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|The Princess and the Wolves|
October 7, 2013
As Azula went crashing through the underbrush, she silently congratulated herself on escaping. After a year in that infernal mental hospital, confined to a wheel chair and wrapped in a straightjacket, she was free! Free, free, free! She paused for breath and looked over her shoulder for signs of pursuit, and grinned when there were none. Her chest heaved with exertion, she couldn't remember the last time she had run that far.
She straightened up, "Now then, where am I?" She looked around and upon spotting a likely looking tree climbed it to look around, hissing slightly as the rough bark scraped her skin. She looked out from the top branch, "Mountains, that doesn't narrow it down." She sighed, "And nothing close by except the asylum. Hmm..." A bird suddenly landed on the branch next to hers. She looked at it and smiled as she recognized it, "So that's where I am! The Southern Peninsula. Hah! Nice try brother! You can't throw me off that easily!"
She climbed back to the ground laughing and ran west. It was completely counter intuitive with the capital being on the east coast of the Fire Nation, but from the Southern Peninsula, it was west. She ran until she had to stop and catch her breath again, this time by a small stream. She cupped a hand and drank a little before sitting down, cursing the unevenness of the ground. She looked up at the sky, which was tinted with orange and growled, "Fine I'll travel in the dark." She stood up and stalked off through the woods, lighting a small fire in her hand and making a torch out of a stick when the light grew dim, "It's going to be a long walk."
As she walked, she quietly cursed everyone she knew. Father for leaving her all alone amidst a pack of traitors, the traitors for being traitors, Mai and Ty Lee for being traitors, the crews of the airships for being incompetent, the doctors for keeping her against her will, the Avatar for ruining everything, Zuzu for existing, that water-tribe peasant for tricking her and healing Zuko, Mother for orchestrating her downfall.
She was so caught up in her muttering that she didn't even notice the shadowy form slinking along behind her. Until that is, the shadowy form growled. Azula spun, putting her torch in front of her defensively, searching for the source of the growl. She spotted it and immediately thought, wolf. She edged backwards, looking for the rest of its pack. The brown wolf stalked closer and she could have sworn it chuckled. That did it. No wolf was going to laugh at Princess Azula of the Fire Nation!
Her face twisted with fury, she threw down her torch and ignited both bands before hurling a barrage of flames at the startled animal. She chased after it as it turned to flee hurling fire with vicious abandon. She didn't stop until she heard it yelp with pain as one of her fire balls hit it square in the rump. She let it go with an indignant snort, "Yeah, that showed him." She groaned and sat down at the base of a tree, resting her head against it, wishing she could just stay there. After a moment she hauled herself back to her feet and walked away, stumbling in her exhaustion to find shelter. If there were more wolves, she wanted her back to a wall when they came for her.
The "wolf" was named Xex, and as he stood making his report in his human form to his superior, he wished he had stayed to fight the strange fire flinger. Lord Lycaon was not called "Stone-Heart" for his forgiving nature and high tolerances for failure and incompetence, and Xex had been supposed to bring a captive for interrogation. He quaked in his fur now as Lycaon mused over his report. Xex could feel the other Lieutenants and scouts staring at him. Not Lycaon, Lycaon didn't like being stared at. Xex may have been Lycaon's most trusted lieutenant, but that didn't exempt him from his commander's fury when it rose.
It occurred to him now that if he went back and retrieved the girl, maybe even roughed her up a bit, he might regain some of his good standing with his commander. He said as much and immediately wished he hadn't as Lycaon's cold red eyes snapped open to stare at him. It was a stare that could root any animal in the world to the ground in fear. It worked pretty good on his subordinates too, Xex thought. Xex was literally shaking with fear now as he tried to stammer an apology and beg for forgiveness.
Suddenly Lycaon stood and Xex nearly fainted with terror, certain he was about to meet an untimely end. Lycaon looked at him, "No. I will retrieve this fire flinger personally. You Xex, will help the cooks with this night's meal by hauling in the wood for their cooking fires." Xex could hardly believe his luck, potential death from handling foreign plants was an incredibly light punishment, "Yes Commander. Thank you Commander." Lycaon raised an eyebrow, "For what? I'm not done yet." Xex's heart dropped into his stomach, uh-oh.
Lycaon moved so fast nobody saw him deliver the blow that sent Xex flying across the camp backwards. They just heard the impact and saw Xex crumple around the force of the blow and go flying, Lycaon's palm where Xex's chest had been an instant earlier.
They winced as they saw a tree collapse when Xex went through it and the one behind it shake, but they knew Xex had been lucky. He'd be up walking around in less than an hour; Lycaon could have torn his head off easily. Lycaon looked around at his lieutenants, "Dismissed." Then he shifted into his wolf form and bounded away into the darkness.
Azula huddled around her tiny fire in the shallow cave as the rain started coming down. She was all muttered out by this point and now sat wordlessly fuming at the world. She shivered and took off her ragged dark red clothes to dry. She hadn't made it into the cave before the storm started. She winced as she sat back down, the cave floor was rocky and cold, and now wet as well thanks to the rain dripping in through a hole in the roof. She sat there, staring into the fire, miserable as she heard her stomach growl. She placed a hand on her stomach, "Oh be quiet, I'm hungry too, but we have to go without some things until we get back."
A voice from the back of the cave rasped, "Back where, little fire flinger? Is there a settlement near here?" Azula leapt to her feet and spun to see an immense red eyed snake covered in bony armor slithering out of a hole in the back of the cave. The snake made a hissing noise that could have been construed as laughter, "Xex said you were impressive, I didn't realize he was referring to your looks."
Azula blushed and then remembered she was naked, causing her to blush even more furiously as she snatched up her shirt to try and cover herself with a glare at the talking serpent, "What are you? Some kind of rock spirit?" The snake made that laughish hissing sound again and stepped forward, its front bulging grotesquely as it laughed, "No little fire flinger, I am much worse." Azula edged backwards towards the edge of the cave as the serpent became an immense wolf, still covered in that strange bone armor with those burning red eyes. She conjured a plume of her signature blue flames into her hand and put it between herself and the whatever-it-was, wishing she had both hands free, "Stay back."
The wolf stood up, "I cannot do that little one." Azula squeaked with fear as it advanced and unleashed the most powerful blast of flames she could muster. She held it for several minutes, and then a sizzling armored hand reached out of the flames and casually batted hers aside, revealing the immense being less than four feet from her, its bone armor sizzling, but unscathed. "Impressive in more way than one I see," it stated, its voice had changed with its shape, now it was a hair raising voice of command that brought goose-bumps to Azula's flesh.
Then it leaned in very close, "Good night little fire flinger." It breathed a strange smelling breath into her face and suddenly the world went fuzzy.
Lycaon stood over Azula, "If we take slaves in this war, I'm keeping this one." He told himself. He crouched and picked up her discarded pants, closely examining them. Not animal he decided, or at least no animal he had ever seen. Maybe this girl's people weren't such barbarians after all. He considered trying to dress her. She was attractive, even if she was a foreigner, and he didn't trust his subordinates a tenth the distance he could kick them, especially where attractive women were concerned. Then he looked at her face, so peaceful in sleep.
No, he decided, he would keep her with him, and conduct her interrogation personally rather than let Gristle, the usual interrogator, do it. Gristle was known for extracting whatever information could be extracted from those brought to him, and doing so in a very messy fashion. Very, very few of his patients survived a full interrogation, and none made it out unscathed. He gingerly lifted her off the ground, even declawing his hands so as not to harm her. Then he snorted at himself, what was he doing? Trying not to hurt a foreigner. Hmph, was he not Lycaon Stone-Heart the Destroyer, known the world over for his brutality? He considered slashing the girl, just out of spite. Then she stirred in her sleep and smiled.
Lycaon immediately decided against it, "Such beauty should not be marred by tooth or claw nor errant spike of bone, for he who does shall forever be bored and alone." He immediately made a face, poetry? It must have been fumes from something the girl had in the fire he told himself. Nevertheless, he immediately smoothed away the spikes of his armor and set off back toward camp with the unconscious girl in his arms.
Xex was pulling a sled of firewood in the form of a wolf when he heard Lycaon bellowing for him. He immediately dropped what he was doing and ran. If the commander was bellowing, it meant he was steaming mad. When the commander was steaming mad, he had a tendency to disembowel people, but he also had a much feared knowledge of how to extend and increase the agony of death, which he had put to very public use on the last poor fool that had kept him waiting while he was angry.
Xex crossed the camp as quickly as his legs could carry him. He skidded to a halt and found Lycaon sitting on the grass in the form of an immense gray wing-wolf. Lycaon had one immense wing stretched over something Xex couldn't see on the ground.
Lycaon looked Xex right in the eye, "You were defeated by a girl. Little more than a cub." Xex felt himself pale beneath his fur, failure was bad; incompetence was nearly a death sentence. Xex found himself quivering with fear for the second time that night.
Lycaon turned his head to look at his outstretched wing and lifted it slightly so that Xex could see under it. Xex was so shocked and confused he forgot to be terrified. It was the fire flinger! Lycaon the Destroyer, scourge of all who challenged him, was sheltering the fire flinger from the rain! This was so out of character that Xex sat down in confusion. Lycaon looked back at him, "She is cold and wet. She has no fur, so she must have shelter. Because you found her, you will build a shelter for her, and you will guard her with your life until such time as I say otherwise." Xex blinked, not quite comprehending, "Guard her from what commander?"
"The men idiot. You will not touch her, you will not let anyone else touch her, you will most emphatically not let Gristle touch her. If I am in a rage, you are to stop me from touching her. You are not to leave her side for even a second. If you fail and she is harmed in any way, after I finish killing whoever is responsible, you die. Painfully. Do I make myself perfectly clear Xex? Your life now hinges upon her well being."
Xex flicked his ears in salute, "Yes Commander. Special prisoner, special importance. My life depends on hers. Yes sir. Understood Commander." Lycaon's ears flicked back with impatience, "Then why aren't you building a shelter?" Xex's eyes widened and he scrambled off to find supplies, reeling with shock from what he was certain was his punishment for his incompetence. What was so special about the fire flinger? He asked himself as he heard Lycaon howling for his other lieutenants to assemble.
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