They were lead to the courtyard, where a large cage made of lithium steel waited with its prize; a young adolescent Wyrsea.  The Queen came to a stop before the cage and watched the Wyrsea pace its borders.

“Who caught it?” she asked.

“I did, Majesty,” came an old voice from behind her.  Arathine turned and saw a wizened old man with a long dirty grey beard, and tattered dirty clothes.  His name was Gordos, or ‘lost one’.  He was a hermit who lived beyond the farmlands and within the forest itself.  Many of the Wolves believed him mad.

“How were you able to do this when even my finest hunters were unable to do so?” Arathine demanded as she gestured towards the cage.

“If you will forgive me my Queen,” said Gordos, bowing slightly.  “But your people stink of civilization.  I have spent years within the forest, I smell like it and the creatures accept me.”  He licked his lips nervously.  “I created a simple snare and laid in wait until one was caught.  Then I darted it to knock it unconscious, and fetched your guards to bring it to you.  It has only been awake a few minutes.”

The Queen studied it for a moment, noticing the sluggish movements from the normally swift and agile creature.

“Clear the stables,” she ordered.  “Take the creature there.” Guards and grooms scurried to obey, turning stabled horses out to pasture and clearing the largest stall for the creature.  Two builders, strong men whose jobs normally consisted of manual labor and construction, were called in to lift the cage and carry it into the stall.  The drug had worn off; the young Wyrsea was snarling and trying to break free.  Once the cage was set onto the stall floor, Arathine entered and locked the door behind her.

“Arathine! Are you mad?” exclaimed Kudo.

“The cage will hold and I wish to study it,” she replied without taking her eyes off the creature in the cage.  She glanced at those gathered behind her.  “Leave us,” she ordered.  They obeyed, leaving the Queen and her Captain alone with the Wyrsea.

“Take notes Kudo,” Arathine said as she walked towards the caged creature.  She circled the cage, watching the creature watch her.

“Sword,” she ordered, her gaze never leaving the creature.  Kudo handed her his sword through the bars of the stall.

“Won’t work,” he said.  Arathine ignored him.  The continued to circle the cage and Wyrsea continued to follow her.  Then Arathine lashed out; she stabbed at the creature before it knew what was coming, and by the time it snapped at the sword, it was gone and the fangs clicked shut on empty air.  Arathine had stabbed the shoulder, but there was no blood.  The creature growled as Arathine tossed the sword and continued to circle, wrinkling her nose at the odor the creature was making.

“It has scent glands,” she stated flatly, never ceasing her circling.  “Spear.”

Kudo passed over a spear and the process of circle and stab was repeated with spear, arrow, dagger, and throwing knife, with the same results.

“Now what?” asked Kudo. “No weapon of ours can harm it.” Arathine stopped pacing.

“Leave,” she ordered.  Kudo stared at her as she sat down cross-legged in front of the cage and closed her eyes.

“Is that wise?” asked Kudo.  Arathine ignored him and the sound of the door closing behind him a few moments later as he left.  Arathine closed her mind to everything around her, touch, sound and smell.  Vaguely she sensed the creature cease its growls and lie down and watch her, but soon even that was gone and she was left alone within her mind.  After a few minutes of meditation, Arathine opened her eyes and stood up, a motion that was swiftly copied by the Wyrsea.  She walked to the stall door and bellowed for a torch. She half listened to the scramble of feet as someone ran to comply.  Soon Kudo entered with a torch in hand.  As he passed it through the stall door, the Wyrsea started growling again.

“So you do not like fire, eh young one?” whispered Arathine, walking closer to the cage.  With each step she took, the growls increased in volume.  Suddenly Arathine stopped and swiftly returned to the door.

“A bucket of water, quickly,” she hissed, and continued her advance once the bucket was safely within reach.  Arathine stopped one foot from the cage, and knelt down.  The Wyrsea was backed into a corner, its lips writhed away from its fangs, and the creature was snarling so fiercely that Arathine feared its voice box would break.  Then, before she could change her mind, Arathine stabbed at the creature with the torch and hit it squarely.  The creature burst into flame and started squealing in pain.  Seconds later Arathine snatched the bucket and doused the Wyrsea.  Steam rose from the charred and bleeding body, and the Wyrsea sat whimpering in its corner.

Arathine turned swiftly and almost ran Kudo over as she fled the stall.  As she exited the stable, she called orders over her shoulder that the creature be fed and its wounds taken care of over the next few days, and returned swiftly to her bedchambers with Kudo scrambling to keep pace.

Once the doors were closed, Arathine went straight to her desk and started writing out a list, ignoring Kudos’ questions as to what in the hells was she up to.

“Call four of your best guards,” Arathine finally ordered him, reviewing her list. Once they were standing before her, she gave them each a task.  One was sent to the Builder’s Guild to commission the start of work on a trench fifteen feet deep, ten feet wide, and five feet longer than the gates on each side.  “They are to construct this trench directly in front of the gates,” she ordered.

Another was sent to the Net Maker’s to commission a net half the height of the gates and double its length.  The third was sent to the Oil Maker’s to commission hundreds of gallons of the most flammable oil available, while the fourth was sent to the Cow Herder and Butchers to arrange for the slaughter of fifteen cows.  Once the bewildered guards were dispatched, Arathine sank gratefully into a chair and ordered a refreshing glass of flavored ice water.

“What was that all about?” Kudo asked as he sat down next to her.  Arathine smiled over her glass of water.

“All part of my plan dear one,” she said.  “It is how we will rid ourselves of the Wyrsea forever.”

“And what is this brilliant plan O wise one?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.  “Once everything is ready I will tell you,” Arathine replied as she straightened up.  “Now if you don’t mind, I do believe I will turn in for the night.”  Kudo stood up to leave.

“What of your orders?” he asked her.

“So long as everyone says yes, I have nothing further until tomorrow,” she replied as she escorted him to the door.  Kudo gave her a questioning look and smiled when she nodded.

“Until the morning then my Queen,” said Kudo bowing.  Then he turned swiftly and left.

 

That night, in the hours just before dawn when all were asleep, Arathine lay awake in her bed.  She lay on her side naked with the covers pulled up over her chest.  She was staring at the wall, reviewing her plan in her mind.  Suddenly she heard the soft snick of the door to her secret passageway close.  She smiled as the soft padding of bare feet crossed the room, then she felt the end of the bed dip slightly as it accepted the weight of another person.  Strong arms wrapped around her waist in the dark, and soft lips caressed the back of her neck.

“Everything is a go, my Queen,” whispered a voice in her ear.

“Good,” replied Arathine as she turned in her lover’s arms.  “All is going according to plan,” she whispered before their lips met.  And as the lover’s night progressed, one word could be heard, whispered from Arathine’s lips: “Kudo. . .”

 

Throughout the next few weeks, the people of the Wolf were busy working on the Queen’s mysterious plan.  Everything was going smoothly; the Builders were digging the trench, the Oil Makers were preparing the oil, the Net Makers were weaving the net, and the Butcher and Cow Herder were preparing for the slaughter, to be done at the Queen’s command.  The days were spent preparing everything; even the Queen and her Captain were hard at work.  Arathine, measuring the size of the Wyrsea territory and preparing certain spells she would need when the time came; Kudo overseeing all other preparations.  They only saw each other once a day to compare notes and trade progress reports with each other, but the nights they spent together in each other’s arms.  The people were ignorant, for how would it look for the Queen to be consorting with her Captain of the Guard?  So they kept their affair secret, keeping themselves professional long-term friends in public, and only allowing themselves freedom when darkness covered the land.  Eventually one night, Arathine confessed her plan to Kudo.

Once the oil was gathered, all would be poured in a semi-circle surrounding several acres of the palace.  Arathine would lure the Wyrsea to the castle with the smell of roasting meat and wild magic.  Once they were within the circle, the oil would be lit.  The grass and forest behind the fire would be protected from the blaze, forcing it towards the outer palace walls.  With luck, the Wyrsea would fall into the pit by the lure, herding from the fire, or blind panic.  The net would be erected behind the pit, so that any creature jumping would be caught in it.  Then finally once all the Wyrsea were within the trench, Arathine would open a portal to another world and deliver the Wyrsea into it.  Kudo admired the plan, and hoped all would go well.  Finally, all was ready.

The day of the Herding, as the people were calling it, dawned bright and clear.  The trench was dug; the net in place, and the oil was spread.  All that was left to be done was the slaughter of the cows and the preparation of the magic lures.  Arathine stood upon the parapets with Kudo, looking over the grasslands.  Arathine was within a deep trance, focusing her attention upon the creatures and where they were.  As the smell of roasting meat started to fill the air, she created a breeze to blow the scent in the Wyrsea’s direction.  Dozens of snouts lifted to sniff the air and catch the scent of meat and wild magic.  The pack started towards the castle, licking their lips at the smells in the air.  Few noticed the smell of the oil, and fewer still noticed once they stepped through it.

However every member of the pack was aware of the fire that suddenly sprang up behind them as the last one crossed over the line of oil.  They could smell the magic, the fire stank of it, but since it burned on mortal fuel, the Wyrsea could do nothing about it.  They paced themselves at first, staying just out of reach of the fire while they searched futilely for an escape from the ring of flames.  None were found of course, and after several of their comrades had been ignited from flying sparks, the Wyrsea bolted in a blind panic for what they perceived as freedom: the open gates of the outer wall.  They saw the pit too late, the ones in front fell immediately while several others behind them attempted to jump over the pit and their fallen comrades, only to be snared by the net.  The fire continued to raze as a magical breeze fanned it forward faster than was natural, and soon enough every last Wyrsea in the ambushed pack had either fallen into the trench or was ensnared within the net.  Arathine barked an order and the net was cut loose, falling into the pit with the rest of the creatures.

Quickly her hands moved with a delicate grace in an intricate pattern as he mumbled the words of incantation under her breath, for this spell was too powerful to be shouted into the sky for all to hear.  The fire gave a final roar and died as Arathine progressed in the spell.  The very air crackled with electricity as the sky grew dark, and the wind picked up until it howled like the dead around the palace walls and parapets where the Queen stood.  Some of the people, fearing the spell had gone awry, fled in fear to the safety of their homes while a deep rumbling spread through the land.  Those who stood on the walls could see the Wyrsea howling in the pit, but could not hear them over the nose of the wind.  As Arathine neared the end of the spell, she raised her arms to the sky and brought them down in a flourish.  There was a bright flash and all went still.  For a moment some thought they had gone deaf, for the sudden silence seemed louder than the wind.  But then they noticed what was lacking in that silence: the cries of the Wyrsea.  Looking over into the trench again, it was discovered that the Wyrsea were gone.  Transported into another world where they would harm no one.

That night there was feasting and celebrating.  The only thing that remained of the creatures called Wyrsea was memories, burned grass, and an empty trench.  But soon even these signs would be gone; memories fade, grass grows back, and the trench would be refilled.  However that night was held over for congratulations and entertainment.  Arathine and Kudo were hailed as the heroes of the day, although no true battle had been fought.  Arathine blushed and smiled, while Kudo stood by her side, grinning like an idiot; and they both joined in the drinking and dancing.  Later in bed that night, Kudo asked Arathine what had become of the Wyrsea they had captured.

“I released him of course,” she said.  “I could not tame him, nor did I wish to.”

“So is he in that other world with the rest of them?” he asked.  Arathine yawned and nestled more snugly against his side, one of her legs draped over both of his while his fingers caressed her shoulder.

“Of course,” she mumbled sleepily.

“But why plague another world with those creatures?” he asked.

“Better than this world with our child,” she replied.  Kudo’s heart stopped.

“What?” he wheezed.  Arathine propped herself up on her elbow and looked down at him, her hair cascading over her shoulder.

“You heard me,” she said with a smile.  Kudo just looked at her.

“What will we tell the people?” he asked.  Arathine shrugged her shoulders.

“I don’t’ think they’ll mind,” she whispered as her lips brushed against his.  “They’ll probably wonder what took us so long.”

 

That same night, while Kudo and Arathine were privately celebrating their unborn child, one large pair of blind, seeing white eyes hunted with poison fangs in the night. It was followed closely by three smaller pairs; one of which still bore the stink of fire on its blackened flesh, and pure hatred in its heart.

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