Author's note: Hey guys! I'm really sorry for the huge delay in the publication of this first chapter, but I have a good reason for being so late. I've been preparing for my trip to China, and that took up a huge deal of time. As a result, I didn't have much time to write in the last 2 weeks (Writing on the plane was extremely difficult).
But, all that aside, I've completely redone the plot for this story. I will be utilizing some ideas from my old story, but most of this will be new material.
The following release schedule is tentative at best, and since I might not have internet at times, don't count on stories coming out when I predict them to.
Chapter 1: (7/25-26), Chapter 2: (8/12-15)
With that, please enjoy the newest chapter in the all new Spice and Wolf: The After Story.
Until Next Time!
Spice and Wolf: The After Story
The warm rays of the sun slowly crept across the ever-brightening sky, illuminating my sleeping form underneath a large oak tree. I groaned and blinked as my eyes began to adjust to the morning light. With a yawn, I sat up and stretched, wincing when my sore muscles stretched. As my eyes finally adjusted to the light, I noticed the sleeping form of Horo next to me, her head resting on my legs.
I smiled and laid a hand on her head and gently began to scratch the area between her ears. The smile fell off my face as I recalled the events of the last few days. After the general coup and ensuing riots in the town of Renos, we had used the cover of night to sneak out of the city. However, as luck would have it, we were spotted as we tried to make our escape. With the help of Horo's wolf form, we were able to escape, however, we were forced to leave whatever supplies and goods we had left in the cart.
With that, my mind turned to what I had said to Horo on the night I had gotten her back from the traders. "No journey is without end. When it comes time for us to part, we can part with a smile. That's all I want."
"Is that what I really think?" As much as I had tried to deny it, I had grown attached and accustomed to having Horo around me. Perhaps... what I really should do...
I shook my head and sighed. Despite what I want, I have to consider what's best for her as well... I can't be selfish and ignore her desires and wants.
I gently stroked her ears, and looked down into her crimson eyes. "Horo! When did you wake up?"
She yawned and stretched. "Not for very long. I think that I woke up when you began to scratch my head."
She lifted her head off my legs and allowed me to get up. I stretched and walked over to the sack I had laid next to the fire. I opened it and took a look inside. In the sack were the few things I managed to bring before we were forced to flee from the town.
I grimaced as I took stock of what we had left. There was a small pouch in which the last of our money was stored, a wrapped package of food, and some odds and ends that I sneaked from the cart. All in all, it wouldn't amount to much if we had to do a lot of traveling. With the chaos in the town behind us, we couldn't use the main roads for a while.
I unwrapped the package of food and took out some meat and a few biscuits. My face fell at the sight of the more or less tasteless meal. I sighed and brought the meager breakfast over to where Horo sat. At the sight of the dried meat, she gave me a look of disgust. "Are we really going to eat food like this?"
"Sorry, Horo... this is all we have right now. If we can get to the next town quickly, I'll be able to buy better food for us, but this is what we're going to have to eat for the next few days."
She sighed and took a strip of the dried meat out of my hands. "... well... at least it's meat. And anyways... you should have been able to catch a rabbit or two in the forest."
I watched her devour the meat and took a bite out of the hard, dry biscuit. "Don't expect the impossible from me. Besides, the wolf should do the hunting, shouldn't she?"
She leaned over and gave me a punch to the side. We laughed and finished our breakfast, preparing ourselves for the day ahead.
The sound of Horo's voice brought me back to my senses. I had been deep in thought while we were walking, and I hadn't noticed when she called me the first few times. I turned to look at her with an apologetic grin on my face. "Sorry, sorry. I didn't hear you. What is it?"
She glared at me for a moment, then sighed. "I swear... You don't even listen to what I have to say sometimes..."
"I do listen! I was just... my mind was somewhere else, that's all."
"I asked, what are you going to do about Abe?"
"Abe?" That's right. By now, Abe must have already completed the deal, and be on her way out of Renos. However, I had no way of knowing where she had gone, nor what she had planned. All in all, it was extremely risky for us to follow her, with both the Church and the merchants from Renos after her. "... but, it's not like I can just let her get away with the entire profit..."
"That means you have some sort of plan in mind, correct? The Lawrence I know wouldn't go after Abe without something in mind."
I scratched my head and sighed. "Well... I don't really have a solid plan in mind, seeing as how I still have no idea where Abe could be headed. Besides, what would we do if we manage to catch up to her?"
"... Lawrence... Don't look down on my abilities... I'm the wise wolf of Yoitsu, and I will not have you embarrass me like this. If we manage to catch up to her, I'm going to-"
I held up a hand, cutting her off before she got too heated up. "You're not going to use violence in order to get our share of the profit back. Don't you remember? Having to pay for your bread with money stained with the blood of others is a terrible reminder to you."
She smirked at me. "Did you really think that was what I was going to say? As I said, I'm the wise wolf of Yoitsu. I have my own ways of making her give up our portion of the profit, and they don't involve any violence."
I gave a small sigh of relief at her answer. Though it made me happy to hear she didn't intend to use violence in order to reclaim our money, her "methods" made me feel distinctly uneasy. For some reason, I was nearly certain that whatever she had planned truly didn't involve hurting Abe in any way, but would include quite a great deal of intimidation.
I sighed to myself and smiled. "Ah well... That should be good enough. We can work something out once we manage to find her."
After a long time of walking, we finally decided to stop for the night. I laid out the two thin blankets we had, and set to work gathering wood for our fire. "Horo, stay right there and get some food out. I'll go and collect some wood from around here, and I'll be back within fifteen minutes."
I turned and set out into the forest around me. Though it was nearing night, there was still plenty of light from the still-setting sun to aid me in my search for firewood. I picked up a few big chunks of wood and stuck them in my sack. From around, I also picked up some lighter twigs and dried pieces of wood and grass to use for kindling.
I was so engrossed with my work that the next thing I knew, the last rays of the sun were gone, and the full, bright moon was already on its way up into the sky. I cursed my carelessness and stuffed a final piece of wood into my sack and hoisted it over my shoulder.
I turned in what I assumed was the direction I had come from. As I walked, the light of the full moon behind me illuminated my path. As I walked, the moon reminded me of the night I had first met Horo, and how she had become such an important person to me.
It wasn't too long ago, was it... the night I became the companion to a selfish, bad-tempered, irreplaceable harvest deity. At the time, I don't think I even knew what I was about to get myself into. If I had known this is how it would have turned out back then, would I still have taken Horo with me?
I frowned and continued to make my way through the thick brush toward the camp. No... if I were still the man I was before I had met Horo, the idea of forgetting my dream to open a shop, even if it was only for a short amount of time, would have been impossible for me. I almost certainly would have ignored Horo and left her to suffer in that village.
Yes, that's right. I had changed greatly from the merchant I was before. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I had an actual companion to talk to, or perhaps it was because Horo understood me more than I could ever imagine. Also, it could have been because, over this time, I had gradually come to appreciate, admire, and love Horo. No matter what it was, what was clear was the fact that I wasn't the same anymore due to her presence. However, whether or not that was a good thing was still up for me to question.
"No..." I shook off that thought. There was no doubt that meeting Horo had changed my life, but, in my opinion, it was for the better. I might be less wealthy than I previously was, but should our dealings with Abe go well, I could very well have more than enough to open whatever kind of shop I wanted to when the time came.
Even though I had said that I would be giving up on my dream for a while in order to stay with Horo, the image of my shop was still clear in my mind. It had to have a large ground floor, with a decent-sized basement to store all of the goods I would sell. The second floor would be large enough to accommodate both me and Horo, and would-
I froze. When had I included a room for Horo in the design of my shop? But, there was no denying the idea that had made its way into my mind. Though I might not have realized it, what I truly desired was not just to have my own shop, but to have a home, one that I could share with someone I cared about.
But what would Horo say? She had set out on this journey for one reason, and one reason only, and that was to return to her home, far in the North. Who was I to try and steer her away from that desire? If we arrive at Yoitsu, and have no choice but to part, I would return to a more southern city and start up my own shop. I couldn't possibly live, as a mortal among Horo's people.
I was reluctant to even think about the possibility of parting with her, but I knew it may well be a decision I would have to make. "... well, we first have to reach Yoitsu. I can make up my mind about what I need to do when we get there."
I closed my mind to that topic, and began picking my way toward the faint glow of light that should be our campfire.
I broke through the last of the underbrush and all but collapsed in front of Horo. She stared at me impassively for a moment, then picked up the sack from the ground next to me and began to throw logs and kindling into the almost extinguished fire. Within moments, the fire roared back to life, and the shadows that had crept up while the fire was dying shrank back from the sudden heat and light.
I sat on a log, and picked up the plate of dried meat and biscuits that Horo had set out for me on the edge of the log. Before I began to eat, I noticed another plate, similar to mine, on a rock not too far away. Horo finished adding fuel to the fire and walked over to pick up the plate.
She sat next to me on the log and began devouring the food on her plate. "Horo... did you wait for me? You should have started eating without me once it became clear I wouldn't be back when I said I was going to be."
She paused, and a blush crept across her cheeks as she refused to look at me. "I'm not mad at you or anything, I was just worried that you might have gotten hungry waiting for me, and I feel bad for having you wait for so long."
"Lawrence... I have a request to make of you tonight."
I glanced over at her, and noticed something odd. She seemed extremely withdrawn, and her face looked pale in the light of the fire. "Horo, is something wrong? You seem slightly pale..."
"Lawrence... Will you... will you sleep under the same blanket as me tonight? While you were gone, something frightened me. I'd feel better with another person's presence near me."
For a brief second, I wondered whether or not I had heard her correctly. I almost made a joke about her request, but after seeing her face, I couldn't bring myself to do such a thing to her. I nodded and hesitantly put an arm around her.
When she didn't protest, I pulled her in towards me until our bodies were as close as they could be without touching. Quietly, we finished dinner and moved to find a comfortable spot to sleep. I spread one of the blankets a few feet from the fire, a place close enough so that we would stay warm through the coldest parts of night, but far enough so that we wouldn't roast from the heat.
Horo's body was tensed up like a drawn bowstring as she stared at the makeshift bed. In an obvious attempt to lighten the mood, I gave an elegant bow. "Well then, my princess, your bed has been prepared and now awaits you."
I began to feel more than a little unsettled when she didn't even crack a smile at my ridiculous attempt to make her laugh. She wordlessly climbed beneath the covers and motioned for me to join her. I took a deep breath and lifted the covers and slid in next to her.
Instantly, I was surprised by the warmth of her body. Her tail, soft and silky, brushed between us as she hugged it to herself for warmth. "Horo... will you tell me what's wrong? You never act like this normally..."
She slowly turned over to face me. Her eyes were dull and slightly red-rimmed, as if she had been crying. "... Lawrence... If someone made a selfish request of you, would you accept it?"
"That's a strange question... I guess... it would depend on the request. If I didn't think it was too unreasonable, then I would probably accept. However, if it came from you, I don't think there would be anything that would make me want to refuse."
It was to my surprise when she snuggled closer to me, nestling her body close to mine. She laid her head against my chest and draped her tail across both our bodies. She closed her eyes. "I see... Well, good night, Lawrence."
What was that about? I closed my eyes and tried to shut off the numerous thoughts now flying through my mind. What did Horo want? Well... she'll tell me when she feels ready to. I won't push her for an answer right now.
However, in the end, despite how hard I tried, I couldn't stop thinking. After a long time, I felt Horo stir against my body. Then, all of a sudden, I heard her speak. She must have thought that I had already fallen asleep, judging by what she said. Her voice was so soft that I almost didn't catch what she said. Even after I heard it, I still didn't believe what I had heard.
"... Lawrence... will you forgive me if I asked you to forget your dream and stay with me?"
My mind froze at her question, directed at my supposedly sleeping self. Had she been considering the same thing as I had? However, her request was different from mine. She wanted me, a wandering merchant, to stay and live with her, a wolf goddess.
However, I couldn't bear to stay with her, in Yoitsu, in a village where the people lived extraordinarily long lives. I knew that my mortality would separate us, creating a rift between us that could never be bridged.
I stayed still as she settled against me and fell asleep. I remained awake, restlessness keeping me from a peaceful night's sleep. I had no means of extending my life, and, despite how much I wanted to stay with her, I knew the limitations of my life. Though I knew this, I still wished to continue to stay by her side, even if it meant a lifetime of traveling from place to place.
I took her fragile body into my arms, and brought her close. I will stay with her, no matter what. Even... Even if it means that I will have to give up my dream. "... Yes, Horo... I will forgive you if you wish that." I whispered softly to her sleeping form.
With that, I closed my eyes and allowed the embrace of sleep to envelop me. What I didn't notice, however, was the tiny smile that formed on the face of the girl in my arms, and the single tear that slid down her face.