The order rooted Varlaine to the spot. His jaw hung slack, and he stared at the animal as the magic diamond dust on his palm melted away. “A talking wolf?” He questioned under his breath. The beast crept in, silent as it all but crawled; its barrel chest was so low to the ground that its fur had stained earthen orange. So taken was he by the inhuman grace and fluidity with which the canine moved, he hadn’t even noticed that he was backing away, towards the city walls. He knew that it was a futile effort for a futile safety, but his instincts demanded he put as much space between himself and the creature as possible.
“I said, do not run.” When the animal spoke again, it was firmer. Louder. Its hackles raised and its fur bristled, and brilliant white fangs glinted in the midday sun when its lips curled up in a snarl that made ‘Laine jump. “Your brother worries for you, at the castle. Come quietly.”
His brother? Varlaine had many brothers and sisters; he was a dozen seats from the throne and then some. None of them that he knew of would have sent this… thing, whatever it was, after him. Shaking his head, he called out in response. “What brother? What of my father?”
“Boy, I do not have time for this.” The creature’s deep, inhuman voice boomed impatiently. “Airvlan. Your eldest. There will be plenty of time to talk later, when you’re with him. You’re coming back with me.” Standing up to its full height, the creature’s tail straightened out and his body formed a line, aimed straight at Varlaine. Like an arrow, he shot towards the prince, and Varlaine staggered backwards in surprise. His book spilled from his hand, and he brought the empty arm up to cover his face, bracing for fangs to snap in.
The report of a fired arrow issued from behind him, flying in from the side. He didn’t have the chance to see it, face covered, but the shriek of feral pain from his front clued him in on what the bowman’s mark had been. ‘Laine opened his eyes and looked, and saw the beast writhing on the ground. Its right half was stained crimson, stark on the pale fur, and a front paw rubbed relentlessly at his ear—or what was left of it. The top half had been torn away, pinned far behind him by an arrow that stuck in the grass.
It let out another bellow of pain, scrambling to its feet and shaking its head violently as it wheeled sideways to face its attacker. Laine risked a glance that way, too, and saw a sandy-brown haired man in a guard’s uniform with a longbow in hand, another arrow already nocked and ready.
The beast opened its maw to show off its pearly fangs, and a snarl ripped from its throat, burning with furious retribution. “You son of a—“
“I don’t miss twice!” Nico cut it off with a shout, stepping closer to Varlaine but keeping his bow at the ready. The animal’s lip curled again, this time in a sneer. Taking the opportunity, Varlaine recollected himself and his spellbook. Using a jittering hand, he prepared another spell, while the beast shook its head again and flung droplets of blood out over the grass. Seeing the losing odds ahead of it, the wolf fled with a lowered tail. Its footfalls were heavy, scampering back into the grass and away from Nico and ‘Laine. As it did, a flash of white light emitted from its cowering body and a man with untamed white hair fell to all fours in its place. He was dressed in a long, dark coat, and his wild hair was stained as red as the wolf’s fur had been; with a surprising agility, he disappeared back into the woods.
“Goddamned Alra. You alright, kid? I was looking everywhere for you.” Nico offered a hand to ‘Laine to help him off the ground, a hand which the prince took as warmly as he could. His frozen, magic imbued hand caused the guardsman to flinch, but the archer’s gloves protected him decently enough. Even as he helped the boy up, Nicomenda’s eyes were on the forest, and then on his arrow out in the grass.
“That was… an Alra?” The prince asked curiously. He looked out at the timberline, as well. The wolf had turned into a man as it limped away. Alra were beastmen, he’d heard that before, but he’d never seen more than a few who had come to his father’s court and they had never looked so feral.
“Yeah. You saw him, right? Changed from a monster to a man, can change back any time. That’s an Alra thing, all of them can do it.” When Varlaine was on his feet, Nico roughly brushed his shoulders off. While the man looked like he couldn’t handle himself, he had enough arm strength to make ‘Laine’s knees buckle when he clapped his back. “What were you thinking, anyways? Going off alone like this. Naz is gonna kill me when she finds out I let you get attacked. You aren’t hurt, are you?”
‘Laine shook his head in response. “N-no. I’m fine,” He promised, glancing back at the town gate. “Can we just… go back inside? What if he comes back?”
“Err… yeah, sure.” Nico’s eyebrows raised when his scolding was brushed aside, but he seemed to take it into stride well enough. “You go first. I want to collect my arrow.”
Varlaine didn’t need to be told twice. Taking the opportunity, he walked back towards the town gates with a sense of urgency in his steps. He had a sinking feeling that someday, he was going to come across that wolf Alra again, and he would be seeking revenge.