Emperor’s Wolf Prologue

This is the original prologue to Emperor’s Wolf. It was cut out during editing, which I think takes away from the story as a whole, so I have included it here for anyone who is interested. I believe that this explains much better why Jaden was so afraid of the Emperor in the beginning and more about the demon itself, which is sadly lacking in the book currently. This is all back story with it ending as the book begins…

Smoke hung like a pall over the ruined city and Jaden wanted to weep for the destruction that surrounded them all, a morbid reminder of their failure, of their defeat.
The conquerors, the victors, stood guard over the prisoners, the defeated soldiers of a defeated capital, the final blow in the war that would see the country of Astoria kneel to her new overlord, the Emperor of Tranaden…
The great mechanical machines, so far advanced to anything that Astoria had been able to bring to bear in her defense, stood round the great square, guns brought to bear on the fragile humanity, the remnants of Astoria’s once great army. It would take so little to slaughter them all…
Jaden shivered, wanting with all his might to fight, to rise against the soldiers of Tranaden despite their firepower. All those around him had so much to lose; their families, their freedom, their very sense of self…
A hand on Jaden’s arm brought his rage under some form of control, made thought rise to the surface, awoke him to hard won prudence. His captain, Ilya, gave him a warning glance under lowered brows, his handsome face stern.
Jaden stared at him a moment, then took a deep breath and relaxed his tense posture. Several Tranaden soldiers nearby, took a step back and fingers relaxed upon triggers.
Jaden realized with a sort of distant horror that they had been well aware of his rebellion and if Ilya had not intervened, no doubt would have executed him. Jaden took a deep breath, trying to force himself into a state of acceptance that would see him survive the day…if any of them would.
The Emperor was not known for mercy of any kind.
Astoria would pay the ultimate price for her king’s utter greed, his foolishness in believing that Tranaden could be defeated, that her borders could be breached and retaliation not be brutal. No one outside of Tranaden had ever seen the Emperor; he was reputed to never set foot outside his palace…instead his Commander, the Wolf of Tranaden, stood in his place, committed the atrocities in his name…
Astoria’s people would be the ones to suffer…and now the Commander, second only to the Emperor himself descended from his great machine, his troops snapping to instant and perfect attention as though at an invisible signal.
A heavy silence fell over the square and Jaden could hear his own breathing and that of the men close to him, their hatred and fear a pulsing, almost physical presence.
The Commander’s mere presence crushed any hope and as he paced closer to the first line of prisoners, where Jaden and Ilya knelt, his coming made fear grow to the point that Astoria’s finest, strong men all, could not look upon him but lowered their eyes, shaking.
Jaden wanted to be stronger, wanted to…
Those cold eyes swept over him without stopping and Jaden knew then…a shudder passing over him, his eyes dropping, fear lending a chill to his skin so that he shuddered.
Those eyes held nothing of sanity, only a dark, malignant presence that defied any sort of courage.
The tales were true; this was no man…This was the Emperor’s greatest weapon…
There was no mercy, no compassion, nothing but blood thirst and demonic pleasure in the kill…
The ornate uniform fit so perfectly upon that well muscled form that the Commander seemed otherworldly, not real, like a god of war come to earth to wreak vengeance…
Jaden swallowed hard as gleaming black boots halted before him. The silence pressed upon his nerves, so that his breath was half suspended, shallow and trembling in his chest.
He prayed with everything in him for the man to move on, for his pause to be merely a tactic of intimidation…
Instead, the boots came directly before him so that Jaden stopped breathing altogether, fear overriding even the smallest spark of rebellion that might have remained.
A large hand, long fingered and fine came beneath Jaden’s chin, forcing him to look up, to meet those maddened eyes and what lay in their depths.
So dark they were almost black, they bore into Jaden’s green/gold eyes with such intensity that Jaden could not look away, his body freezing in place.
The Commander’s expression grew almost puzzled, something in his face becoming more lifelike, more human; then comprehension seemed to grow and he smiled, driving terror into Jaden’s mind like a weapon.
“I have been waiting for you…” the Commander half whispered, the smile widening as shifting his grip to the collar of Jaden’s uniform, he began to lift him from his knees with the strength of one hand alone.
Jaden’s frozen immobility broke as he began to choke, his hands rising to try to pry the fingers away, but it was like fighting against stone itself. Panic began to find a foothold and he wondered whether…
The Commander jerked, and Jaden managed to twist his head, finding Ilya at his back, the blade of a knife buried deep into the Commander’s ribs.
They stood motionless for seemingly endless moments, then the Commander smiled, letting Jaden drop to the ground as his hands wrapped around Ilya’s on the hilt.
Jaden watched in horror as the Commander slowly withdrew the blade, no sign of pain upon his face; indeed one long finger of his free hand dipped down into his own blood that ran forth, bringing it to his lips as he tasted it with every sign of enjoyment.
Ilya’s fierce determination wavered as he realized with truth that what he faced was nothing human at all… His fingers opened involuntarily and the knife clattered to the stone.
The Commander smiled like a baring of fangs and his bloody hand rose to Ilya’s neck, lifting the burly captain from the ground with frightening ease, crushing his throat with an inexorable tightening of fingers.
Jaden lunged up, loyalty to his beloved captain winning out over fear, determined to intervene despite any repercussions… His fellow soldiers, shaken out of their own paralysis, followed his example and the rebellion spread in waves around them…
In moments chaos reigned…
The Commander stood in the midst as though oblivious to it all, his mad eyes fixed with fierce joy on his victim.
Jaden could do nothing, no matter how he fought to pry Ilya’s throat loose. There was a crunch, sickening in its import, and Ilya sagged, life fading from his bulging eyes…
Jaden fell backwards, pulled down by one of his own team mates.
“Run…” the older man screamed at him as men around them fought to escape now rather than attack.
Jaden followed his lead, grief and fury lending speed to his shaking legs.
The feel of those mad eyes boring into his back gave him wings…

 

Everything was hopeless.
The ground shook…
Jaden’s eyes snapped open and he could feel Pierce and Nally tense behind him. All of them had found weapons in amongst the dead and now they held the guns with a certain grim fatalism, knowing that they were no match for the metal monsters that pursued them…
The pounding stopped and Jaden swallowed hard, slowly inching to peer around the corner of the stone.
Metal glinted in the afternoon sun…
He eased back, took his gun and pulled the safety back.
The three young men looked at each other, pale and grim.
“I’m tired of running,” Jaden gave a sudden wild, mad grin. They looked at him in shock. “On the count of three, I go out. You scatter. It won’t come after you until it is done with me.”
“Jaden, no…” Nally’s voice shook and Pierce made as if to grasp at Jaden’s arm.
“Three…” and before they could do anything he was out and running…straight towards the behemoth that waited.
In his peripheral vision, he saw Nally and Pierce make a run for it and he prayed for their safety…
“Hey, hey! You…son of a bitch in there! Want to play? Come get me!” He sprinted under the great legs even as the guns swiveled towards him. Holstering his gun, he took a deep breath and grasping the edges of a metal plate, dug his fingers in and pulled himself up onto one of the legs as the monster took a step, Adrenaline drove him on; a wild fearlessness borne of desperation and mind numbing terror. The thing turned in place, searching for him. Further up he clambered, cutting his fingers in places but holding on with grim strength. Finally he managed to reach where the upper leg joined onto the torso and here he found a weakness, a slight opening.
He drew his gun and fired into it repeatedly. Sparks flew after his fifth shot and the monster lurched, stopping.
His ammunition ran out and he forced the useless gun into the slot, hoping it might do some small damage as well.
Abruptly he gasped, breath forced out of him as metal closed around his body, pulling him from his perch.
He struggled futilely, pounding against the fingers with his free left hand, waiting for the death they promised.
The giant hand lifted him up, suspending him before the area where the pilot was, and dimly through the protective screen, he could see a form, eyes watching him.
He spat at him, face twisted with hatred.
His armor creaked as the fingers tightened a fraction and he flung his head back at the pain, then abruptly the pressure eased off a little.
The monster turned and began walking, albeit with a slight limp, back from whence it had come.
Jaden writhed fruitlessly, his body jerking with each step, mind racing.
Why did it not kill him?
The alternatives seemed even worse…
He kept fighting, trying to free his right arm that was pinned down against his body, fingers against his thigh. They brushed against the hilt of his long bladed knife and he froze for a moment, considering. Sucking in his breath he managed to shift ever so slightly, his hand moving a little, just enough to grasp the hilt and draw it slightly. He kept at it patiently, trying to ignore the speed at which the ground passed beneath him, until the knife cleared the sheath.
Then he turned his attention to the hand surrounding him, looking at the joints of the fingers. Moving his pinioned hand as best possible, he tried to maneuver the knife towards the nearest joint, almost panting with effort. When he felt the blade slide into a seam, he felt a fierce joy.
Bracing his hand and the blade against his own body he jerked as hard as he could….and felt the knife sink in…
For long moments, nothing happened and he slumped in defeat, wondering at his own foolishness in thinking he could make a threat against this most powerful of enemies…then suddenly the hand spasmed, jerked…and opened.
He fell.
The other hand snatched at him and he glanced off it, probably saving his life in the doing. Still he hit hard, rolling in the dirt, half stunned. Only his body armor had saved him from death…
He forced himself to roll to his feet and run.
Looking back only once, he was treated to the sight of the behemoth standing still, sparks and smoke issuing from its right hand.
If he had had the strength, he would have grinned.

Weaponless, he ran through the city, trying not to see all the horrors around him. His thoughts now went in only one direction.
His sister…
He had to make sure she was safe, take her away.
Panting with exhaustion, his muscles trembling with strain, he wove his way through retreating troops, trying to avoid the monsters that strode with assured ease through the city streets, looking for pockets of resistance.
He half fell against his home, flattening himself against the northernmost wall, carefully edging to the corner to scan the vicinity.
Clear.
He reached the door swiftly, lifting the handle and sliding inside with a breath of relief.
He heard a small gasp before him, then his little sister was in his arms, trying to stifle her sobs. He caught her to him, his eyes closing in utter relief. She was safe.
He kissed her forehead, then pushed her back a little to meet her eyes.
“Where is Nadi?” There was no sign of her caregiver and Jaden knew that Nadi would never leave the eight year old alone willingly; he trusted the older woman implicitly.
“Soldiers came; their uniforms were not like yours; and they took her away. She told me to hide under the floor in the back room. They did not find me, but brother, they took her…” Her bravery folded and she cried like the little girl she was.
He held her tightly to him, then picked her up.
“We have to get out of here, Yamina.” He gently tilted up her face so he could see her tear drenched eyes. “We have to be very, very quiet, all right?”
She nodded bravely, trying to control her emotions and he smiled at her proudly. “That’s my girl,” he whispered, then froze as he felt the ground shake.
Oh gods…
He got away from the door, going to the furthest back wall, facing the sound, his heart pounding.
For a moment he considered putting Yamina back under the floor, but if he was taken, who would care for her? She could starve in a deserted city or be at mercy of wandering bands of desperate men.
His arms tightened at the thought. He had to keep her safe, even if she had to come with him if they were captured.
He held his breath, praying for the massive beast to pass them by, but the gods were not on his side apparently, for they stopped right before their modest little house.
There was a long silence, then a sibilant hiss as of machinery moving slowly.
Jaden and Yamina jumped as there was a loud pounding at the door.
“You in there! Come out. We know you are there. Come out or we will destroy the house!” The voice was commanding and without compromise.
Jaden hesitated, but he had seen the merciless actions of these monsters, knew they meant what they said.
He drew a deep breath and hugged Yamina to him. “Be brave, little one,” he whispered, then with slow, reluctant steps he approached the door and slid back the bolt. Holding Yamina with one arm, he slowly drew the door open, putting his body between the threat and his precious sibling.
Blinking in the brilliant sunlight after the dimness of the house, he shivered at the sight of twenty or so guns leveled at him from black clad troops, their aim steady and true. Behind them were two of the mechanical behemoths, one kneeling on one leg and the other tall and menacing behind it.
The kneeling one had a pall of smoke about it and he realized with horror that it was the same one that he had tangled with earlier. How had it followed him?
A man nimbly descended from the cockpit of the damaged beast, his highly decorated uniform all too familiar to Jaden’s stunned eyes.
He was saluted by the leader of the troops, then passed through their ranks, his eyes never leaving Jaden’s pale features.
His high boned aristocratic face, marred by a scar that ran across his right jawline, was cold and still, only his dark brown eyes seemed to be alive.
The Commander…
There was a tense silence, during which those eyes ran up and down Jaden’s armored body with speculation in his expression, making Jaden swallow with a primal fear he could not name.
“Come here.” The voice held no compromise.
Jaden wanted desperately to flee, even if it meant his death, but Yamina… He took a hesitant step forward.
“Here.” The Commander pointed to a spot in front of him.
Seeing no recourse, still keeping his body between the invaders and his sister, Jaden forced his feet to move until he stood at the required place, trying to hold the other man’s cold stare. The power there made him want to look away, but stubbornly he refused.
He tensed as the man began to walk around him. Jaden’s hold tightened on Yamina but he did not want to turn, exposing her to the guns that were trained on them.
The Commander returned to face him, cold eyes holding a certain grim amusement.
“For one man, you certainly leave a trail of destruction in your wake. Count yourself lucky; you are the only one to have damaged my machine and lived.”
Jaden swallowed with difficulty, praying that this creature would not now correct that seeming oversight while Yamina was in his arms. As if his thoughts could be read, the Commander turned his eyes to the small girl.
“Your daughter?” The tone was curt, with a hint of distaste in it.
Jaden blinked, then forced himself to speak.
“No, she is my sister.”
Dark brows rose and something eased in the man’s expression.
“If you would see her safe, then you will do as told. Understand?”
Jaden nodded, stifling the hatred that wanted to express itself. Now was not the time, not with Yamina’s safety in the balance. His sister looked at the harsh strangers, then buried her face against her brother’s neck.
“Jaden, I don’t like these people…” Her little whimper carried clearly.
“Jaden…”
Jaden flinched at the Commander’s use of his name, his lips curling faintly into a snarl he dare not express.
The man turned away, gesturing to the leader of the troops standing in silent readiness. “Take them to the holding area. I want them tagged and marked with the sign of the wolf.”
The captain bowed deeply. “It shall be done, my lord.”
The Commander nodded, cast a last long look at Jaden, then strode back to his mechanical beast. It rose and turned away, shaking the ground as it retreated, followed by the second one.
Jaden grimaced, trying to control the trembling of his body as he and Yamina were surrounded…

****
The sounds and odors of the slave market made Jaden want to retch. A base and primal smell of fear permeated the very air, and the sight of so many people milling about, staring and discussing the various slaves up for sale was truly terrifying to the young soldier. He held Yamina closer, hiding her eyes against his chest.
To expose her to this…travesty…of human nature made the anger in him rise, but what use was anger in their situation?
Although his armor had been taken, Jaden’s torn uniform had been left on, indicating what he had been, and several times other prisoners of his own country, Astonia, had spat upon him, as though somehow, he and the other soldiers should have been able to prevent the fall of their world, should have been able to stand up to the Tranaden forces. As though this were their fault…
Jaden bore their hatred with a certain silent bitterness. They had not been there. They had not risked their lives, but still they needed someone to blame and the uniform marked him as a scapegoat. It was a great grief within him that there were no other soldiers here…had they all been killed? All those he knew?
He sat in a far corner of the slave pen, Yamina nestled on his lap, his young face hard and cold as he warily watched the other prisoners. He would keep his little sister safe, even from his own people.
He watched the misery and despair around him and wondered how it all could have come to this. Only days ago, he had been with his comrades, secure in his own freedom.
Now…these conquerors saw him as slave. He did not even understand the concept. He knew that there were places in Astonia were slavery was legal, but he had never visited there. His family had been far too poor for travel. Jaden had never thought much about those Astonian slaves…but now…
His despairing eyes fell upon a richly dressed woman standing outside the stockade. Her military bearing was straight and proud, marking her as someone of import. Her cold, cruel eyes were fixed upon him and the look she had…
Jaden flushed, hardly knowing why, only understanding that this woman was one of the potential buyers… He tore his eyes from her, his heart beginning to pound with dread. Something told him…
Turning his face away, he resolved to ignore her.
The day wore on, the heat intense.
Jaden swallowed hard, thirsty beyond belief, but not willing to risk the trek to the water buckets. The hostility and malice he had encountered on his last foray to get a share of food for Yamina and himself had convinced him that it was not safe to venture forth on anything but the most dire of needs.
His biggest fear is that he would be attacked, leaving Yamina at the mercy of these crazed and fearful people. Jaden laid his head back on the thick wooden posts behind him, trying to still his whirling thoughts. Panic and fear would avail him little at this point. He had to keep his wits about him. Yamina depended on him and he would do anything, endure anything to keep her safe.
A sudden silence fell in the stockade as the great gates swung open and guards appeared, beginning to herd prisoners out into the selling area.
Jaden rose to his feet and took a deep breath.
Yamina looked up at him, her little face pinched with fear. “You won’t leave me will you, Jaden?”
He kissed her forehead, tried to smile.
“I will never leave you, little one.”

“And what a pair we have here, my friends,” the auctioneer said from the stage. “Brother and sister. Young man, military background, fit and strong, handsome. Look at the exotic slant of those green/gold eyes, the luxurious color of that chestnut hair… Approximately twenty-three. The little girl is eight and beautiful; golden hair, big blue eyes… fit for whatever you wish to make her. Do I hear twenty thousand lyrei for the two?”
It took a moment for Jaden to realize that the auctioneer was referring to him and Yamina. He stiffened with anger, a snarl curling his lips as he stared at the buyers who would dare look at his little sister. Nobody by the gods would touch her…
“Separate them. I only want the girl.” The male voice from the crowd was calm and strong, unfazed by the cruelty of what he proposed.
Jaden tensed in disbelief even as Yamina let out a little cry and clung to her brother more tightly. The guards came forward and Jaden prepared to fight, putting Yamina down and pushing her behind his body.
“Don’t be stupid, boy…” The first guard rumbled, as more men came from behind the curtain. “There is no place to go.”
Jaden gritted his teeth, trying to back toward a wall, but the guards knew better than that, they surrounded him, hemmed him in. When one of them leapt forward and grabbed Yamina, Jaden turned on him and the others moved in.
Jaden fought; he got in a good number of punches, but it was five against one, and he had no hope. Even when they got him down, pinned to the floor, he continued to fight blindly, calling Yamina’s name.
He could hear her crying, sobbing his name and as he managed to turn his head, he could see her held towards the front of the wooden stage, the bidding beginning anew.
“No!” he cried out for the horror of it. This could not be happening, this could not…he felt the prick of a needle and thrashed harder, cursing them all and trying to hold back the helpless tears of anger and fear.
The multitude of hands held Jaden firmly as the drug began to work and he watched helplessly as Yamina was sold, the auctioneer’s hammer ringing in his ears like a death knell.
The guard picked her up and carried her away, her teary, fear-filled eyes fixed on Jaden, her arms outstretched.
Yamina…

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