"We must find her!"
"Sir, I implore you, be sensible. We have travelled for a long time, we must rest-"
The sergeant rolled his eyes at the young Captain in front of him, flushed and intent, his sergeant's sensible suggestions only inflaming his desire for that witch-woman. The sergeant himself thought the squad well rid of her; she had been unnerving, had put the men on edge. And she must have been a witch; only enchantments could have tied their commanding officer so tightly to her. Even when the men were on edge, alarmed and nervous, tired and out of their depth, he still wished to send them into unknown territory to retrieve her. It was madness.
"We do not know what they will do to her. She may be being tortured at this very moment!"
"Sir, I am sure she will not be tortured-"
"I will take the men and find her!"
"Sir! The men will not follow you! They are tired, they are scared, they wish to return-"
The Captain struck him across the face and sneered, face still flushed. The sergeant raised a hand to his face in shock.
"The men will follow me because I command them to. Men! We move out!"
Striding away, bellowing orders to the men, the Captain did not see the Sergeant's reddened face constricted with hatred, or the way his hand dropped briefly towards his dagger hilt.
It was an odd cavalcade which made its way towards the Mountain of the Mother later that day. A bear lumbered in the lead, snorting angrily; behind the animal strode a drawn-faced warrior, fighting not to show the weariness deep in his bones. Behind him strolled a slender olive-skinned woman, still faintly smiling as though she were walking for the pleasure of it, guarded on one side by a grim young man and on the other by a large black dog with eyes of acid-green.
"So where are we going, on this little pleasure-jaunt of ours?"
"None of your business."
"Oh, come now. At least tell me where I shall be held prisoner. It's only common courtsey."
"I told you it's none of your business!"
Khoreia laughed, deeply amused, and twined a strand of hair about her finger.
"Don't try to deepen your voice, Drakon sweetie; it doesn't work. You have not quite...reached that stage yet."
Drakon went bright red; Calla gave a low, warning growl; Khoreia turned her attention to him.
"Why are you not human, Calla? Surely it is not too much to ask that you afford me just a glimpse of your handsome young face?"
The dog growled again and snapped, teeth clicking shut millimetres from Khoreia's thigh. But she only laughed, again amused by her captors.
"Or are you stuck?" she teased, naming the greates fear of all Vagari shapeshifters; to be forever the animal they had chosen. This elicited a much deeper growl; and then Borysko spoke,l without looking back.
"All of you, be quiet. Woman, shut your mouth or I'll shut it for you."
Even Khoreia heard the implict warning in his voice; they marched in silence from then on.
Until, without warning, another bear lumbered onto the path ahead of them. Urska gave a great bellow of challenge and thundered forwards; Khoreia stared.
"That is the bear from the circus," she murmured. "What is he doing here?"