Chapter 1

Hex Breaker

The Fenearen Chronicles Book I

Chapter I

        To Rayna, nothing felt safer than the darkness of the forest. As she passed beneath the boughs of an ancient white oak, she imagined what it would be like to tread the familiar paths on four legs instead of two. For tonight, she was determined to discover her other self. Most Fenearens did not manage to take their wolf form until they were at least three winters older than she was, but that did not matter. Tonight would be the night. She sensed it in the way the soles of her feet hummed, and how alive the world seemed to her ever-sniffing nose.

        She sprung over thickets, following her mother Mya into a clearing fragrant with honeysuckle and thyme. Mya flopped to the ground and Rayna tumbled after her, their matching red hair vibrant against the grass. Together they had traveled leagues away from their densite, following trails of voles and chipmunks, elk and rat snakes, deep into the southern woods. They were but a quarter hour from the coastline, as the wolf runs, and the taste of brine seasoned each gulp of air Rayna took.

        “That was quite a run, Rayna. You’re getting faster.” Catching her breath, Mya hopped back onto her feet. She took Rayna’s hand and pulled her up to stand by her side. “What do you say? Are you ready to try shifting again? Here, watch me first.”

        In half a blink of an eye, Mya vanished and in her place stood a sleek red wolf. She looked back at Rayna and bowed her muzzle in a steady encouragement. Rayna clamped her eyelids shut. Warmth rushed into her core first, and she willed it to radiate out to her limbs as she bent forward. Her palms touched the ground and her nose itched. Resisting the urge to scratch it, Rayna visualized her goal in her mind. She felt her nails and teeth growing and her eyes thinning. She had almost transformed, but her human self was stubborn. Her spine ached to arch upward, and her joints threatened to turn back in all the wrong directions. This was where she always lost it. Not tonight. Not when she was so close. She focused on her lupine senses, on the part of her that howled and snarled, and tracked squirrels through the brush. Digging her claws into the soil she fell forward and let out a cry, which came out as a yip.

        Mya barked and for the first time, Rayna understood her meaning as clearly as if she had been speaking. Excellent Rayna! Full forming at your age- it’s almost unheard of!

        Rayna struggled onto four legs, and shook out her own red fur. Moss tickled the pads of her paws as she took a few tentative steps. She was lower to the ground as a wolf pup and the world around her had been transformed from familiar to brand new. Colors were different, not muted but somehow less distracting. She could sense movements tinier than she would have thought possible- a moth landing on a pine tree ten tail-lengths away, the twitching nose of an otherwise motionless rabbit almost completely hidden by a juniper bush. Every little break in stillness, even those in her peripheral vision, caught her attention. Her sense of smell too, which had been sharp even in her human form, had changed. She smelled everything she had before, but each scent was multi-layered now, more complex. She could not only smell the rat snake curled beneath the boulder behind them, but also the field mouse it was digesting in its belly and the scraps of dead skin left from its last shed still clinging to its tail. Every time it flicked its tongue to test the air, she knew. Just as she now knew the rabbit beneath the juniper had eaten strawberries for dinner and that a flock of turkeys has passed through the clearing at least a day before she had.

        Rayna, are you all right? Mya tapped Rayna’s scruff with her nose. Her mother’s scent now overtook everything else. She smelled of lilacs from the tree beside their den and of chamomile, lavender, and mint- all herbs she used often as a healer.

        Rayna nodded, though the gesture felt stiff as a wolf.

        Try saying something.

        But I don’t know how! Rayna whined and pawed the ground before she even realized what she had done. Wait, I did it!

        Mya gave a bark that Rayna understood to be a laugh. You see? Once you learn to form, the Wolven language is instinct. You’ve always been a wolf, Rayna. It was just a matter of finding that part of yourself. Now that you have, you can understand both Wolven and Clanspeak no matter your form.

        Will I be able to talk to the true wolves now? Rayna had always wanted to speak to those wolves who had no human form that shared territory with the Fenearens.

        Yes. Though, they will only understand you when you use the Wolven language, but that can be approximated in human form as well, with practice. And of course non-Fenearen humans will only understand Clanspeak, so you will need to be human-formed to talk to them still since wolves do not speak in the same way humans do.

        Rayna trotted in circles around her mother. Wait until Uncle Bayne and Aunt Silver see me! What do you think dad would’ve said? The ease with which she used the gestures and sounds of the wolven language astounded her. She had spent the five years of her life speaking only Clanspeak, the language common to all of Osterna, but, as Mya had said, with her new self came innate knowledge of wolf communication.

        Aquillo would be as proud as I am, Rayna. Now, let’s continue training. You have so much to learn.

        Rayna practiced for hours until moonlight filtered through the trees. Her mother showed her how to catch the slightest scent on the wind currents and how to groom her fluffy pup coat. She even explained which fabrics she could wear so that her clothing would condense into the wolf form and reappear when she became human.

        And always remember, Rayna. Mya jumped onto a boulder coated with green and alive with the songs of crickets. Rayna scrambled up to stand beside her. The power to transform is a blessing from the goddess Lumae. It is not a game or trick to be misused or taken for granted. Be the wolf when you need the wolf- to hunt, to fight, to flee. Be human when you need to climb, to grasp, to heal, or create. One day you will learn to transition as quickly as you think, but never forget how lucky you are to be Fenearen. To walk this world as both human and wolf is a gift that can never be repaid.

        Rayna followed her mother’s gaze as it swept through the forest. I understand, Mada.

        Good. Mya flicked her tail and leaped back onto the ground. They returned to the path and started north towards the densite. But a few moments later, Mya froze. Rayna was confused, until a pungent scent unlike anything she had ever known struck her like a branch slashing across her face. Mya shifted into her human self and peered on her tiptoes through the trees.

        Mada… Rayna whined before she closed her eyes and, after a few tries, took the same form as her mother.

        “Hush, Rayna dear.” A growl mixed into her speech even though she had returned to Clanspeak.

Rayna obeyed. The currents shifted, carrying such a strong smell it almost overpowered her. She took in a hesitant whiff, unsure of what she was scenting. There were people, and fuel like animal fat used for torches, but it was the third, deeper level that stung with a metallic lash.

        “What is that?” Rayna whispered.

        “Maenorens. Don’t be afraid, but there must be a raiding party down by the coast. They haven’t dared be so bold in years. Quick now Rayna, we have to head back home and tell your grandfather.” Maenorens. The word sent equal parts terror and disbelief surging through her body, leaving her shivering. Fenear had been at war with their neighbor Maenor for years beyond count, but the fighting had all but ceased after the Maenorens had failed in an attempt to conquer Fenear the year Rayna had been born. She still heard tell of raids in the northern densites, but Maenorens here, in the southernmost part of Fenear? It made no sense. Maenor was leagues away, and all of Fenear lay between them and the border. Her mother had to be wrong, or pretending.

        They stalked back towards the southern densite. Rayna did not like this game or training, if that’s what it was. It scared her, penetrating the security her mother’s presence gave her like a thorn twisting through the vulnerable pad of her paw.

        Rayna followed her mother, careful to not even rustle a leaf. Just as she felt they might be able to slip away unnoticed, the smell grew even stronger. Soon she heard agitated voices, and reflections of torchlight danced among the leaves on all sides.

        “Whatever happens Rayna, stay hidden.” Mya pushed her into the brambles. Rayna slipped beneath the tangled branches. The burrs and thorns cut her skin and tugged on her leather breeches and shirt. But she was too terrified to notice or think beyond each moment that ticked by with agonizing slowness.

        Dark shapes resolved out of the torch-lit trees. Had she been in wolf form, Rayna may have been able to make out more of their features. With human eyes though, all she saw were twelve men, dark-haired and oddly dressed. They wore thin fabrics she could not name, and their metal breast plates and greaves reflected the firelight, throwing their already angular faces in sharp relief. Golden snakes with diamond-shaped heads leered at her from the seals emblazoned on their chests, and each of the men wore matching expressions as Mya approached them, human-formed with arms raised.

Most Fenearens did not carry weapons, especially not a healer like her mother. There was no need when you had claws and teeth. Yet, as Rayna took in the swords almost as tall as she was hanging from the hip of each Maenoren, claws and teeth seemed little comfort. Her mother had never looked more vulnerable.

        “What are you doing here?” Mya’s voice was firm as she surveyed each of the trespassers. It was the voice she used when Rayna was in trouble, and it revealed no trace of fear. The men looked at one another before laughing and gripping their swords.

        “Aren’t you a lucky find?” The Maenoren closest to Mya passed his torch to another before unsheathing his blade and raising it to her chin. Rayna could not see her mother’s face, but her voice was quieter when she spoke again.

        “I asked what you were doing here.” Mya’s nails grew dark and long, but the change was so subtle that the Maenorens did not appear to notice.

        “Tell me, wolfkind, are you alone?” Even as he asked, the other eleven men began searching the area. They slashed at vines and peered up trees as they trampled over saplings without a care.

        “Yes,” Mya said with the sword still hovering in front of her throat. Rayna wanted to help, to use her new-found wolf form to protect her mother, but fear’s icy grip held her fast.

        “Hm. Seems to me that a pack animal like you is almost never alone. So either you’re a fool, or you’re lying to me.” The Maenoren stepped closer and forced Mya’s head up with the tip of his blade. “So which is it?”

        Mya did not answer. One of the other Maenorens was coming closer and closer, cutting through underbrush and scattering any animals in his way. Soon, his sword would come crashing down into Rayna’s thicket too.

        “Just tell me what you want.” Mya backed away from the Maenoren until her legs were mere hair lengths in front of Rayna’s nose.

        A smile twisted the Maenoren’s mouth. As he walked closer, Rayna thought he could not be much older than her mother. “Turns out there’s a market for savages up in the Kyrean Republic. A few years back I captured a few of you, and lived like a highborn lord off the profits for years.” Without taking his eyes or sword off of Mya, he reached into his cloak and removed a metal band encircled with unfamiliar etchings.

        “So why don’t you make it easier on all of us and put this on?” He raised the band as three more of his companions pointed their swords and torches at Mya. “It’s nothing personal, but I am going to have to take you, and whoever it is you’re hiding in that bush, with me.”

        “Rayna. Run.” Even as the words left her lips, Mya shifted and dropped beneath the Maenoren’s sword. A garbled scream, and then the Maenoren who had threatened them was on the ground, staring lifelessly at Rayna. Hands plunged into the thickets all around her as she shrieked and crawled to get away. One of the hands closed around her hair, yanking her into the open. Three men lay unmoving and mangled around her blood-spattered, wolf-formed mother. Mya’s eyes flashed, reflecting silver moonlight and gold fire as she leaped onto the Maenoren who had grabbed Rayna.

        I said run! Get help! Mya howled as another Maenoren plunged his sword into her shoulder.         She jerked away with a yelp that turned into a scream as she fell back, human.

        “Mada!” Rayna ducked another Maenoren’s attempt to capture her. In a whirl of instinct and determination, Rayna took her wolf form and bit down on the ankle of the man who had stabbed her mother. He lost his footing, and Mya tore into his throat. Blood poured from Mya’s shoulder as she pulled away, and her face was pale and shining with sweat. “Help us!” she yelled as she pushed Rayna behind her.

        Two Maenorens barreled into Mya. They toppled over Rayna- a blur of swords, claws, and bodies. Amid the screams and clangs, another sound, like a walnut cracking, echoed in Rayna’s ear drums. The smell of blood overwhelmed her wolf senses and nausea tore through her. With another sickening lurch, she fell to the ground, a human child once more. The two men who had tackled her mother staggered to their feet, shoulders heaving as they backed away from where Mya lay unmoving. Her head was wedged against a sharp quartz-veined rock and blood darkened the soil around her.

        “No!” Rayna ran towards her mother. The remaining Maenorens scrambled after her, but all Rayna cared about was being by her mother’s side.

        “Damn, we can’t sell the wench to the corsairs if it’s dead!”

        “Catch the little one! Slave-traders will pay big for a young one.”

        Rayna reached her mother and shook her limp arms. “Wake up! Mada wake up!” She touched her face but there was no reaction. “Mada please, I’m scared.”

        Rayna screeched as one of the men reached for her. Somehow, she managed to extend her nails into the claws of a wolf like her mother had done, and slashed them across her attacker’s face.

        The Maenoren cursed before reaching for his blade. “Not worth it. I say we put it down now in honor of our new Overlord. Rhael promises he’ll be the one to level this nation of beasts once and for all. Let’s get him started, shall we?”

        A howl tore through the night, shocking the Maenorens into silence. Rayna recognized her uncle Bayne’s voice.

        Rayna called back to him. “Bayne! Help! We’re over here! Help us!”

        A chorus of howls answered her. We’re coming.

        The Maenoren swore again. “Leave the whelp. We need to get out of here, now! There has to be at least a dozen of them.”

        Even as the man spoke, a streak of black followed by others, brown, red, gray, and gold, appeared and encircled the trespassers. A blue-gray wolf jumped in front of Rayna, baring her teeth to the Maenorens.

        Rayna clung to her aunt’s fur. “Silver! They hurt Mada, you have to help her.”

        Bayne’s formidable sable form crossed in front of them, his eyes locked onto the outnumbered Maenorens. Silver, get Rayna to safety.

        Silver took her human form and gathered the quivering Rayna into her arms. Rayna peered over her aunt’s shoulder as she carried her away from the battle. Silver broke into a run and the circle of Fenearens closed behind them.


        Once his mate and niece had disappeared into the safety of the woods, Bayne growled and advanced on the Maenoren raiders. The rest of his hunting party followed, hackles afire and bone white teeth exposed. The Maenorens raised their weapons, stained with Fenearen blood, to face them. But fighting a single Fenearen was nothing compared to facing the wrath of a pack.

        Bayne ducked his first attacker’s sword and slammed into his stomach, teeth and claws gnashing. The man doubled over with a garbled groan but Bayne had already moved onto the next foe. This one was faster. Bayne avoided being skewered by the Maenoren’s broadsword as he ran between the man’s legs. He shifted into his human form as he reappeared behind the man’s back, confusing his opponent just long enough to ram his still extended claws into his neck.

        Bayne searched for the next Maenoren, but found all but four of the trespassers beaten by his pack-mates and lying dead. Those that remained fell to their knees and cast their bloody weapons aside.

        “Roxen,” Bayne called his fourteen year old apprentice over from the fringes of the battle. “Are you all right?” The young man gave a slow nod, his paling skin in stark contrast to his auburn locks. “Good, now hurry and fetch a healer for Mya.” After Roxen sprinted back towards the densite, Bayne turned to the surrendering Maenorens.

        “Mercy, we yield!” one of the men said. The others echoed him between frantic sobs.

        “Aye, like the mercy you showed my mate’s sister?” Bayne wanted nothing more than to make these men pay for their crime, but helping Mya was more important than avenging her. Besides, the Fenearen code was clear: Never kill a man on his knees.

        “Go now before I change my mind! Go and tell your Overlord what happens to Maenorens who dare sneak into our territory and attack our people. But leave your weapons, stained with our blood.” Bayne and his hunting party stepped aside, allowing the men to struggle to their feet and flee back towards their raiding ship.

        Steeling himself for what he might discover, Bayne hurried to Mya’s side. She had not stirred during the skirmish and Bayne feared what that might mean. He knelt beside her and cradled her bloodied head in his lap.


        Rayna buried her face into her aunt’s silvery blonde hair. “She’ll be okay. Bayne will save her, right?”

        Silver did not answer at first. Rayna felt her swallow. “He’ll do everything he can.” She slowed to a brisk walk as they came to a clearing beside a narrow, bubbling brook. She sniffed the air for signs of danger before setting Rayna down on a bed of moss. After a moment of pacing, she took a deep breath and sat beside her.

        Rayna scratched at the ground. “What will Bayne and the others do to the men that hurt Mada?”

        “Make sure they don’t hurt anyone else.”

        “How? What if they hurt Bayne or Roxen? What if they come find us too?”

        “They won’t. Your uncle will see to that, and even if they did, I’d protect you. Try not to think about it, Rayna. Let’s think of something else. Why don’t I braid your hair? You always look so pretty in braids.”

        Rayna felt her aunt’s hands trembling as they ran through her hair. A quarter of an hour later, Bayne’s howl wavered through the forest. Rayna and Silver rose to their feet.

        “We’re over here, love.” Glossy trails of tears framed Silver’s face.

As Bayne approached, a coppery, salty scent hit Rayna. She glanced up at her aunt, watching as her nose twitched and face fell even more. They could both smell the blood even before they saw it coating Bayne’s hands, legs, and chest.

        Rayna sprinted towards her uncle. “Bayne! Did they hurt you too? Is everyone okay? Can I go see Mada now?”

        His ebony eyes caught Silver’s gaze. He shook his head and she began to weep. Bayne knelt down in front of Rayna. “They didn’t hurt me, dear one. It’s not my...” He broke off and placed his hands on Rayna’s shoulders. “The healers did everything they could but, we just didn’t get there in time. Rayna I’m sorry but, your mother, she’s gone.”