So it began, and they had arrived. Haru couldn’t contain himself, so harsh were his pinches of excitement. After weeks of waiting, anticipating, imagining, dreading, yet desiring it so much, what it amounted to at present was something beyond excitement. Something he couldn’t quite describe. Was it not already ludicrous, the notion of him, a regular man in his late twenties, an art manager whose interests revolved around art, history, and cardio fitness, (which he would happily override with the occasional drink among friends) was currently dating a wolf demon warrior. And now the same demon had brought him to the place where he was born and raised. At last. Haru often considered it a product of someone’s exceeding and devoted imagination. However, this felt very real. They were at Mammon’s clan — *Vargr.
And it was freezing!
Once they passed the tall spiked gates that seemed like they were made of bronze, the fearsome winds relented, but the glacial temperatures consuming Haru’s bones persisted. Mammon had taken precautions and insisted Haru wear the heavy coats and protective headgear, warning him that Vargr was not kind to humans. At the time, Haru thought that Mammon was once again dismissing humans; ‘such fragile creatures’ his look would always highlight, but he was glad that in the end Mammon left him no choice.
A wolf guard escorted Mammon and Haru further inside the kingdom, while another took charge of the small contingency of wolves that had escorted the grand Marshall from Hell’s court.
Just through a small opening of his hood, and under his frosty glasses, Haru observed as much as he could. The wolves in Hell’s court had left him bewildered, as aside from their beastly features and walking on two legs; or haunches… or paws? There was a kind of disciplined elegance to them. Underneath those rigid and bulging muscles, they were soldiers of the royal palace, some decorum was the unspoken rule. Here, the contrast was plain to see. It was just as Mammon had described it. It was in the way the wolves moved and stared, or kept their ragged look, the airs of experience permeated about them, as though they were the very source of all chaos they could ensue.
Most carried weapons of some sort, ranging from long knives to fat swords or sharp lances as long as their height. They bared their muscles out in the open, their scars and other deformities Haru imagined resulted from long forgotten battles; it didn’t matter that this was their home where one would typically relax. It didn't matter that the temperatures were so far below zero, the best of thermometers would seize up. No, a show of power and of constant alert to one’s surroundings was everything. A wolf’s very pride.
“Not long to go, Haru. Mind your step as well, please. The footing here can be treacherous. The closer we get to the center, the warmer it will be. Also, best to not stare too much.” Mammon said as they walked. “It can easily be mistaken for a challenge.”
“Oh,” Haru chuckled excitedly, wondering how any wolf would even see him under his thick headgear. It was also odd to him that even in this biting cold there was no snow or ice frost in sight. “I’m trying not to, it’s just… they all look so different from the wolves we’ve seen at Court.”
Mammon eyed down and up the wolf guard who was leading them, whilst he spoke to Haru. “Most wolves here invest in developing their size and strength, often forgetting that muscle is not the primary need in a fight. Many others prefer to let their furs bask in the cold, wearing such minimal clothing. Certainly not a deciding factor in battle.” He then looked at Haru with a stare that made Haru almost halt his walk. “Surely not appealing to the eye, you’ll agree.”
“Su-surely not.” Haru offered a nervous smirk.
Haru’s eyes then drifted and lingered on Mammon’s uniform. This time it was white with a thick black stripe along his waist, and it bore his rank insignias just above his left breast, something he had to wear for this diplomatic visit, and Haru found incredibly appealing. Instead of looking at the sights he so longed to see, here he was once again, losing himself at the sight of his dashing lover. He, too, walked with confidence in this cold, just like these wolves. Even through his glove, Haru could feel Mammon’s warm hand holding his. It was only the fact that Mammon looked mostly human that might confuse one. Everything else about him announced him as a wolf. His silver wolf. “Is that why you’ve decided to wear your uniform today? To hide your muscles?” Haru asked, attempting to shake away indulgent thoughts.
“I believe and adapt to the norms of a society. One ought to dress to one’s station. If I am to represent our king, I need to do so appropriately.” Mammon replied evenly.
“Y-yes, I remember Mara saying something about that once, about you.”
“Hmm. She’ll tell you then that I was also right.”
Haru kept a stiff smile. “But even when coming to your home? Is there a need for such formalities, Mammon-san?”
It was a long moment before Mammon replied, keeping his attentive eyes about the streets they walked. “We came with only three soldiers in tow, and swapped the standard Hell hounds for a simple teleportation. We have also dismissed any formal welcoming reception. I’d say we’re already travelling very light.”
Haru waited for him to continue, but the small smile Mammon offered already said he wasn’t inclined to continue explaining. Of late, these quiet moments were not strange to Haru. In fact, ever since he got Mammon to agree to let him accompany him to Vargr weeks ago, his wolf has not quite been himself. He was loving with all things related to Haru, but all conversations about his clan had ceased since then. He even stopped mentioning his mother or Raymon-san. Haru had used the excuse of wanting to go on a trip with his lover since he had never done so, but it was becoming clear that Vargr would never be Mammon’s first choice.
From the little Mammon had told him, Haru understood that the wolf’s childhood in Vargr might have not been the best. Still, he had agreed to come back here, if only for the sake of duty. Haru entertained the idea that whatever had haunted Mammon here as a child, he might’ve already put it behind him. From their brief talks, it was clear at least that Mammon wanted to see his old uncle Raymon. Now that they were here, perhaps things wouldn't be so clear cut. Just like humans, old pains plagued demons all the same.
Haru had never been in a serious or lasting relationship. He thought he had at least brushed the surface of love with a few of his short-term partners, which he assimilated as a kind of understanding of what love was, or could be. Mammon came along and shattered all his previous notions of it. Over the few months they’ve been together, the constant and encircling intensity of their union, the warmth of being relied upon, the desire that never faded… To think that all this time, love’s fortunes would be in the hands of a demon. For Haru, this was nothing short of remarkable. It was a tenable significance to his, until then, sorrowful existence. How could he pass up the chance of helping his mate heal from his old wounds?
Their eyes met, and Haru felt himself flush, wondering if Mammon-san— no, Mammon. Wondering if Mammon read his mind, since he was so apt at finding the most embarrassing moments to do it! A soft smile and a warm hand squeeze reassured Haru. His wolf would open up to him when he felt ready. Haru smiled to himself until his eyes drifted again to their surroundings.
He then noticed they had somehow approached a more populated area. There were more wolves, more houses, commercial establishments, and even market stands where smaller wolves sold goods and cookeries. As Mammon had said, it felt warmer, as though they had entered a different atmosphere. Haru removed his full-faced headgear and scarf, and took a deep inhale. This more tolerable cold air felt fresh in his lungs. There was also a strong and pleasant smell of something being grilled.
Haru cleaned his foggy glasses and fixed them on the bridge of his nose. Although smaller and more rudimentary than court, Vargr was a city in its own right. The buildings looked old, small and not of great height. The tallest seemed to hold around three stories. The streets were narrow and cobbled, with a rustic feel. From his history knowledge, to Haru it resembled a Nordic rural village of sorts, perhaps from around the 16th century. They had teleported here, but Mammon confirmed the city was high in the mountains. They were still in Hell, though. Its orange-red skies would never let one delude themselves into thinking they were anywhere else.
Gold, red and black eyes followed them for the strangers that they were, halting half-way whichever activity, and followed them with perplexed silence. Children too — wolflings Haru had never seen at Hell’s court now ran freely here, until of course, they laid eyes on them, the newcomers.
“Mammon-san… our hands…” Haru fell closer, attempting to pull his hand away from Mammon’s hold.
“Wolves have many prejudices, Haru, but seeing a couple holding hands will not be one of them. Jealousy, on the other hand...” He left the thought hanging in the air and offered a wink. “They are just not used to having visitors. Worry not, there is no animosity. It is simply extra rare to see a royal envoy walking in with no fanfare and accompanied by a human.”
*Vargr- In Norse mythology, a vargr (anglicised as warg) is a wolf, especially the wolf Fenrir that destroyed the god Odin in the battle of Ragnarök, and the wolves Sköll and Hati, Fenrir's children, who perpetually chase the Sun and Moon.