless. Now, its buildings were dilapidated and abandoned, and most of them were in complete ruins. Yet they still served as homes for hundreds of wolf demons.

Inside an old church that was now serving as the meeting hall for the war council, dozens of tribe leaders were arguing around a round table. It was surrounded by two thousand years old, tens of meters tall, human statues depicting the Gods. Even though the wolves fought as a group and showed a unified front, inside their 'nation,' there were multiple smaller tribes and groups. All of their society was based on their birthplace in the vast forest. Previously, these small groups lived in a loose alliance, not interfering in each other's lives. They usually hunted together or fought their enemies as one, no matter which tribe they were from. But besides that, they were usually independent.

In ancient times, when demons just started to appear, it was not rare for different species to fight with each other. As centuries went by, the other kinds of demons were pushed further down south, leaving the north only to the wolves. They were the ones who came out as the apex predators in the area. Their history, or at least what was kept alive by word of mouth, showed that they did fight against the foxes multiple times. There were many conflicts between the two, and they finally pushed them down to the South, to the hilly, southern lands that Emi and the rest now called their home. They only stopped their war and reached peace back then because of the appearance of the famous White Fox. A young maiden who was quickly rising above the rest of her people. She reached a state where her nine tails could darken the sky above them, and she crowned herself as Queen of the Foxes. As to what happened to the other species…? They either wandered even further down South or slowly died out. Some even decided to move into the territory of the ents, never to be seen again.

When the tigers attacked the wolves, it wasn't something to really worry about. It was not their first conflict against them. They butted heads multiple times before, but since the appearance of the Tiger King, the battles became more and more frequent. Their numerical advantage and the fact that they hunted in packs finally lost their edge. Against overwhelming power, it was useless. The rest was history as now the leaders, who were bickering at the table, did so only out of sheer desperation and frustration. Their territory was shrinking day by day, and they had no idea how to stop it. No… they had a very clear plan on how to turn their situation around, but it was something that they just did not know how to execute. Namely, kill the Tiger King.

"Enough!" An old wolf raised his voice, silencing everybody at the table.

His face looked somber, with golden-colored eyes and a giant clawmark going across his face. It reached down from his forehead to the base of his neck. His long, graying hair was kept in a ponytail, and the once completely black fur on his pointy ears was already faded and bleak. He wore a long fur coat as he was leaning back in his chair with a tired expression. He was silently looking around the others, who just lowered their heads in shame. He was Chono, the oldest living wolf. He was a revered leader, a figure without a tribe. His tale went back to the time of Rumira. When she rose to power, he even fought against her back then. But could not keep up with the growing strength of hers. Chono finally bowed his head before Rumira in their last battle. Yet his life was spared, to his biggest surprise. Back then, the Queen only wanted one thing; peace. To finally spare her people from any and all future conflicts. An idea she was still following. Even when knowing it was only a dream of her naive, still young self, clinging to it vehemently to this day.

It was back in those days, centuries ago, when Chono lost his own tribe. His tribe was named the Moonwalkers. A pack of black wolves, only visible under the full moon's light because if it was hidden behind the clouds, their black fur made them one with the darkness. Yet his tribe suffered irreversible casualties in one bloody battle against Rumira and scattered around the forest. They were slowly dying out, leaving only Chono as the last living remnant of a once famous pack of wolves. Many members of their race now looked at the Ice Wolves the same way. A tribe that was destined to go extinct as history was repeating itself right before their eyes. The only difference was now that the Tiger King was not someone who wanted to barter for peace. No… he made it clear; He is going to conquer them. They either give up and submit without questions or be exterminated.

"In the past four days, we have lost two more scouting parties. Sixteen good men in total…" A timber wolf named Luto spoke up, breaking the silence. He was bigger than his other brethren, and his tribe made up the bulk of the fighting forces. Their stature usually matched the tiger warriors' builds.

"My people are dying left and right." Rufus protested, a red wolf with auburn-colored fur. His tribe made up almost 70% of the scouting parties because of their specialty in hearing, smelling, and speed. "We can't outrun the cheetahs! We can fight them off, but they are never alone! While they pursue us, holding my boys back, the tiger warriors catch up, and then it is a lost cause!"

"We were famous for hunting packs, and now we are being hunted down by the same tactics…" One of the other tribe leaders murmured, shaking his head.

"We need to somehow lure out the Tiger King and throw everything at him! Everything!" Rufus raised his voice. "We may die, but we can drown him with our bodies if nothing else!"

"It is a surreal proposition," Luto replied.

"At least it is better than waiting for some 'chosen one' to grow up and save us!" Rufus snorted in response, and everyone knew he was speaking about Kago. A lot of resources went into nurturing him, yet still, to raise someone to the same level as the Tiger King would be a tremendous undertaking. Deep inside, everyone knew that they were missing the most necessary component; time.

"We could try to ask the White Fox for help…" Another wolf suggested, but the others just sighed.

"She won't. She refused a decade ago. Not just us but the Tiger King, too. We should be glad of the fact that at least she does not stab us in the back." Rufus sighed dejectedly, falling back to his chair, massaging his temple while his ears slowly flopped downwards.

"There is no chance…? At all?" Luto asked, looking at Chono as if he was the only person here who knew her personally.

"No." The old wolf shook his head. "She made it clear back then. Her focus is protecting her own, and she won't drag them into a conflict."

"She won't have any other chance when we fall and the Tiger King strikes at her!" Luto said, sharing his honest thoughts.

"I don't know," Chono answered. "What I heard was when the Tiger King went to her, wanting to make her into his own woman and bring them under his fold… To catch us off-guard from two fronts… She fought him off. She remembers the old times. She could've easily joined his side because of the old scars of what we did to her people, yet she did not. And the fact that the Tiger King was unable to subdue her shows her true strength."

"Then we really ought to get her on our side!" Rufus interjected as he tried pleading with Chono once again.

"It can't be done. Even if we could make her agree, she would only step out by herself. She wouldn't bring any warriors along from her tribe! She may be able to stall the Tiger King… But we still need more demons here and now to fight the rest of them! We need to face it… we are alone." Chono said harsh and dark words that nobody wanted to hear.

"Why not… why not give our resources to you?" Another wolf suddenly spoke up.

"Yeah!" Another agreed. "You fought with him! You survived the Tiger King's attacks!"

"Yes, I fought. Yes, I survived." Chono nodded, touching the claw marks on his face. "But only because he let me run. These are marks of shame and not glory. Do not mistake them for what they truly are! I am old. I reached my limit. Those resources would be wasted on me. Give it to those who are young and promising."

Just as he finished talking, the door to the church slammed open as a young wolf rushed in, gasping for air, surprising everyone. His loud interruption turned half of them almost back into their wolf forms because they were scared and nervous that something big and bad happened.

"Take a breather first, then tell us what it is!" Chono said as he sat up straight to instill confidence in the others.

"It's the 3rd scouting company! They are back!" He blurted out quickly, almost biting his own tongue.

"Kago's group? What happened?" Chono asked, fearing the worst.

"They brought back two people! One human and one fox, and… they bear a strand from the White Fox! They are saying that they came to deliver a message!"

Chono quickly stood up, hearing his words. The rest also followed suit as they processed what he was saying. They were just talking about her. About how unlikely it was that the foxes would help them, yet here they are. What did this mean? A few couldn't help but look around, watching the statues of Gods behind them, entertaining the idea that maybe they heard their predicament? Surely not, as they were human Gods, and demons had none of their own amongst them.

"Where are they?" Chono asked, returning to reality from his shock

"Waiting outside, with the 3rd company, they-"

"Invite them in! Quickly!" Chono shouted.

"Yes!" The young one bowed, and only after a brief minute Emi and Poli were escorted inside the church by Vex and Kago.

"Woah… huge!" Poli exclaimed loudly, looking around the ancient temple's interior. He was watching the giant statues, carvings, and dilapidated paintings on the walls and ceiling. "More than 2000 years old, yet still standing… They knew how to build something to last, huh…!"

"Someday, we will do the same," Emi answered him. After spending years with Poli and visiting multiple human cities, watching the life in the Sect, she realized that even after two millennia, her people are still considered lacking in a lot of areas compared to the humans. They may have the intelligence and strength to match them, even outrank them, but compared to their achievements, they were far behind. Most of them were still living in old ruins that the humans had left behind. They were still using old tools found in the forest instead of making their own. She quickly realized how backward they still were. Especially when she saw how Thunder Valley grew in only a few years and what life was like there compared to other demonic territories.

"We welcome you at our home!" Chono said as he stepped forward, introducing himself as the leader of the wolves.

"Thank you for seeing us." Emi cupped her hands, mimicked by Poli.

"I heard… you came with a message? From the White Fox?" He asked, trying not to rush things, but it was clear that they were eager to hear what was going on.

"Yes. We both came with messages. Please, let us sit." Emi smiled with a friendly expression. When everyone was seated, both she and Poli took out identical carved crystals and placed them on the table.

With a tap, both of them lit up and projected a fuzzy image into the air. The wolves jumped in their seats, fearing it was some kind of weapon. Only Chono stayed still, recognizing one of the faces that became visible in the creamy light shining above the artifacts.

"Queen Rumira." He said, slowly standing up and bowing.

"Nightmare. Long time no see." She smiled softly, looking at him while Chono just shook his head.

"That is a title that has long lost its meaning. Call me by my name, Queen."

"I see. I shall do so then, Chono Moonwalker."

"Nightmare does sound cooler." Resonated another voice that belonged to no one other than Ren. She was looking at them with a small grin, holding a coffee cup between her fingers. "You should use it."

"Thank you, but it was a different time. It has already passed. Chono is fine. And you are?"

"My name is Ren. I represent Thunder Valley in this meeting."

"So a human is in charge of the south?" Luto asked, clearly not happy with the notion, echoing others' voices while Chono's expression remained neutral.

"I helped create the South, but I am not in charge of anybody here! They govern themselves. Any other questions regarding my origin? I can tell you my three sizes if you are interested, but sorry, I'm not taking suitors right now."

Poli just looked down, acting like he did not know his own Master, while Emi tried to remain calm and not show a change in her expression. Yet deep inside, she was laughing at her words.

"Please, take no offense; we are just… surprised," Chono spoke up, signaling to the others to try not to anger a potential helper right now.

"You can trust her," Rumira said, her voice quickly soothing everybody who heard it. Even though it was just a projection, the sound of her voice still carried enough traces of her immense powers to influence them a little. "I have worked with the faction she is part of, and they are trustworthy humans. Their leader is someone who is as strong as me."

This immediately sent murmurs along the wolf leaders, but as Ren spoke up next, their flame of hope was extinguished.

"My Master can't join the fight. Back home, he needs to guard against another powerhouse because we are also having our own wars. But you don't need him."

"Can I ask… why?" Chono asked as he looked at Ren's projection.

"Because I am here." She grinned with confidence. "I captured one of the Tiger King's generals, and it turns out she was looking for a chance to defect since long ago."

"And you believe her?" Rufus spoke up as he raised the concern of the others.

"I have my means to discern if they are lying or not. You need to be as strong as Lady Rumira to be able to fool me." She answered with a plain voice, also telling them her strength without explicitly mentioning it. "I learned some interesting things about the Tiger King and his kingdom."

"Care to share it with us?" Chono asked, leaning forward, already thinking about multiple ideas that were taking root in his mind.

"I will. But not like this. I propose a meeting in the foxes' territory. I want an alliance of the three regions, and we are going to stand collectively against the tigers."

"We are ready to host the first meeting." Rumira nodded. "I learned some new things in the past years from a human, and for a short period of time, I'll be able to sit with you without harming your lives." She smiled, and Emi's eyes became watery. Seeing her Queen finally truly showing happiness made her immensely happy. Her smile was not filled with hidden pain and melancholy anymore.

"Can we… discuss it first?" Chono asked, playing with his fingers.

"Sure." Both Ren and Rumira nodded at the same time. "Contact my disciple or his wife; they'll relay your decision to us."

As soon as Ren's words echoed out, Poli snapped his head, looking up at his Master and giving a thumbs up happily. Emi, on the other hand, felt like sinking under the table, looking for ways to make herself disappear.

"They are yet to commemorate their joining. They are not wife and husband until then." Rumira giggled as her voice rang out like small chimes inside the church.

"Oh. I see." Ren sighed while Emi was hiding behind her fluffy fox tail. "Get on with it, Poli!" She scolded her disciple. "If you need help, I'll ask Reignar to send over some toys of his! They are only laying around, collecting dust anyway."

"Ugh… N-no, thank you, M-master… I'm fine…" He said, twitching his mouth now, also feeling some shame creeping up onto his face. Some wolves were already laughing, trying to hold it back, eying the duo with much more friendly eyes.

"We'll wait for your response," Rumira said in the end before the projections disappeared, leaving behind a silent chamber. Everyone either was looking at the table before them or at the now completely red-faced duo of messengers.

"We'll give you time to discuss," Poli said, scratching his throat, standing up, and saying it as if nothing had happened. Emi quickly followed him, almost hugging him from behind just to act like she was not there. "Take your time." He cupped his hand, walking out calmly. Emi was still clinging to his sect uniform with two hands while doing so. Reaching the stunned Vex and Kago, he just nudged the former. "Come on. Show us around. The show is over."

"Ah… yeah, yeah, sure. This way." Vex trembled, shaking his head, deciding it was best if they left before more unpredictable things happened. After they left, Kago finally snapped back to reality, going after them.

"Humans… are… weird." He murmured under his breath, looking at the back of them before closing his still-open mouth, trying to recollect his usually icy expression.