I will protect them, the wolf had said to the human. That was before she learned what Retka thought of the tahori. He called them monsters, raging mindless beasts whose prowess was destruction and battle. He had said that, and she had stopped walking, turned to look at him with flashing eyes and bared teeth, fangs longer than his fingers– and he cowered back, surprised and afraid.
He didn’t realize the white wolf was the monster he’d been raised to hate and fear. She stopped before she could snarl and snap at his face.
Yagir hadn’t had her hesitation; he swung hard and sent the half-tache stumbling backwards, a hand clutching at his chest where the blow had landed. She had to take the human’s collar in her teeth to keep him from lashing out again, and the fabric of his vest made a curious ripping sound.
Yagir spat and cursed, but with a wounded namiccian still holding fast to the wolf’s back, he couldn’t spare the time for a shouting match, let alone a fist-fight. He swore one last time at Retka, then turned back and kept walking; the wolf let him go and followed, her jaws tense. Without anywhere else to go, lost in the middle of uncivilized wilderness, the half-tache trailed them.
Retka didn’t understand until he met Dienn, a man who gave the namiccian a quiet, dark place to recover. Yagir snarled a few words in the language Retka didn’t know, then stalked off, trailed by the giant wolf. Dienn pulled Retka aside and spoke softly.
Yes, they knew Retka was half-tache. Yes, they also knew he was half-tahori, though Light only knew how they figured it out. Yes, they understood that Retka had been raised as half a person, shunning part of his heritage. But no, they would not let him continue to spout such lies.
They weren’t lies, Retka insisted. They were truth. Dienn just didn’t know – he’d never met a tahori, after all.
The white wolf returned, then, and sat within touching distance, gold eyes watching them calmly. Dienn pressed an open hand against the wolf’s thickly-furred chest. Yes, I’ve met a tahori, he said. So have you.
Retka still didn’t understand until he looked at the wolf – really looked, saw the fine whiskers and the proudly erect ears and the glint of more-than-animal intelligence in those frightening yellow eyes.
When he reeled backwards, Dienn caught his sleeve and kept him for running for his life. This is a tahori, the human said. This is an inlanlu tahori. She saved your life. How monstrous is that?
I don’t believe you, Retka answered, his heart climbing into his throat. Tahori are shapeshifting demons. This is just a wolf. This is just–
And the wolf leaned back on her haunches, and Retka’s vision seemed to blur as though Dienn punched him in the side of the head, and by the time he could focus again, there was a woman standing where the wolf had been.
Dienn let go of his sleeve. This is a tahori, he repeated. This woman is your worst nightmare. Terrifying, isn’t she?
She still had yellow eyes and a white tail, but she looked like a human in every other way. She could have even passed for a tache, although her hair was brown and not black. She gave him the same level, unreadable, impassive look that the wolf had given him.
She isn’t terrifying, Retka lied, unable to look away from those eyes, those predator’s eyes. He couldn’t bring himself to say ‘she’s just a girl’ because, no matter how human or tachian in appearance, every inch of her was still wolf – and if he said that, she would rip his throat out with her falsely-human teeth.
As though she could smell his fear, the tahori smiled at his lie, no warmth reaching those wolf eyes.