The little party tramping to the Mountain was not a happy party.
The human contingent was tired, feet aching, bored beyond belief with trees and snagging undergrowth. The three bears were on edge; Urska forged ahead, eyes narrowed, seeking danger in every bramble-bush and clump of nettles, while Marron started at shadows and snapped at the oblivious cub. Eventually, tired of the older bear's irritation, the baby ran back to Drakon, mewling, wanting to play.
Drakon obeyed a little half-heartedly, and got bitten for his trouble.
"Ow!" he complained, yanking his hand out of the way. "You should be called Mister Bitey."
"Stupid name," Borysko commented, bad-temperedly snapping a thorny branch that had tried to catch at his leg. Drakon childishly stuck his tongue out at the warrior and scowled.
"I can call him what I want."
Urska growled. "Bear-cub should not have human name. He is bear."
"It won't hurt him to have a human name. You have a human name," Drakon pointed out, just a little mulishly. Urska bared her teeth at him.
"That diff'rent. Urska name only for when I am not-me, when am human. Cub will be bear always!"
The pair of them faced each other, atmosphere crackling with tension, until, aware of his 'puny human' status, Drakon wisely backed down.
"Fine," he grumbled, falling back. Urska snorted, mollified, and forged on ahead again. The cub looked up at his human friend and meeped. Drakon smiled.
"You'll always be Mister Bitey to me," he whispered.
After a while the forest began to thin out, the trees becoming smaller and raggedy and finally giving way to to stunted bushes and scrub as they came out at the base of the Mountain of the Mother. The area had once been as lush as the rest of the forest, but ancient tribes had cleared it off in order to venerate their mighty Goddess, and later people had continued the practice until nothing could grow there even if it wanted to.
The atmosphere was...strange. There was nothing openly hostile about it, but all three bears began to growl softly and the hairs on the back of the humans' necks stood on end in response to some ancient instinct. What there was, more than anything, was the sense of being watched.
Drakon began to walk closer to his father and Borysko. The warrior was out of breath and trying to hide it, which made Drakon anxious; he'd almost forgotten about the poison that had ruined the big man's body. With any luck there wouldn't be anything around that would require Borysko to fight...
All of a sudden, Marron's growl shot up in volume and threat level. The cub squealed and ran to Urska, who bared her teeth at what, to Alastor, Borysko and Drakon, looked like a clump of rocks.
"What is it?" Alastor said, loudly. Borysko flinched and sighed; Urska, less patient, looked about ready to bite the man's arm off.
"Threat," she hissed. "B'hind rocks."
The three humans froze. "What sort of a threat?" Borysko enquired in a strangled whisper.
Fortunately the bears were spared from answering the best they could in Human, because the threat chose that moment to reveal itself.
It was a rabbit. But it was a rabbit that had a three-foot horn sticking out of its forehead.
They all stared at it.
"What is that? A unirabbit? Unibunny?" Drakon said, evidently puzzled. The 'unibunny' eyeballed them from the rock, and then moved.
It moved so fast none of them saw it before it turned up again with its very un-rabbit-like pointy teeth buried in Marron's foreleg. The big old bear bellowed and tried to shake it off, but it gashed his shoulder with its horn and leapt clear before he could get his teeth in its back. As if scenting easier prey it then darted towards the cub, only to find both Drakon and Urska standing in its way. Without hesitating it sprang for Drakon, only to be batted out of the air with the flat of Borysko's broadsword, sending it flying. But it bounced back the minute it landed and lunged at the warrior with its horn; he parried, but the apparently fragile appendage didn't so much as crack, and the 'unibunny' went on the attack again, slashing at Borysko's midsection. Once again he parried, and again, but the creature was fast, and Drakon could plainly see that it was getting more and more difficult for Borysko to catch every attack.
And then, quite unbidden, while the rest of his mind was running round and round in circles with panic, the part of him that dealt with magic and court intrigue and other such things that required logic and calmness threw up a card. And it was a very good card, and simple to boot.
All Borysko was aware of was the fact that he was very very close to being beaten by a upstart rabbit with a stick on its head, and that he wasn't going to be fast enough to parry this next thrust-and then a ball of red and orange streaked past him, hit his fluffy opponent in a flurry of sparks, and reduced it to ash in a moment.
There was a pause where they all looked at Drakon, who shrugged and dusted off his hands.
"Fireball," he said. "Can't believe I didn't think of it straight off."
There was another moment of silence before Borysko abruptly sheathed his sword and laughed.
"I just had a sword fight with a rabbit. I've done everything now. Come on. We'll have to be off."
He strode away, still laughing. Urska and Marron looked puzzled, but followed. Drakon looked up at his father, who grinned and put his arm around his son's shoulders.
"Shaping up well," he said, and Drakon grinned.