TsuYa was getting better at wolf back riding. Not like he had any choice in the matter. Either he learned how, or he was dumped by the side of the road. Zazo certainly had no intention of stopping for anyone slower than herself.
Even as smooth at the She Wolf’s stride was, riding for hours in a day was something his body ached to get used to. He’d been doing it for days. Zazo never seemed to tire. She didn’t need to eat or sleep, and she lacked sympathy for those who did.
TsuYa just happened to be one who did.
“Zazo,” he moaned. “I need a break.”
-We just stopped for one!-
“That was two and a half hours ago!” he informed her, pulling back on her fur. “Come on! I really gotta go!”
-If you would just stop injecting things into your mouth, then maybe you wouldn’t have to stop.-
“No. I wouldn’t have to stop, because I’d be dead.”
-Well, then. Problem solved.-
TsuYa grumbled as the wolf finally bounded to a stop under a drape of dark trees. He slipped down off of her back and strode bow-legged towards the most overgrown area of the brush to do his business. The way that the She Wolf pranced and wagged her tail made him think that she almost understood enough to know that what he was doing was something worth making fun of. Almost.
Finally, after relieving himself, he trudged back over her, stretching his hands over his head.
-Are you finished now?- she panted with an insistent forward tilt of her ears.
“Yeah. But I need a break. My legs are killing me.”
Zazo rolled her eyes. In fact, her whole head rolled. She loped around making sounds of impatience.
TsuYa just chose to ignore her. His thoughts were on the road ahead. And behind.
So far, the path was pretty clear with no signs of Marked or Esgyll on the Mainland. Following the boy Sygnus was cut and dry – Zazo knew how to find him, even if he left no trail. Still, it was hard to believe they traveled for many days and had not caught up with him yet. After all, it was one boy traveling on foot with a few hours’ head start verses one giant Arweinydd She-Wolf who could travel day and night without stop.
“Are you sure we don’t need to back track, Zazo?” TsuYa found himself asking for the tenth time that day.
-I told you no. The boy Sygnus is still ahead of us.-
“By how far?”
-It is undeterminable,- she replied, pointing her nose at the ground.
“I just don’t get it,” TsuYa shook his head, pacing back and forth to work the kinks out of his sore muscles.
-That means that which cannot be defined,- Zazo shook out her head with a huff at ignorance.
“I knoooow what the word means,” the warrior grumbled. “I meant, I don’t get how he can still be so far ahead of us.”
-He is traveling fast.-
TsuYa groaned and made a face palm, “Hooooow? How is he traveling faster than we are?”
-That, too, is undeterminable.-
“Why can’t you just admit that you don’t know the answer? You don’t have to go and dress it up in a fancy word,” he waved his hand in a circle, blowing a stray strand of hair out of his eyes.
TsuYa had noticed for the first time that his hair was growing out. It was even long enough to pull into a short tail in the back again. He knew it would take time before it was anywhere near as long as it once was, but he looked forward to imitating Father’s warrior’s knot once it did.
-Are you calling me ignorant?-
“Did I say that?”
The giant white wolf padded up to him, shoving her nose straight into his face. Instinct made him stumble back as she displayed gleaming fangs. –There’s a difference between not knowing something and something being undeterminable, little Earthian.-
“Hey, who are you calling little!” his brows lowered in a put-out expression.
-There is only one little Earthian here. That I DO know,- Zazo’s eyes slitted. -One that needs to learn to have more respect when addressing a member of the Trine.-
TsuYa swallowed the retort that wanted to bubble its way into his throat. A throat that might find itself torn out very easily by the huge fangs of the huge wolf.
Despite the number of times that Zazo saved him from this, that or the other, he never really knew the reason why. Or if she might turn on him on a whim. There was nothing certain or consistent in the way that the Arweinydd acted.
Then again, that could be said of just about all those of the female persuasion.
When the She Wolf saw that he would remain silent, she turned her head and retracted her fangs. With a flip of her tail she paced to the other side of the glade, nose in the air as if searching for something. Or out of arrogance. He didn’t know which.
If I had known I was going to get stuck with her, I wouldn’t have been so quick to volunteer for this.
It seemed to come and go in spurts. Sometimes they would get along for a while, even agree on things. Sometimes they would butt heads about something, which almost always ended with a show of fangs that forced him to back down. Time and again, his pride was wounded, but he’d rather have wounded pride than wolf-sized pieces missing from his body.
Not that I have a choice. I don’t even know where we are at this point. I’ve had to trust her to follow LuShi this whole time, and never had a chance to set down a route or figure our location.
So what started as his brilliant idea to prove his worth to his Father and the others on the Island quickly turned into forced reliance upon the erratic Arweinydd. Not that it surprised him, everything tended to end up that way with him.
This is so frustrating…
Zazo flicked an ear back at him but did not turn around, -Do you think I’m having the time of my life?-
“I wouldn’t know,” he grumbled.
Nose pointed towards the ground she began to round on him, seeming to have a retort to that. Her eyes focused past him, into the darkness of the forest. Before he could utter a sound, Zazo made a great leap, straight over his head, clearing him with ease. She landed in a stiff legged growl, head low, focused on something he couldn’t see.
What is she doing?
That’s when he heard it. The sound of something very large coming towards them, very fast.
-TsuYa!- her voice echoed in his mind sharply.
He grabbed a fistful of her white fur and threw himself on her back. One hand reached behind him, unfastening the black bladed scythe and pulling it ready.
Are we gonna take it? Or are we gonna run?
He had no idea what was on the She Wolf’s mind. Again, TsuYa was left clinging to her back, gritting his teeth and waiting for the Arweinydd’s choice.
A flash of golden brown appeared through the dark brush only a second before the huge shape burst from the trees. It was a feline creature – the only way TsuYa knew how to describe it was to liken it to a huge, golden lion. Its body was more sleek and gracefully built than a normal cat of that size. The fur of the mane extended long over its head and shoulders, down its back and covering its chest. The maw was open wide with the breath of a long run, though its stride did not break even as it landed in the clearing next to them.
The clearing became a furious circling as huge feline and canine stalked around and around, eyeing each other with sounds of confusion and disgruntlement. As TsuYa clung tightly to Zazo’s fur, he noticed for the first time the strange appendage on the lion’s back. Though it was dark and hard to see, he realized with a start…
It’s a person? Someone’s riding that monster!
As they swept around the clearing one more time, TsuYa raised his voice, “Hey you! Call your creature off of us, right now!”
Over the sound of Zazo’s growl, he could make out a voice shouting in return, “By tha Light, TsuYa!”
He could recognize that accent anywhere.
“JouKa?” He yanked back hard on Zazo’s scruff. “Stop! It’s JouKa! Stop attacking!”
The She Wolf’s growl turned into a snarl as she obviously did not like being ordered around by a little Earthian. Though she kept her head low to the ground, she fell still, no longer rounding on the huge cat.
“Thank you. I thought for certain she was going to tear off my tail,” a deep rumbling voice carried across the clearing. When TsuYa realized it was coming from the lion, he nearly fell off of Zazo’s back.
JouKa had already dismounted from the creature’s huge shoulders and landing lightly with her wings outstretched. Her face was almost cheerful and welcoming as she rushed forward, “TsuYa! We finally caught you!”
“What in the name of the Seven Universes are you doing here?” TsuYa dropped to the ground as well and came to meet her in the middle of the clearing. He wasn’t too keen on seeing what might happen if JouKa came any closer to Zazo. There was still a lingering sound of a growl in the air behind him.
“We came to help!” she told him with a firm nod.
“We?” he furrowed his brow, glancing first at the girl, then at the lion.
“Aye. Me ‘n Aur!” JouKa motioned one hand behind her.
“Aur?” TsuYa choked with a startled look at the beast. For the first time he noticed that the medallion under his shirt was tingling – the telltale sign of the Guardian’s presence.
“Travel form,” the voice answered simply. Aur’s hooded golden eyes blinked once. It was the only motion in his form.
“I don’t understand, why are you here?” TsuYa asked, peering back and forth between them.
When Aur didn’t answer immediately, Zazo gave a snuff. -Figures. That brother of mine would send his Watcher to snoop around.-
“Well, tell them to go away?” TsuYa suggested.
-Wouldn’t do any good. Once a Watcher is here, you’re not going to shake him.-
“TsuYA!” JouKa complained with a scowl. “I ‘eard that! And I don’t be plannin’ on goin’ nowhere! We came all this way out ‘ere and we aren’t goin’ back!”
He was surprised that she didn’t stick her tongue out and follow up with a “So nyah!”
“I told you before, JouKa, this is not a game!” he pointed a finger with a deepening frown.
“I know that,” she replied, pulling one of her blades from its sheath, just enough to let the light catch off the edge. “I’m not playin’ around. I’m fer real.”
“Why?” the word came out of his throat with a breath.
“I ‘ave my reasons. Maybe yer not the only one that ‘as somethin’ to fight for. Somethin’ to find… somethin’ to prove?” her eyes glittered as she met his gaze directly.
TsuYa hated that look. Whenever JouKa got that way, there was no turning her around. So he appealed to a higher power, “Zazo?”
The She Wolf snuffed, more subdued than he expected her to be. It wasn’t as if she was actually afraid of the huge cat, that much he knew. So when Zazo gave a disdainful flip of her tail, TsuYa could hardly believe it.
-If they want to come so badly, let them come.-
“You gotta be kidding me,” a low groan escaped his lips.
TsuYa could already see it – Zazo on one side and JouKa on the other. With him in the middle getting ALL the flack. Aur would probably be off to one side laughing… of course, you couldn’t tell he was laughing with that stone face of his. But he would be.
“Come on, TsuYa. We can ‘elp!” JouKa crossed her arms with a frown.
“The young lady speaks the truth, son of ZenToYa,” Aur added. Just one sentence. But that’s all it took for TsuYa to close his mouth with a click. It was hard for him to argue against Aur, considering the Guardian was the one who held him from the brink of darkness.
TsuYa gave a grudging sigh, but there seemed to be no way around it. By the smug tilt to JouKa’s smile, she knew it.