with Wizards + Part 2 (cont)
-- oOo --
This is almost ridiculous.
I've studied magic-users since I was young - that's what I was trained
for, after all - and I've dealt with more than a few. But these three...
They display their weaknesses far too easily. I can read the lot of them
like they've got their personalities printed on their faces.
"Here's the bag." The blond sorcerer brings over the supplies
needed for cooking. "I hope it's the right one - sometimes it's hard
for me to tell." He smiles.
Quatre, their supposed leader, is soft-hearted. He follows his feelings
and trusts easily - even to the point of disregarding his instincts at
some points. I believe he's the only one in the strange little group who
has actually started to like me. I think he knows he shouldn't trust me,
but he chooses to give me the benefit of the doubt.
Careless. Very careless.
I've begun to think that wolf he always seems to have following him around
is the only thing that would keep him from being accidentally killed or
taken advantage of. Of course, I've yet to see him in a fight, so I'll
refrain from judging him on that.
"Yeah, it's the one." The dark-haired wizard takes the offered
bag with a brisk thanks, and digs into it. "Get out of my way for
a while. I don't like people looking over my shoulder while I cook."
The easterner, Wufei, is proud. He's got a rigid sense of honor and, though
he's not exactly conceited, his opinion of his skills and his worth is
high. He's also overly serious and takes his actions and his words just
as seriously. He's quick to judge, and doesn't like to back down from
any position, even though his feelings or instincts might warn him otherwise.
Too easily manipulated.
I think that of the three of them, Wufei would be the most difficult to
defeat in straightforward combat. He leaves himself open to trickery,
though, mostly because his own sense of honor won't allow him to fully
consider the possibility that an enemy would be so dishonorable.
"Got the firewood." The braided druid sets down his sizable
bundle next to Wufei. "Think that oughta last you long enough, Wuffie?
I could always get more, no problem."
Out of the magic-users, the druid intrigues me the most - more than likely
a result of the fact that I've never actually dealt with one before. Druids
aren't combatants by nature, so one rarely finds oneself in a position
to fight against them. Duo seems typical of their kind - efficient and
disdainful of any waste. He's close to nature and values life of any kind.
Most people would say there's something beautiful about that. I think
that he's flighty and unreliable - not to mention stubborn. It's always
interesting to hear the same argument about honor presented in different
ways. Maybe some day someone will actually convince me.
He shouldn't hold his breath for that.
However, Duo wouldn't make a very challenging opponent. His weakness lies
in the fact that, because of his views on the importance of preserving
life, he'd be hesitant to kill unless he could see the absolute need for
it. I know exactly how to take advantage of that sort of hesitation.
"Heero?" Quatre glances at me. "You're awfully quiet -
is something the matter?"
I shrug. "Just thinking."
Duo rolls his eyes and sits down by Wufei. "Mr. Cheerful. He's worse
than you." He nudges the easterner.
Wufei scowls at him.
Dorothy's final instructions to me were to bring back all five of the
companions - but I only saw four. Well, four if you counted the wolf.
Relena had spoken of a beast, so I assume that was what she was talking
I haven't seen anything of a man who was lost.
Still, I could bring these four in. Dorothy seemed most interested in
the magic-users anyway; she probably wouldn't mind. And I'm not about
to go hunting aimlessly after some obscure phrase. If she kills the others,
it won't have any meaning anyway.
I have to consider my options carefully. If I decide to take them all
at once, I'll have to be sure of their fighting skills. I haven't seen
any of them fight yet, so I have no idea.
Perhaps it's time to do a little bit of field research...
I'll just have to make a request of my superiors.
I casually reach for my bag. Inside is a small knife, like the type used
for skinning animals. I twist the handle to the right, one half turn.
That'll be enough to show me what I need to know.
"What are you doing?" Wufei demands suddenly. He's looking at
me. I meet his gaze. "Getting myself a blanket."
"Keep your hands where I can see them, mercenary," the easterner
tells me coldly. "I don't entirely trust you not to stab us while
our backs are turned."
"Wufei!" Quatre hisses.
"It's perfectly normal to have suspicions." I pull out the wool
blanket. "I have no honor, after all."
The wizard glares at me suspiciously.
"Don't worry about it, Wuffie," Duo speaks up suddenly. "As
long as our backs aren't turned, he doesn't have a place to stab us, now
His gaze meets mine - that is a definite challenge. There's more intelligence
behind those eyes than I thought at first. I suddenly see the purpose
behind the light, offhand comment.
I'm impressed. Maybe he's not so flighty.
Beside Quatre, the wolf snarls.
Duo turns from me. "Something's out there," he tells the others.
I make sure my weapons are in place. This should be interesting.
"What's out there?" Wufei asks. "Another wolf?"
Duo shakes his head, and glances back at the wolf again. "Nothing
that belongs in this forest," he answers.
Quatre actually looks intrigued rather than frightened or tense. "Really?
Well, maybe we should find out if it's friendly. If it is, it might be
interesting to - "
"It's not," Duo interrupts him. He looks vaguely disturbed.
"It's killing trees."
"Trees?" Wufei repeats. "Just how big is this thing?"
I could answer that one. Really big.
"Really big." The druid unconsciously echoes my thoughts. "And
it's not normal. It's something created - unnatural."
By this point even Quatre is on guard. We can hear nothing from the surrounding
forest; everything is completely silent. That's it then. I brace myself
for the initial attack.
The creature bursts through the trees around the camp, and roars, leaping
at its first victim - Solo.
An arrow hits its face, and the wolf has time to jump out of the way before
the thing lands. I hadn't even seen Duo pick up his bow, much less draw
it and fire.
"What is that?" Quatre gasps, as the wolf lopes over to his
side. It stands between him and the beast, snarling, as if it intends
to protect him. "It looks like a monster!"
I don't know the answer to that myself, but the creature is menacing enough.
It has a huge snout like a boar's, and a broad expanse of thick skin over
its enormous back. It's nearly as tall as the three of them put into one
person, and its arms are apelike and twice the size of my waist. It doesn't
carry weapons - there's no real need. The fur covering the thing is dark
grey - appropriate, for a beast of darkness.
"Call it whatever you like!" Wufei has a thin strip of paper
between his fore and middle fingers. "But speculate after we've killed
it." He holds the paper in front of him like a weapon. "Quatre."
""Right." The blond holds out his hand and a blast of what
I recognize as pure inner energy - knocking the creature back and dazing
it. Quatre wavers where he stands. That's the main weakness of a sorcerer;
their magic comes from within, so it drains them to use it.
Time to join in. I jump in from the other side and attack the sensitive
part of its stomach. That's enough to enrage it. I deliberately slow my
reaction time to the point where the thing can and does throw me aside
with a clumsy swipe of one thick arm. Pain rushes through me when I land.
I ignore it in favor of watching the battle. I have plenty more to learn.
"Duo!" Quatre manages to recover fairly quickly - not bad. "Fall
back and keep shooting! It can't take too much of that!"
"Got it!" The thing aims another swipe at Duo, who skips back
out of the way and gives it a few more arrows. The tips must be poisoned,
because it slows a little more with each one.
The wolf growls, and comes to the rescue of his comrade, jumping onto
the creature's back and sinking its teeth into the back of that throat.
It does no good, of course; its hide is too thick. The wolf is thrown
back with very little effort.
"Solo!" Duo and Quatre both shout, out of sync with each other.
"Quatre!" That's a warning shout from Wufei's side.
The sorcerer appears to understand, and focuses on the charging creature.
"Give it a hit!" he tells the wizard. "Duo needs space
to shoot from!"
Wufei holds up the slip of paper and shut his eyes - then with a flick
of his wrist, releases that energy.
A thick wall of flame bursts from where he stands and hits its target
with a satisfying scorching sound, burning the creature in its side. It
roars in anger and lashes out - at Quatre rather than him, forcing the
sorcerer to take a dive into the bushes.
"Quatre! Watch it!" Duo calls, distracting the thing with another
volley of arrows. Stupidly, the thing flails at him, and he dodges neatly.
It hits Wufei instead, winding the wizard. "Wufei!"
It seems that the easterner is out of commission for the moment; he's
lying prone, and gasping for breath. Duo is already running to his side,
heedless of any danger.
Quatre finishes floundering in the bushes, and comes back up with a determined
look. "I'll give us some breathing room! Hold on!"
He brings the statement to life by pressing his hands together as if praying,
and shutting his eyes. "Shield," he says, in the same kind of
tone as Relena when she's in one of her seer spells. The air seems to
shudder and solidify around us - creating a kind of energy bubble that
pushes the beast out and locks the magic-users in.
Quatre collapses to his knees, momentarily spent.
The thing howls its fury and beats against the translucent wall, but Duo's
arrows appear to have done their work well. It slows, stops, and then
Impressive. I admit to a grudging respect there. I had expected more hesitation,
less skill... it was a little clumsy, but I can see the beginnings of
a very strong fighting team growing there. With more practice, and more
battles, they could easily become a force to be feared.
It's too bad they won't get the chance.
-- oOo --
It was dead?
The massive form lay in the trampled snow, muddy and stained with blood.
It twitched, writhing a bit, but did not rise.
Quatre was the first to recover and typically, his first action was one
of concern. "Are you all right?" he asked, pulling Heero out
of the snowbank he'd been thrown into. "Is anyone hurt?"
Wufei was throwing up into a bush. Duo had an arm around him and was rubbing
his back. "We're fine," he said. "Just a bit shaken --
Heero grunted, shaking off Quatre's hand. I suspected he felt he'd lost
face by his part in the battle -- having to be rescued by the others
would rankle. Quatre didn't notice, he was concerned -- for me.
"Oh no -- Solo? Solo!"
"Sooloo! Answer us!" Duo was getting upset. I barked in answer.
"Oh my." Quatre stared.
"Stay there! Don't move!" Duo was even more frantic. "We'll
get you down!"
I barked at him again, telling him not to be foolish. As if I was going
Four legs might be okay on the ground, but they were not much use in a
tree. I couldn't move much for fear the branches that had caught me would
let me go --
In short I was pretty much stuck.
"How did that happen?" Wufei wondered, recovering himself. "That
... thing just tossed him up there?"
I sighed. It had happened when I'd jumped on the beast's back. It had
shaken me off like I was a flea -- which I suppose was accurate
in terms of our respective sizes. Still -- I'd been powerless against
that thing. I did not like that at all.
"Wufei, do you have a levitation spell?" Quatre asked.
The Wizard nodded. "Why?"
"I can make a solid surface out of the air. If you raised it we could
use it to gently lower Solo down -- "
Wufei nodded and they went to work. Duo hovered nervously, probably the
most worried out of all of us, and Heero watched silently. The cloud-like
platform Quatre had constructed was raised slowly to me, until I brushed
the branches. Problem -- I still couldn't free myself. I barked
this information to Duo.
"Hang on -- I can fix that," Duo said, walking over to
"You can't climb it, Druid," Wufei said. "Those branches
won't take both of your weight -- "
Duo ignored him, wrapping his arms around the tree trunk and shutting
Quatre and Wufei exchanged a glance.
"He's not thinking of -- that's not possible is it?"
"I heard rumours -- always assumed they were rumours --
" Wufei broke off as the branches below me abruptly shifted.
I was slowly lowered through the branches to the floating cloud, the branches
passing me along like so many hands. I barked and tried to fight them,
not at all happy with this new development.
"Steady Solo! We've almost got you!" Quatre called. I looked
down to find the cloud just below me -- and suddenly I was sitting
on it, rather startled. The cloud carried me down, dissolving into nothing
as I reached the ground.
"Solo! Are you all right?"
"You're not hurt?"
I was immediately fussed over by Duo and Quatre, both of whom had to pat
me strenuously in order to be satisfied that I was indeed still alive.
I barked, wagging my tail, to show them I was okay.
"How did you do that?" Wufei demanded. "It looked like
-- the tree obeyed you!"
Duo hugged me. "Don't be silly, Wufei. If Druids could do things
like that, don't you think everyone would know about it?"
"We'd better get going," Heero said sourly. "It's getting
late -- we don't want to be here when night sets. There might be
"Lead on," Quatre motioned to Heero. As Duo stood to walk after
them I fastened my teeth in his sleeve.
"Solo? What -- "
I hauled him into the bushes. I would talk with you. It's very important.
"Duo?" Quatre called back. "Is something wrong?"
"Solo wants to talk to me," Duo yelled. "We'll catch up
with you later." He turned to me. //What's the matter, hunt-brother?//
I took a deep breath. //I would be human.//
-- oOo --
"Goodnight, Duo -- Solo," Quatre lingered by the fire.
"Are you sure you're not tired?"
"It's a beautiful night," Duo said with a shrug. "Look
at that moon." I barked in agreement.
Quatre followed our gaze upwards. "I don't think I'd noticed before
-- how bright the moon is -- or the stars."
"The air is clearer up here in the mountains. Makes for great star
gazing," Duo said, leaning back. "Sure you don't want to join
us? It'll be good -- take your mind off -- you know --
Quatre hesitated, then a yawn decided him. "Some other night. I think
I need the sleep."
I watched Quatre leave then lay down beside Duo. He'd said he'd think
about my request and answer me tonight. I hardly knew what I hoped --
on one hand there was the prospect of achieving my desire -- losing
everything I knew in the process.
"Solo?" Duo said. "Before I answer you, tell me why you
want what you do."
I growled. Was such hedging really necessary?
"Yes. I've never used my magic to change another before --
I have no idea how it may affect you. Therefore I want to be satisfied
that it is for a good cause or I will not attempt it."
Of all the times for Duo not to act like an irresponsible cubling! I told
him of my resolution to travel with them, of my feeling during the battle
when my inability to aid my pack-mates had been amply demonstrated. As
a human I could aid them where as a wolf I could not -- and I would
"Always it comes back to Quatre -- " Duo smiled. "Ya
think I should tell him what a lucky guy he is?" He sat up as I bared
my teeth at him. "Only joking!"
This is no joking matter! I growled. Duo --
"Easy, Solo. I know this is important to you -- and for that
reason, I'll do it."
Really? I stood, tail wagging. Now?
"No! Course not!"
My tail dropped. Why not?
"All sorts of considerations. I mean -- you'd be naked! Not
a great way to make an entrance -- not to mention catching hypothermia
-- and if your build as a human is anything like your wolf form
then my clothes aren't going to do you much good -- and then there's
the magic aspect! If I use magic here Wufei and Quatre will pick it up
-- and we're not supposed to use our magic openly! And I've already
blown that rule once today -- and am I ever in trouble when the
Council gets together next -- "
I nipped Duo to bring him back to the matter at hand. So when can you
"I remember there being a town to the East of here a bit. We could
get ahead of the others a bit -- I could get clothes for you there
-- and the others could catch up with us when they get there. What
do you think?"
I was already padding towards the forest. Let's go.
Duo whined a bit about missing sleep but a couple of assertive bites put
a stop to that.
"What about tomorrow when the others wake up and find us gone? Do
you really want to upset Quatre?" he asked, cunning.
I wavered. We'll come back quickly.
"Fine," Duo sighed. "The fact we're wandering through woods
that, as we saw recently, are inhabited by monsters, in the height of
night, all on our own doesn't bother you?"
I snorted at his statement. Anyone might think you were scared.
"You're really bent on leaving now?" Duo sighed. "Lead
on, O besotted one."
I looked at him suspiciously. 'Besotted' is not in the vocabulary of most
wolves -- but as Duo seemed resigned to the journey I let it pass.
We made good progress through the woods. The snow had started to fall
again, softly, giving the night a soft, veiled feel.
"I don't like this," Duo said. "Another one of those monsters
might be out there, and we wouldn't hear it until it was on top of us."
I growled at him. We couldn't do anything about the situation, so what
was the use in bringing it up?
Duo laughed at me. "Maybe there is something we can do. Take my clothes."
I listened amusedly to Duo swearing as he fastened his bundle of belongings
onto my back. Having lived among humans for a while, I knew the meaning
of a few of the words -- You're done?
"Sssh," Duo told me, with his eyes shut. I watched as his form
suddenly seemed to become fluid, reforming itself into a soft white body
and wings. The owl blinked at me once, revealing bright yellow eyes, before
spreading its wings experimentally.
I was impressed.
Duo launched himself into the air with a flutter of wings no louder than
the sound of the fallen snow. He was quickly lost amongst the falling
snow but a soft hoot floated back to me from several trees ahead, an invitation
The rest of the journey passed uneventfully. With Duo in the air we made
much better progress -- I could travel at my own speed rather than
having to adjust my gait to match the two-leggers. Just as dawn began
to lighten the sky and the snow stopped falling, Duo swooped down to inform
me the human village was in sight.
"We'll be there in time for breakfast," he said, pulling on
his clothes. "I might even have time to take a bath -- a hot
bath -- with real hot water -- "
I barked. He hadn't forgotten the reason for this journey?
"How could I?" Duo said. "You'd bite me if I did."
The human village was strange, unsettling. So many of them crowded into
one space -- enough for several packs. Not surprisingly, sharing
such a confined territory, there were plenty of sharp voices and shouts.
I stayed close beside Duo, wondering how he could thread his way through
the confusion with such calm.
"Here we go -- tailor," Duo said, pushing open the entrance
to one of the human dwelling places -- a sort of wooden cave, enclosed,
but situated right out in the open. I followed him inside, not liking
the feeling of being trapped that rose within me as the door closed.
"May I have a look at your wares?" Duo asked the man seated
inside the den. He described what he wanted as the man looked me over
with a sour look.
"There'll be no dogs inside my shop, thank-you," he said.
I bared my teeth, unnerved by this strange place and ready to defend myself
against any slight. Duo came to my rescue.
"It's okay," he said. "Solo's a wolf. Now, about these
prices -- "
The shopkeeper gave the clothes to us for nothing.
"I ought to go shopping with you more often!" Duo chortled as
we returned to the woods. "What's the problem, Solo?"
I fretted. The man at the shop -- dismissed me.
"I'm afraid most humans are that way to animals. Ignore them --
they don't know any better," Duo replied. "Are you ready?"
I tried to dismiss my worry from my mind. I'm ready.
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