A Watcher Watches
Oz had managed to find the original village and was slowly following the smell of the Scythians through the deep woods. He found the cave, but he never went near it. He could sense it was being guarded even though he saw no sentries. No human, and few animals, could detect the presence of a Scythian once they were in their elemental or animal form. Fortunately, Oz was neither.
He continued to follow the scent of the villagers after he skirted the guarded cave. He found a clearing near the cave where there had been a fight. He could still smell where the blood had been spilled. This surprised the ancient one. What little he had learned about the Scythians led him to believe they rarely attacked one of their own. The scent of Gabriel and Apollo was strong here as well.
There was another scent here too…well, well. Oz hadn’t smelled one of those in several millennia. The only possible explanation was that one of the Scythians were able to assume that form. Secretly, Oz would love to see another Saber-toothed lion. They had always been one of his favorite predators to watch.
As the little man headed deeper into the woods, following the scent left by the villagers, he became aware he was not alone. He recognized the feeling…the watcher!
It was the same creature who had been keeping an eye on the compound ever since Gabriel arrived. Somehow, whatever or whoever it was, was linked to Gabriel. Oz was also disappointed. Deep down, he had secretly hoped the watcher in the woods might turn out to be Stazia, Gabriel’s mother. Unfortunately, now that he was nearer to it, he knew it wasn’t her.
Even in her shifted form, Oz could still discern her scent from more than a quarter mile away. He had tracked her on several occasions when she had run off into the woods at night and he would never forget her scent. But if it wasn’t her, then who was so interested in Gabriel?
Whoever it was, they had never made Oz feel like they were a danger to anyone in the compound. Which was why he had never tried to hunt them down. Outside the compound, the ancient man had to keep his activities to a minimum to not draw too much attention from the others of his kind. They had the ability to pull him from this dimension any time they wanted too.
Oz was in his human form as he floated along the pine needle covered floor of the woods. He’d hoped to be able to spend some time in his true form, but now that the watcher was keeping an eye on him, he couldn’t. It was just as well, once he assumed this real form, the others of his kind would be alerted immediately, and they would surely keep a close eye on him. He only wished he could convince them what he was doing wasn’t interference, instead he was trying to right a wrong. He was trying to reset the humans back to their original destiny, one without the shifter virus.
As he walked along, he found a timber rattlesnake stuck between a large pile of rocks at the base of a rock formation. It looked like the rattler had been crossing over the top of the formation when the rocks gave way and came tumbling down, pinning the snake beneath them. The snake was baking in the morning sun and it wouldn’t last long unless it was freed.
Oz bent down and while holding one tiny hand over the snake’s head, he wiped the rocks away with a simply flick of his wrist from his other hand. The snake was free, and it was hissing as it shook its rattle as fiercely as it could. Somehow the reptile knew better than to strike the little man. Perhaps, it knew its venom would have no effect anyway, so it need not waste it. Still, it was agitated and afraid. Oz gently laid the snake, almost ten feet long, in the shade under a large evergreen tree. As soon as he did, the snake disappeared under the needles. The little man smiled as he floated on through the deep woods.
The watcher saw the way the little man handled the deadly snake with no fear or concern for his safety. He appeared to be either suicidal or crazy, but the watcher was sure he was neither. He knew much about the one called Oz, although the more he learned, the less he understood. Everything about the little man said he was ancient and nothing more than a man. Yet, everything he heard and saw said he was anything but ancient and human.
The more he watched, the more the watcher was starting to form an answer in his head over the riddle that was Oz. The watcher had followed him since he neared the original village site. The little man was looking for Gabriel, but why? The watcher had been pleased when Gabriel and the wolf had seemingly left the compound and settled down in the woods. Here he could keep watch over them. The problem was, what would he do if they needed him? Did he dare make his presence known?
He knew it was only a matter of time. Somehow, the wolf had managed to detect him and eventually he would tell Gabriel. If not, then the little man might. The watcher knew Oz was fully aware he was being observed, even if he acted like he wasn’t. What the watcher wanted desperately to know, was why the little man was looking for Gabriel? Surely, he knew the boy would be in danger back at the compound.
Oz was less than a mile from the new village when he heard footsteps running toward him. He stopped and faded into the trunk of a large tree next to the footpath. As he watched, Gabriel came running into view, followed closely by Apollo. As they neared, Oz emerged from the trunk of the tree and took up a position on the path and waited.
As soon as Gabriel saw Oz appear on the path ahead of him, he felt relieved. He knew he had to find the little man before he arrived at the village. Now that he could see him, he could relax. But, why was the little man here? The only logical explanation was he was looking for the two of them. Had something happened to Zeus?
“Oz, what’s wrong, what are you doing out here?” Gabriel asked.
“It is good to see you too, Gabriel,” Oz answered.
Gabriel was embarrassed. This little man had raised him since he was ten years old and now Gabriel was demanding to know why he was in the woods. He hadn’t meant it that way, but he knew how it must have sounded to Oz.
“I’m sorry,” Gabriel began. “Things have been a little…intense around here lately. I didn’t mean it like that, I’m always glad to see you.”
As he said it, Apollo walked over and stood beside the little man as well. It was his way of showing Oz he had missed him, even though it hadn’t been that long since the three were together at the compound.
“I am aware of the Scythians and their need for secrecy, more than you might imagine Gabriel. I would never have walked into their village to seek you out. I respect their ways, but I did need to speak with the two of you and it couldn’t wait until you returned on your own,” Oz explained.
Gabriel was relieved, he wasn’t sure how to explain the Scythians to outsiders and had thought he could just not speak of them to avoid the situation. Now, it was evident to him he would need to talk to Breena about how to deal with this in the future.
“I’m sorry Gabriel, I should have said I was here to speak to the three of you,” Oz said as he turned away from the young warlock.
Breena suddenly appeared from the shadow of the nearby tree. She was impressed the little man could sense her in her altered form. So far, only Grandfather and her great-uncle Yellow-mane had been able to do that.
Inside, Gabriel was smiling. Breena always had his back and Oz was still amazing.
“So, what is so urgent?” Gabriel asked. “Has something happened at the compound?”
“Not yet, but it soon will,” Oz answered.
“We will be there before nightfall,” interrupted Breena. “We will need to make arrangements here first and then we will be on our way.”
After saying it, she walked over to Gabriel, gave him a kiss on the cheek and took off running for the village. Apollo was close on her heels. As soon as they rounded the first bend in the path and were out of eyesight of Gabriel and Oz, Breena assumed her wolf form and then she and Apollo took off in earnest.
Breena soon realized how the ‘gift’ Grandfather gave Apollo was manifesting itself. When she first ran with the wolf, the day she escorted the two of them back to the compound after the attack, they were on equal terms as far as their ability to run. In her wolf form, she was slightly larger than the massive grey wolf and could match him stride for stride. She knew he was stronger than her, but she could still run with him.
Now, it was evident Apollo had gained an extra measure of speed. As they came into a long straight stretch which led up to the bridge entering the village, she mentally asked Apollo to race her and she took off, quickly getting to top speed. For three whole strides she was ahead of the grey wolf and then he went past like she was jogging. As he ran along the path, he appeared to be gaining speed with every bound.
He had to slow before he reached the bridge, but he was already running more than twice the speed Breena could manage. As she neared the bridge, she was suddenly in her human form and as she walked up to Apollo she bent down to look him in the eyes.
“So, that’s what Grandfather’s gift did for you,” She said. “Not even the cheetahs of Africa could run with you now.”
She also noticed he was barely breathing. If she hadn’t just seen him flying along the path, she would say he had been resting quietly. It was very good information to know. Breena was a thinker, and a planner. It was how she was wired.
Where others seemed to be able to ignore possible future problems and dangers, Breena could not. She had the uncanny ability to see all the possibilities that could happen when things went wrong. She spent a good deal of time thinking about how to respond to just such incidents. It allowed her to react quickly to situations and to usually handle them well. It was rare she was caught off guard and unprepared when something went badly.
She had known the day of confronting the Alpha was coming, but she had hoped it would come later. Unfortunately, it was here now, and she would do what she had already planned. She had secretly hoped things would be quiet for a few weeks or even months and her and Gabriel could establish themselves as the leaders of the village. She also wanted to get to know Gabriel, to really know him. She had fantasized about spending days walking through the deep woods with him and curled up in his arms at night.
She already knew they were going to be married, she just wished he’d hurry up and ask. She was a very traditional-minded person and thankfully, so was Gabriel. Without speaking about it, they had both understood the two of them would become married before they went very far in the relationship. It was a moral code they shared, one they had both decided on long before they had met each other. It was just another way the two were perfectly compatible.
The way he made her feel when they kissed was indescribable. Breena didn’t think she could feel anything more wonderful than that! She intended to make sure they had many long years together, but that would require her to make sure the White Alpha was dealt with. She would not stand for the vile creature ruining her plans of a happy life with Gabriel.
Breena was a planner and she had already been thinking of the trap the mercenaries had tried to use on her and how to deal with any similar traps in the future. Of all the scenarios that had crossed Breena’s mind before the attack, a giant vacuum had never been one of them.
Now that she understood what the White Alpha was capable of producing, Breena was determined to make sure she didn’t make that mistake again. She had already started researching the properties of a vacuum and the limitations on its range. Unless the next one was very cleverly disguised, she wouldn’t allow herself to come close to any such device or hoses attached to one. If she did, she had already figured out a very simple, yet ingenious way out of the predicament.
She also wanted to make sure Apollo knew what her plans were, so he could back her up if she got into a bind again. Deep down, she still felt guilty Grandfather had given his life freeing her from the cylinder. She was going to make sure Gabriel was never put in harm’s way trying to do the same thing.
Breena was convinced she couldn’t live without Gabriel. She felt that way the first time she saw him, and it only intensified after she had touched him. Even now, she was trying to figure out how she had ever managed to be happy without him near.
“I’m going to make sure Yellow-mane can stick around for a couple of more days while we handle the situation at the compound. It wouldn’t be good to leave the villagers alone right now, but if Oz says the attack is coming, then we need to be there,” Breena said to Apollo.
As she turned to head across the bridge, she watched as Apollo looked into the thick undergrowth across the small clearing. She watched him closely for any signs of danger. Apollo was interested in something over there, but whatever it was, it wasn’t a threat. His ears were forward, and alert, and he was leaning onto his front legs, but his hair was down, and his breathing was steady. Slowly, he walked toward the thicket where he was staring.
Breena, turned back toward the village, whatever it was, Apollo would handle it. She had complete confidence in the wolf’s abilities long before Grandfather had supercharged his speed. Now, he was more than a match for any of the creatures of the forest.
Meanwhile, Oz had sat down on the ground, directly in the middle of the path. Gabriel knew that he too, would need to assume the same position and to look directly into the little man’s eyes. Once on the ground, with his legs crossed and his arms resting on his knees with his hands relaxed, Gabriel took a long, deep breath and then looked at Oz.
“Good, I see you remember your training. The White Alpha will attack the compound very soon. In fact, I believe it will be tonight. As before, she will not dare do so alone. The last time she did it, she had quite a few shifters with her and they were only attacking two women. I believe she will have many more shifters, possibly hundreds, this time. She will be expecting Zeus and possibly you and the wolf, so she will have an army of shifters this time,” Oz began.
“Is this just a feeling, or do you have knowledge of an attack?” Gabriel asked.
“Both,” Oz continued. “We have reports that shifters from all over North America are missing. Hundreds of them have been reported to the councils in America and Canada and we can only imagine there are many more hundreds who have not been reported yet. The moon will be full tonight. I believe this is the most logical night for an attack. I can assume you and Breena had already talked of this possibility? She agreed to return for the fight without question.”
“We had discussed the need to destroy the White Alpha before we could really begin our lives together. If we survive this…I plan to ask her to marry me. I want to spend the rest of my life with her by my side,” Gabriel answered.
Oz smiled, “She would stay by your side for all eternity with or without being married to you.”
Gabriel smiled, but he was also embarrassed. He wasn’t used to sharing his thoughts or feeling with anyone. In fact, he realized just how good it was to have such a talk with Oz. In all the time the two had lived together, they had never once had an actual personal talk like this. It must have been the possibility of impending death that made people think and act differently.
“Do you think we can defeat the White Alpha?” Gabriel asked.
“Nothing in this world is a certainty,” Oz replied, “but I know together you have a much better chance than either you or Zeus would have alone. I also need you to understand Zeus is different than when you last saw him.”
“Different?” Gabriel asked He was suddenly concerned for his grandfather.
“Yes, since Breena healed him, he has total control over his shifted form. Once the moon rises, he is still a shifter. But now, he is also every bit the master warlock he has always been. If not for his recent vulnerability, he would be a formidable opponent for the White Alpha in his own right,” Oz answered.
“What do you mean his recent vulnerability? Is he acting differently now he has admitted to being my grandfather?” Gabriel asked.
Gabriel had been aware since the revelation that it could be used as a weapon against the two of them. He was feeling the pressure himself now that he knew there would be no way of leaving Breena behind. He was worried about what would happen if she was in danger during the attack. How could he possibly ignore her and deal with the Alpha if she was in danger from the other shifters or mercenaries?
Oz looked at the young warlock for a full minute before he continued. He was choosing his words carefully. He had no idea how the news would affect Gabriel, but he felt it was important for him to know before he returned to the compound.
“Your grandfather, Zeus, is in love once more,” Oz said quietly.
Gabriel sat there, trying to figure out exactly what the little man had just said. He was trying to convince himself he hadn’t heard it correctly. Zeus, in love? But, how? Who?
“Once, many years ago, a pair of American warlocks, came to train with Zeus at the compound. They are twins, one male and one female. I believe the female of the pair has been in love with Zeus ever since. Her name is Jaida and she is a woman of honor and would not act on her feelings while your grandmother was still alive. Now, the twins have returned to the compound and Zeus and Jaida have fallen in love,” Oz said slowly, carefully, “I believe the White Alpha has made a series of mistakes recently and if she makes mistakes, then she can be beaten, no matter how carefully she plans.
She had the American warlock council send the twins, both master warlocks, here to capture or kill Zeus. The White Alpha’s plan has failed, but she doesn’t know it yet. The twins are now joining Zeus and they are at the compound to help with the coming battle,” Oz explained.
“You said a series, what other mistakes has she made?” Gabriel asked.
“The first was when the Alpha failed to capture you. It had to make her look weak to the assembled shifters to know she couldn’t stop one human. Her second mistake was when her plan to capture Breena failed. Your other grandfather may have sacrificed his life to save Breena, but in killing him, the Alpha allowed both you and Breena to grow stronger.
You can also be assured that any of the mercenaries or shifters who survived the fight have already talked about all the damage the three of you did to such a well-equipped, large fighting force. One that likely could have beaten a military battalion, yet they were defeated by one old man and two young adults. All three of these mistakes show how vulnerable she is. Her plans are not foolproof.”
“You forgot about her very first mistake,” Gabriel said.
“Which was?” Oz asked.
“Killing my grandmother and infecting my mother with the virus,” Gabriel answered.
Oz sat looking at Gabriel for several long, quiet seconds before responding.
“Losing your grandmother was almost as hard on me as it was Zeus, and the infecting of your mother was a tragedy almost as hard to bare. Still, I see neither as a mistake. It took both of those two events to create you, Gabriel. If I had to lose the last ten years with you by changing the past and saving the two women, I could never do it. Nor would either of them want that. If they knew the man you had become, they would both gladly sacrifice themselves, so you might exist,” Oz answered.
Even as he spoke, the little man heard the unmistakable sound of teardrops landing in the pine needles at the base of the tree behind him. Suddenly he knew who the watcher was and why he was so interested in Gabriel. Would they ever get to meet?
“I’ve always thought of my existence as one big mistake. I heard the scientist say I shouldn’t exist and I never understood what it meant, but it made me feel like a mistake. Then, after I learned what happened to my mother, I again felt like I was just one big mistake. I never understood why a mother would abandon her newborn unless something was wrong with it. I never considered the mistake was the White Alpha’s and that I was meant to be here just to right all the creature’s wrongs,” Gabriel said.
“Gabriel, there is nothing about you that is a mistake. In the end, the White Alpha will come to realize the mistake was allowing her actions to cascade into the series of events which created you and then brought you back to us, back where you belong, back with your family,” Oz said.
The two sat there looking at each other. It had been a good talk, one each of them needed. Neither of the men were ‘huggers’, but if they had been, this would have been a moment for it. Slowly, the two of them stood and dusted off their clothing, neither of them wanting to go.
“Will you fight with us?” Gabriel asked.
“I will do what I can,” Oz replied, “but I am…limited, in what I can do with shifters. They are very hard to stop without killing them or injuring them badly and my personal beliefs will not allow me to kill. You need to know though, even if it meant I would never see you again, I would do what was necessary to protect my family.”
Gabriel looked at Oz and wanted to question the little man more about what he meant by that, but he was sure he had gotten all he was going to get from him. As he watched, the little man bowed his head slightly and started to depart.
“I will be waiting for you at the compound,” Oz said and then slowly floated down the path, back toward the clan’s cave and the compound beyond.