Serilda walked casually through the streets in Ace of Spades. She was dressed in her typical combat gear with her sword sheathed at her hip. It was a beautiful day outside. The citizens of the city strolled back and forth alongside her, going about their daily routines and chatting with one another. She nodded to a few familiar faces that greeted her as she passed, but did not stop to talk. She had a place she needed to be, and could not allow anything to keep her.
Beside her walked Xiuhcoatl. The wolf was little more than a pup, still under a year of age but fast approaching that mark. She had thick black fur that was long and busy. Running down her spine with a few speckles on her face and paws was a smattering of cream colored fur that resembled star dust, marking her as a rare breed known as a Star Wolf. She was a happy natured creature, walking at a comfortable trot at her mistress’ heels with her long tongue lolling happily out of the side of her mouth.
Their destination was a secluded park that Serilda had found in the city not long ago. It was a small space of grass surrounded by trees and bushes toward the edge of the town. Serilda had gone there several times in the weeks since she’d joined Sabertooth, scoping it out and getting a feel for the space and its popularity. She needed a lot of room for the task she had in mind today, but also needed to ensure that no one would interrupt her. Privacy was vital for this final step in completing the hound’s training. Thankfully, the tiny grove did not seem to get many visitors.
As she hoped, when they got there the space was empty. Serilda couldn’t sense anyone with her magic, the only moving forms present being herself, the hound, and a couple smaller woodland creatures that called the grove home. “Xiuhcoatl.” The wizard got the dog’s attention and gestured for her to sit at the ready, a sign that the hound recognized as the signal that training was about to begin. She looked up at Serilda with attentive, dark eyes, her ears perked up and her body alert.
With a flick of her hand, The void mage rearranged the empty particles in the ground a couple feet away until the earth rose up in the crude shape of a humanoid. “Angribe!” Serilda commanded.
With a snarl, the hound hurled herself across the grass and slammed into the dirt dummy, her sharp fangs snapping around the neck area and crumbling it in two. By the time her paws touched back down on the ground, Serilda had already constructed five more such targets around them. Using the command again, and backing it up with the hand gesture that the hound would recognize, she directed Xiuh to attack these new targets.
The wolf followed the directions perfectly, only striking at the targets that Serilda instructed her to, even if it meant passing a closer mark to do so. Soon each of those had tumbled back down to the ground and returned to being little more than piles of dirt and grass. It was an exercise that Xiuh had mastered long ago, and proven her skills both in the training and while on actual jobs where both of their lives depended on it.
But now was the time for her final, real test. It had been a while since Xiuhcoatl had disobeyed or abandoned any commands on the field, but that did not mean that her training was complete. Serilda had to be certain that the hound would obey any command that she was given, no matter how bizzare it seemed to the animal. She had to trust Serilda completely, even if it didn’t make sense or if it went against what the hound’s natural instincts were telling her. It was Serilda’s job to take care of Xiuhcoatl, and sometimes that meant having to give instructions that the wolf might not understand or like.
And there was only one test that would appropriately measure that level of loyalty.
“Xiuhcoatl.” The wolf stopped at the sound of her name and looked back at Serilda, eagerly awaiting her next order. She had always been happy to please, taking her commands seriously but also seeing them as a bit of a game or challenge. Hers was a happy nature, and Serilda truly hoped from the bottom of her heart that this final challenge would not take that away from the animal.
Carefully, Serilda put a hand on her chest. “Angribe.”
The wolf hesitated, understanding the command but confused about the target. Serilda had just commanded the wolf to attack her mistress, which went against everything they had ever trained for. The wizard allowed only a couple seconds for the wolf to stare at her in uncertainty.
“Angribe,” she repeated, this time a bit more sternly. Her sword was drawn now, brandished at the wolf in a menacing fashion that only instilled a sense of alarm in the poor creature. Xiuhcoatl shifted anxiously in her spot and whined a bit, torn between obeying the command and not wanting to hurt the one person she trusted most.
A lump formed in Serilda’s throat, and she swallowed it down. This was the last chance. She knew Xiuhcoatl was ready, but she needed to hound to step up to the plate and obey in order for this bond process to be completed. “Xiuhcoatl!” the mage said, her tone darkening to a degree that made it clear she would not accept disobedience. “Angribe..!”
The wolf came at her, fangs bared. When Xiuh leaped up to bite the woman, Serilda casually rearranged the emptiness in her body to allow the hound to pass right through. As she turned, she smacked the animal on the side of her body with the flat of her blade, hard. Xiuhcoatl came at her again, leaping up at Serilda’s chest with her paws in an effort to knock the woman down to the ground.
Serilda retaliate by lifting her blade across her shoulders and blocking the attempt. She had to dig her feet into the grass to maintain her balance as Xiuh’s snarling jaw snapped at her face over the edge of the blade. The wizard was panicking inside. She had never been at the receiving end of the wolf’s ferocity, but that was part of process. This was the part that she needed exposure to, and to understand. The bond was a two way street that both of them were required to walk.
With a growl of effort, she pushed the animal to the side and away from her before squaring herself back up for the next attack. She did not prepare fast enough. Before she knew it, the wolf had tapped into her superior speed and sunk her fangs into the woman’s arm, biting down hard enough to draw blood. Serilda bit off a pained cry, fighting through the physical and emotional agony. Using her free hand, as Xiuh had smartly latched onto the one that held her weapon, the mage punched the wolf in the ribs.
Stubbornly, the wolf refused to let go. Serilda punched her again, hard enough to potentially break one of the animal’s ribs. Still, the hound held on, her teeth sinking in as she pulled back and tried to drag Serilda to the ground. If the wizard resisted the pull too hard, it would result in her losing rather large chunks of flesh and muscle in the limb, so he had to come up with something else.
Raising her free hand above her head, she cried out, “Empty Chill!” Within only a second or two, the temperature of the immediate area dropped to the point where frost was gathering on them, their breaths visible in the air. The quick change was such a shock to the wolf’s hot running body that she immediately let go of Serilda and twisted in pain, her small body freezing. Breath was coming harder to the pup, who suddenly found herself feeling like she was exercising at the top of the tallest mountain.
But she didn’t give up. Even with the effects of the spell slowing her down, Xiuh was still faster than the average dog her size. She fixed her sights back on Serilda and charged her again. The woman moved to dodge to the side, but found herself caught by a well deployed fake out. Xiuh shifted her direction readily, and her body slammed into Serilda’s, knocking the woman flat on her back.
The sword flung from the woman’s hand, and on instinct she raised her arms to protect her face from the onslaught of teeth now bared at her. As a result, her hands and forearms got bit and chewed on several times. Her clothes were soaked with blood, as was the hound’s muzzle. Xiuh was not at all happy about this, she knew. The wolf was distressed, unhappy about hurting the human she loved so much and wishing more than anything that Serilda would command her to stop.
There was a brief pause in the woman’s head as she wondered how she knew that. And then she realized she was sensing the hound’s emotions, feeling them like she might feel her own. The bond was complete. “Ophøre!” Serilda commanded.
Immediately, Xiuhcoatl leaped off the woman and backed up. Her fluffy tail was tucked deep between her legs in shame, but Serilda wouldn’t need to see that to know how confused and upset the animal was. She could feel it like a freight train slamming into her at full speed. Xiuh was afraid to go near her, worried about the fact that she’d just put several open wounds on her mistress.
Forcing herself to sit up and ignoring the bleeding injuries, Serilda coaxed the hound back over to her, saying her name in soothing tones and doing her best to project to the poor creature that she had nothing to be afraid of. Whimpering, the wolf approached the human and buried herself in Serilda’s tight hug. The void mage cried softly into her pet’s fur. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered to her. “You did so good. I’m proud of you, Xiuh, and I love you so much.”
The two of them sat like that for some time, calming down from the emotional rollercoaster they had both just taken. By the end of it, they were both feeling much better emotionally if not physically. Serilda needed to return to her home and bandage them both up as soon as possible. Her companion had earned a lot of rest, and a lavish meal. Standing carefully to her feet they walked back home, and despite everything there was a peaceful smile on Serilda’s face.