Trixie buried her face in Cur’s fur, dodging the flaming arrow that whizzed by. Cur panted heavily as he thundered through the forest at a dead run, his speed making Trixie fear for her life almost as much as the band of Goblins that had been chasing them for the past two days.
Cur’s howl had stirred up the Goblin sentries and they found themselves the target of a massive hunt. Goblins began chasing them by riding huge armored boars, while their riders shot flaming arrows or threw wicked spears.
Cur’s body was riddled with cuts and his fur was scorched in places along his back. They had only stopped a handful of times in the past few days, to catch a few laps of water in a stream or to rest for a few moments in the middle of the night.
Trixie’s face was haggard and gaunt from lack of food or rest. Her hands were claws that held fiercely to Cur’s back.
Cur was no better off. He was exhausted from running full out for almost three days now. His breath wheezed as he ran on and drops of blood trailed behind him.
Trixie looked up again. She had discovered another aspect of Thalon’s gifts : she could sense what direction the Elven lands resided, and had been steadily guiding Cur across the rugged, mountainous forest.
“Not far now Cur! I can feel it!” She gasped.
Cur looked up at her with a weary golden eye. “That’s what you said yesterday, morsel.”
The way he said “morsel” made her shudder.
“I really mean it this time. It’s our only hope.”
Cur just growled and ran on.
Trixie was worried. Cur had to be near the end of his strength. Trixie herself was so exhausted she had trouble staying awake. She was tired, hungry, and miserable , not to mention that she wasn’t sure who would kill her first, Cur or the Goblins.
Her train of thought was abruptly cut off. Cur had just rounded a rocky corner and they found themselves in a shallow valley. Rocky cliff walls rose high on either side. It appeared they were at the mouth of a dried up creek that had cut a channel into the rock .
Quickly Cur turned about, only to come face to face with the band of Goblins. Their leader sneered. It was Grunt! Goblins appeared all around them, yelling and shaking their spears. They were ugly distorted creatures with sickly greenish skin and large heads. They wore filthy skins and furs for clothing.
“Ah if it isn’t the pretty Mageling and her pet dog.” Mocked Grunt.
He was astride a huge boar bristling with pointy armor and wicked looking tusks. Grunt held a jagged saber in one hand while the other held the reins of the boar.
“You’ve had us all on a merry chase Mageling, but it’s time to meet your new master. Rath was quite angry when you left prematurely. And I paid a price for your actions!” Yanking the reins he turned in place.
Trixie saw wicked looking marks across the Goblin’s back, like claw marks. His voice dropped to a deadly whisper. “Now I’m gonna take it out of your hide before I bring you back to the master. He only said bring you back alive, he didn’t say you had to be all in one piece!”
Cur’s body was shaking with weakness from running for so long. He growled deep in his throat. “Touch the girl and you die,” he said.
Trixie’s eyes widened.
“Oh Ho!” Said Grunt with mock surprise.
He took in all his fellow Goblins with his gaze.
“So your trained pup can talk as well! We can listen to him beg for your life!” Grunt sneered.
“Get down, morsel,” Cur whispered. “And get ready to run. Go deeper into the fissure.”
“What? No, I’m staying with you!” Trixie whispered back. “You can’t fight them!”
“I won’t fault you for thinking like a human. If you want to live, start thinking like a wolf. Your Elf friend wanted me to help you, so do as I say before I bite you.” He growled.
Wide eyed, Trixie slid off Cur’s back and collapsed like a doll on the ground. She didn’t realize how weak she had become . Grabbing Cur’s leg, she struggled to her feet.
Grunt whooped. “I’ll take the wolf pup. You all gather up the girl.” He laughed. “Don’t hurt her...too much!”
The other Goblins laughed and banged their swords on their shields and yelled in evil delight.
“Get ready” Cur whispered.
Trixie nodded silently, she could feel his muscles tensing under his skin.
Grunt smacked his boar on the side with his saber and it advanced. Cur brought his shoulders down low and howled. It was so loud it even gave Grunt pause.
At that very moment, Cur leaped - but not toward Grunt! He turned at the last moment and with an earthshaking jump he hurdled toward the cliff wall. As he hit the wall, he leapt again, gaining height and flew over Trixie’s head to impact the opposite wall. In one fluid motion he pushed away once again and in the space of a heartbeat since he first started moving he was on top of the cliff wall where the other Goblins had been standing, laughing only a moment before.
Cur became a blur of gnashing teeth, and powerful claws. In the space of a breath he had snapped two Goblins in two with his vengeful jaws and his fury only rose.
Grunt stared up at Cur, mouth agape. He had expected the wolf to face him head-on, not to begin to decimate his troops! His eyes dropped to see Trixie now standing alone, and unsteady. He ignored the screams of his own warriors and spurred his boar forward.
“Get her!” he yelled - spittle flying from his mouth in anger.
Trixie could not believe her eyes. Cur was as large as an elephant. He should not have been able to make that jump once, let alone flying from wall to wall to make it up to the Goblin troops. She looked down to see Grunt coming towards her at full speed on his horrible armored boar and she somehow found the strength to scream and run further into the narrow passage. Grunt bellowed in anger and pressed his boar onward.
Cur was at the end of his strength. It had taken more out of him to make that leap than he had thought. Surprise was on his side however, and the Goblins atop the cliff were fleeing in terror. In a few short moments they were all dead. Cur let his bloodlust and hunger take him over, and it lent him a bit more strength. He hoped Trixie could run quickly, or his plan was not going to work, and his new friend would meet the same fate as his daughter. Cur shook his head. Now was not the time for mourning. It was time to fight. With a running leap, he made it to the other side of the channel and proceeded to attack once again. The air was filled with the sound of dying Goblins.
Trixie found a hidden reserve of strength borne of desperation and fled deeper down the narrow passage. Her bare feet dug into the loose gravel of the dried up streambed. The high walls slowly met above and formed a large cave of sorts - with only a sliver of light peeking down from a crack high above.
Within moments, the only sound Trixie could hear was her own panting breath and her pounding heartbeat in her ears. She stumbled in the loose gravel and cried out. Was this how she would die? Why had Cur abandoned her?
She heard a loud snort behind her and she glanced over her shoulder to see Grunt only a few paces behind her. Unfortunately, in that moment of distraction her foot caught a buried root and she pitched forward into the gravel.
Grunt approached her casually, a hunter toying with his prey. The armor plates covering the front of the boar clanked, echoing hollowly off the stone walls. Their wicked spikes made the boar look like some kind of metallic porcupine.
“Your pet dog has abandoned you, Mageling, and Rath awaits.
I’ve seen what he does to Mages like you. He’ll twist your soul and body until there’s nothing left but a shell for his will.” Grunt chuckled and looked at his oversized saber. “Perhaps you should just let me kill you now.” He guffawed at his own sick joke, his oversized belly rippling with laughter.
Trixie was numb. Too many days of running. Too many days of wondering if she would live to see the next. And now it had come to this. She would never get to the Elf Queen. Cur had left her for dead. She didn’t blame him, after all he had been running himself to exhaustion as well, and for what? To help some stranger that appears in his cave and starts making demands?
Tears fell freely from Trixie’s dirt stained cheeks.
Grunt sneered. “Time to meet your new master, Mageling. But not before I take out of your hide the pain that Rath gave me in punishment!” The goblin jailmaster spurred his boar forward and lifted his sword.
Trixie threw her hands up reflexively and cried out.
Grunt’s armored boar made a final leap, but before it could land it suddenly twisted in the air and flew across the cave to hit the wall with a sickening crunch. Grunt was thrown from the boar and fell head first into the gravel.
Trixie could only stare in wonder. Before her stood Cur. His body was riddled with arrows and a spear pierced his side. His legs shook. He spat out the back half of the boar he had lifted and shook violently. Trixie had never even heard him arrive, and she remembered how quiet he had been the first day they had met.
“Oh Cur! You came back!``
She bolted upright and hugged his neck. Then she stared down in horror to see she was now covered in blood. “Cur! You’re hurt!”
Cur growled. He bared his teeth and took a step back. His eyes were wild and feral. His ears were pulled back, and Trixie took a step back. “Cur?”
Trixie screamed as Cur leapt, but he did not land on her. Instead he caught Grunt in his jaws and shook him violently. Grunt had made one last desperate attempt to kill Trixie, and Cur had seen past her to him! Before he died, Grunt turned his saber and viciously stabbed Cur in the neck.
“NO!” cried Trixie.
Cur yelped but held on to the fat Goblin and snapped him in two with his powerful jaws. Grunt was dead, but at what cost!
“No! NO! NO!”
Trixie grabbed the saber and with all her strength pulled it from Cur, and threw it across the cave. Blood flowed freely from the wound and Cur collapsed to the ground, falling to his side.
“Cur! Oh Cur!” Trixie exclaimed, as she buried her head in his fur.
“I’m sorry, morsel. I was not able to get you to your Elf Queen. There are no more Goblins.”
Cur was panting in short, shallow breaths now. “I have redeemed myself. I can meet my daughter Wren in the next life knowing I defended my pack...” his voice trailed off.
Quickly Trixie ran around Cur, pulling out arrows, and with all her remaining strength she removed the spear in his side. He whimpered and made as if to snap at her, but he was so weak she jumped aside easily.
“Cur, no! You can’t die! Don’t leave me!”
She hugged his matted fur and thought furiously, desperately. Thalon had given her the knowledge of magic enough to heal the Queen. It was a specific spell that would only work once, and only on the queen. But as Trixie dived deep into her own desperation and desire to help Cur, something stirred within her.
All magic had a price. The will of a Mage, and the knowledge of the right spell was only part of what made them powerful or not. A Mage’s spirit was the spark that could light a flame. Trixie knew that the only way she might help Cur was to risk her own life as well.
Without thinking she reached deep within herself. She had never known she could do this, but these past few days of desperation and fear had removed barriers she never knew existed, and she also realized that she had never met someone like Cur before. He was so wild and fierce, yet kind, and sad. She wept for him as well as for his daughter. She pressed her hand to his cheek and let the magic take her. If it meant her life to save his, then perhaps she would be giving her life for something greater than herself, and up until now, her life had been empty without her even knowing it.
Going to the Mage Institute was just a means to an end. She never felt strongly about helping anyone, and only seemed to have a passing skill in Magic. She’d even only just passed the evaluation that each Mage gave a student before they could join.
But now, a sense of purpose rose up within her. They had to stop Rath. The Elf Queen was dying. And Trixie realized she loved Cur, with all her heart. It was not romantic, or physical. It was like meeting her other half. He completed her in ways she didn’t even fathom. And he was dying.
Gritting her teeth, Trixie tapped into that force of magic within her and poured her spirit into Cur. Without thinking of the consequences, nor caring what might happen, she opened her spirit to this wolf and willed him to heal.
Light began to flow from her fingers into Cur’s body. He shuddered and twitched. She held on. She could feel her life force flowing into him, seeking out his wounds and knitting together bones, muscles, vital organs. Trixie began panting herself - her breath short and shallow. Her own life force was ebbing away.
Then something amazing happened.
Cur was enveloped in golden light, flowing from Trixie’s hands. His fur began to change color, from ebon black to crimson red. His breathing grew longer and fuller. His eyes opened wide and he turned his head to see Trixie slumped over him, her eyes closed. He realized what she had been doing, and was still doing. He could feel her life draining away into his.
“Enough. Enough morsel.” he whispered.
“I did not spend today eating disgusting Goblins, only to lose my packmate now.”
Trixie could barely hear Cur. He seemed to be talking from a great distance. Reflexively she tried to close the channel between them, only to discover that it would not close. She had forged a bond with Cur. Life flowed freely now between them, and it was a bond that only their death would break.
*I did it* she thought to herself distantly.
“I’m hungry” was all Trixie could manage out loud, before she passed out.
Cur shook his head gently. “Pups” he whispered.