The Witch with the Unspoken Name and the Mad Shaman met atop a hill to engage in a battle of wills. Their reasons were all their own, and as they stood across from each other, staring into the other’s eyes, their familiars sat by and waited.
Newt the demon duck pushed a pebble with his foot. “This is so boring.”
Nero the spirit wolf crossed his front paws and yawned. “Indeed.”
“Who do you think is winning?” asked Newt.
“Who can say?”
Newt scowled. “It’s not a very interesting magical duel, is it? Would it kill them to unleash a lightning bolt or earth tremor now and then. Just to give us an indication that something is going on here other than a staring contest.”
Nero raised his head and adopted the snooty tone of his master. “Nero, it’s simply not done that way.”
Newt covered the top half of his face and smirked. “Newt, you simply must learn patience.”
“Pretentious sorts, aren’t they?” said Newt.
“Comes with the magic. Or so I’m told.”
“Oh, that’s convenient. Always blame the magic for their shortcomings. Who can argue? If I had a fraction of their power at my disposal, I’d be a king. Mortals would tremble at my name, and how the land would run red with the blood of mine enemies.”
He cackled. Nero turned his head to one side and studied the duck. Newt quieted.
“Well, what would you do?” he asked.
“Power doesn’t interest me.”
“Oh, come now. Power interests everyone. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying or suffering from a woeful lack of imagination.”
“Ambition only leads to suffering.”
Newt quacked. “You’re no fun.”
Nero stood. His silver fur shimmered, and his deep black eyes gazed into Newt’s soul. The duck shivered. His feathers ruffled.
“Deer. I’d transform every last mortal into deer.”
“Sounds boring,” said Newt.
Nero grinned, baring his pristine white fangs. “Imagine it, a world full of prey, a hunt that goes on forever. To stalk and kill until the end of time itself.”
Newt smiled. “Say, that’s not bad.”
“I had a feeling you’d like the idea,” said Nero.
“Deer might get boring though. I’d make some of them boars. Big, nasty ones with giant tusks.”
“Bears with wicked claws,” suggested Nero.
“Dragons!” said Newt. “Fire-breathing ones with pointed teeth.”
“I’ve never hunted a dragon.”
“I killed one once. It was only a little one, but terrific fun.”
“I can imagine.” Nero paced in a circles and sat back down.
“Maybe we should fight,” said Newt. “Just to pass the time.”
The familiars took measure of each other. On the surface, the duck didn’t appear to be much of a match for the giant spectral wolf, but both saw beyond such superficiality.
“I don’t know,” said Nero. “Seems like a bother.”
“Well, we should do something.”
Nero’s ears perked up, and he turned his head toward the forest’s edge. A razorback as big as a horse emerged into the clearing and nosed the ground in search of food. The forest king’s powerful flesh bore the scars of many battles and many victories, and it moved with fearless confidence.
Nero asked “Should we?”
Newt poked his witch’s leg. She didn’t respond.
“They’ll probably be a while still.”
Nero raised his head and howled. His call chilled the blood of every living thing in ten miles, and the razorback bolted into the woods.
Nero bowed to Newt. “Please, after you.”
The demon duck and spirit wolf, both grinning, ran after their prey as their masters, oblivious, carried on their war on faraway astral planes.