Soul of the Sword (Shadow of the Fox #2) - Julie Kagawa
BIRTH OF A GODSLAYER
One thousand years ago
His throat was raw from screaming prayers into the wind.
The storm raged around him, beating the cliffs and sending sprays of ocean water crashing against the rock. The night was pitch-black, his drenched clothes were icy cold, and he could barely hear himself over the howl of the wind and the roar of the sea. Still, he kept chanting, the scroll clutched tight in shaking hands, the lantern flickering wildly at his feet. His vision blurred from salt spray and tears, but his voice never wavered as he shouted every line on the crumpled parchment as if it was a challenge to the gods themselves.
Crying out the final prayer, letting the wind tear it from his lips and fling it over the ocean, he collapsed to his knees on the stones. Gasping, he bowed his head, his arms falling limply to his sides, the opened scroll fluttering in his grasp.
For several desperate, pounding heartbeats, he knelt there, alone. The storm bellowed around him, slashing and clawing with foamy talons. His wounds, sustained from fighting a demon horde to reach this place, throbbed. Blood seeped down his chest and arms and over the scroll, staining the parchment pink.
Many yards out to sea, the ocean stirred. Waves surged and roiled, and the surface of the water began to lift as if something monstrous was shifting just below.
With an explosion of spray and the howl of a god, an enormous dark shape rose out of the depths and coiled up into the night. Lightning flashed, illuminating massive horns, fangs and glimmering scales the color of the tide. A rippling mane ran down the length of the creature’s back, and a pair of whiskers as long as a ship writhed and fluttered in the wind as the Great Dragon curled in the sky, flowing in and out of the clouds. A pair of eyes like glowing moons peered down at the tiny figure below, and a perfect, iridescent pearl shone like a star in the center of its forehead. With the rumble of an approaching tsunami, the kami spoke.
“Who summons me?”
Clenching his jaw, the man lifted his head. His heart trembled with the knowledge that he should not gaze so boldly upon a god, the Harbinger of Change himself, but the despair and hate-sickness deep in his soul drowned out any other emotion. Swallowing the pain from a throat raw from screaming, he raised his voice.
“I am Kage Hirotaka, son of Kage Shigetomo, and I am the mortal who has called upon the power of the Dragon’s prayer.” His thin, raspy voice faded into the wind, but the huge creature cocked its head, listening. Its inhuman gaze, carrying the wisdom of eternity, met his own, and he suddenly felt as if he were falling into a bottomless pit.
The warrior placed his hands on the ground before him and bowed, touching his forehead to the rough stone, feeling the gaze of the Dragon on his back. “Great Kami,” he whispered, “by my right as scroll bearer, on this night, the thousandth year after Kage Hanako made her wish upon the scroll, I humbly ask that you grant my heart’s desire.”
“Once more, a Kage calls upon me.” The deep, thunderous voice sounded neither amused nor surprised. “Once more, the Shadow Clan toys with darkness and holds the fate of the realm in their hands. So be it.” Lightning flashed and peals of thunder shook the clouds, but the Great Dragon’s voice rose above it all. “Kage Hirotaka, son of Kage Shigetomo, bearer of the Dragon scroll, what is your heart’s desire? What wish would you see come to pass?”
The word was barely audible, but the air seemed to still as he spoke it. “My family was killed by a demon,” the warrior went on, slowly sitting up. “It slaughtered everyone. My men and servants were strewn from one end of the house to the other. My wife…my children…it didn’t even leave anything to bury.” He closed his eyes, trembling with grief and rage. “I couldn’t save them,” he whispered. “I came home to a massacre.”
The cold, indifferent observer waiting in the clouds said nothing. The warrior’s hand strayed to the sword at his belt, and his fingers curled around the sheath. “I don’t want it dead,” he rasped, his voice choked with hate. “Not by a simple wish. I will kill the monster myself, drive my sword into its black heart to avenge my clan, my family, my wife.” His