Luca stood as still as he could, using the tree’s shadow to aid the glamour he’d cast and watched the dark-haired young woman groom the bay mare with firm strokes of a brush. The heat of the day combined with the work resulted in droplets of sweat running down her face. As she attempted to wipe the moisture away she streaked her forehead with dirt. Despite the work and the heat, she was smiling, swaying to the music coming through her earphones. Luca strained to hear the melody, his usually sharp elf-hearing only able to pick out a note or two. Luca bit back a laugh as the black and white dog at the girl’s feet stole a brush from the tack bucket. When the girl turned to exchange brushes, the dog waved his prize at her, taunting her to chase him. Luca couldn’t see her face, but her laughter was loud and joyful.
“Are you planning to waste another day watching her?” Nero’s voice growled inside Luca’s head. The wolf’s frustration echoed through their shared telepathic bond.
“It’s not like we have anything better to do. Now shush,” Luca whispered back, keeping his voice low so as not to attract the girl’s attention.
“Why? It’s not like the human can hear me.” Luca looked down at the wolf, whose pitch-black fur made him appear as nothing more than a shadow under the tree. He knew that Nero would never understand his fascination with humans or this one girl in particular.
“You can leave if you want. You don’t have to stay here,” Luca informed him. Then, unable to help himself, he added cheekily, “You might even be able to find someone to pat you.”
Luca knew Nero hated having to glamour, to belittle himself to appear like a dog so as not to scare the humans. The poor wolf had already had a rough week having been petted not once, but twice, by kind children calling him a good doggie. Nero’s response to this remark was a sharp nip on Luca’s heel, painful but not hard enough to draw blood.
Looking back towards the girl, Luca noticed that she had finished the grooming routine. Buckets in hand, the dog following at her heels, she was headed back towards the stables. Luca sighed.
“Alright let’s go, we should probably report back to Skylar anyway. You know how annoyed he gets when we’re late with our updates.”
Stepping out from the shielding branches of the tree, Luca let his glamour fade becoming visible to the humans once more. He left only the slightest touches of glamour, those which rounded his ears and roughened his face so that he could pass for human.
Nero stood, stretching his long front limbs, arching his back with his tail in the air. The gesture made him look so much like the dogs he despised that Luca contemplated telling him so. It was tempting, but his companion was in enough of a foul mood already. Instead, Luca made a valiant effort not to send even a slight chuckle down their bond.
It was a short, pleasant walk back to the farmhouse. A light breeze ruffled Nero’s black fur and Luca’s blond hair as they strolled. Luca could smell the ocean in the breeze and felt tempted to take a detour to the beach to check the waves. Perhaps Zara would be there later, walking the dogs like the first time he had seen her. But his sense of duty won over the temptation. He promised himself that he would go for a swim the following morning. Of course, that was assuming that they got back in time and the debriefing didn’t drag on. Skylar always had a thing for hearing every minuscule detail, no matter how insignificant Luca thought it to be.
Reaching the gate of the farmhouse property, where they were stationed, Luca unlocked it. Nero waited while Luca quickly checked the magical wards which repelled strangers. A few were showing signs of wear and would need to be recast by a witch. He made a mental note to tell Skylar when they made their report.
Together, Luca and Nero walked towards the farmhouse. Gravel crunched under Luca’s boots, and he kicked a gumnut in front of him as he walked. The chatter of birds in the tall trees reassured him that nothing was amiss. His sense of calm increased, as it always did when the white, weatherboard farmhouse came into view.
Instead of going inside, however, they bypassed it and headed towards the cluster of trees a short distance to the right. As they turned to weave past the fourth tree to the left, they disappeared into the Rift and stepped into the realm of Wundor.