Lycaon padded into Azula's shelter in his wolf form, prompting another burst of terrified sobs. Lycaon reverted to his human form, "Stop that. I'm not going to eat you Princess. You're off my menu." Azula looked at him hardly believing her ears, her breath still unsteady, "Why?" She didn't trust herself with more than one syllable. Lycaon placed a hand to his chin and thought for a moment, "How old are you princess?"
"My sixteenth birthday was few weeks ago," Azula said uncertainly. Lycaon nodded, "If your "birthdays" are the equivalent of a twelve-moon, then you are little more than a cub. I will not harm cubs, nor will any of my people." "But you said..." Azula started, then she stopped herself not wanting to argue any excuse for the terrible creature to not eat her. "That I would devour the leader of your nation if your people could not put up enough of a fight to prove themselves worthy of sparing?" Lycaon finished, "Yes I did, and yes I will. However, if you are a princess, then you are not in charge are you?"
Azula's breath caught as she realized what he was saying, he wouldn't eat her, he would eat Zuko! She brightened immediately, "No I'm not!" She said with a sudden smile, "That would be my brother Fire Lord Zuko." Lycaon raised an eyebrow, "I'm guessing you don't like your brother very much given that you're so happy at the thought of me ripping him apart and eating him." Azula snorted with laughter, "He took the throne from me, sided with the enemies of our nation and had me thrown in an insane asylum. No I'm not Zuko's biggest fan."
Lycaon's fur stood on end and his eyes seemed to grow a little bit redder, "So he is a traitor to his people?" "Yes," Azula said firmly, "He betrayed the Fire Nation to the Avatar." Lycaon frowned, "Avatar? What is that?" Azula grinned, "If you're out to devour the leaders, you want to get him too. He's the only person in the world who can bend all four elements. He and his friends are the ones who stopped our conquest of the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes." Lycaon smiled a vicious smile, "It sounds like you have a great many enemies." Azula's smile shrunk a little, "Oh, you could say that."
Lycaon's smile grew, "Princess, I think we are going to be wonderful friends." Azula's smile returned, "I think we just might be. By the way, my name is Azula." Lycaon smiled.
Five hours and an in depth description of the Fire Nation, the nature of its leaders and politics, the organization of its military, and the nature of firebending, plus several deduced revelations about Azula's personality later, Lycaon and Azula stepped outside. "Behold the Ninth Legion," Lycaon said proudly. Azula's eyes widened with delight as she saw hundreds, no THOUSANDS of wolves stretching as far as the eye could see. Lycaon would be a perfect agent of revenge she thought. "And they are all as powerful as you are?" Azula asked, almost shivering with excitement. Lycaon looked at her, "No. I am one of the mightiest warriors in all the Kimarehto Empire. However yes, all of my troops are highly formidable. The Ninth Legion is the mightiest of all the Ten Legions. We know, we've checked."
Azula's smile widened, "And you anticipate no trouble defeating the Fire Nation?" Lycaon snorted with laughter, "We have never been defeated. The information we glean from our captives, or in this case you, always allow us to organize tactics to counter any enemy we encounter. These elemental sorcerers you spoke of might present a problem, but our numbers will trump any one on one advantage they might have. Nothing outside the bloodlines of the Knights can combat more than one Kimarehto at once, certainly nothing can fight three or four at once, and that's just out and out brawling. No Kimarehto group action has ever been defeated."
Azula grinned again, "How many warriors did you say you brought again?" "An even ten thousand is the vanguard, what you see before you. The standing forces of the Ninth Legion alone consists of five times that number back on Kimar. The forces we have occupying our conquered territories outside of Kimar bring the number to half the entire population of the Wolf Clan. Every member of the Wolf Clan could fight if we had to, and we were two hundred thousand strong when I left Kimar three moons ago." "Is every legion as large as yours?" Lycaon shook his head, "No. The Ninth Legion is the ninth smallest of the ten. We are the most elite, but only the Dragon Clan fields fewer warriors than we do, and that is simply because they are fewer in number. The others have always fielded far greater numbers. I will be sending word of our discovery of the Fire Nation to my fellow knights as soon as we are through speaking."
"How long will they take to get here?" Azula asked. "It took my ships three months, but we stopped and scoured several islands on the way here, a straight run would probably have taken a third that long. I expect that Vykin and the Second Legion will get here first, they are from the Fish Clan, so they don't need ships. They'll just swim the whole way. Camazotz and the Eighth will probably be right behind them with Jormund, Vian and the Tenth and Fourth Legions. They all fly." Azula looked at him, "You can fly?" Lycaon looked at her, "Can't you?"
Azula shook her head, "Not without a war balloon or a comet to increase my power. I did it once during Sozin's Comet, but I've been locked up in an insane asylum since then." Lycaon smiled with a sudden burst of inspiration, "Then I must show you the joy of flight." He shifted into his wolf form and then his forelegs became immense wings.
In an instant he had grown to the size of a komodo rhino, he looked at her, "hang on." He flapped his wings and shot into the air. Azula watched him puzzled and then he swooped and grabbed her. He winged his way skyward as she clutched his talons for dear life and the world fell away beneath her. Suddenly he dropped her. She screamed as she fell, then she landed with a bone rattling impact on something furry. She held on tightly, "Are you insane?" She shrieked.
"Don't worry Princess," Lycaon called over his shoulder, "I've done this a million times. Now hold on." Azula clutched his fur and clenched her legs to his side, holding on as desperately tight as she could as Lycaon barrel rolled and then flew in a circle, going upside down as he did. The world tilted crazily and Azula was suddenly glad she hadn't eaten in two days.
After several minutes of aerial acrobatics, Azula started to enjoy herself. She actually smiled when Lycaon leveled off and started gliding, "Everything looks so small." She said to herself. "What are you doing Azula?" asked a voice. Azula sat bolt upright and saw her mother's face looking at her out of a cloud. "I'm enjoying myself," Azula yelled at it angrily. Lycaon looked over his shoulder at her, "I rather thought you would." But Azula couldn't hear him, "You failed mother! I escaped! And now Lycaon is going to kill Zuko and get me the throne despite all your plotting! You failed!" She shrieked angrily at the hallucination.
Suddenly she was falling and the hallucination frowned at her. She shrieked with fear and then a pair of strong arms caught her and held her close. "Whoever are you talking to little princess?" Lycaon asked, now in his human form, but still with his powerful wings flapping away. Azula tried hard to fight back the tears, "My mother. I've been seeing her in places where she isn't. I have these, these fits where I think she's there and she's not and that's why they threw me in the insane asylum because I'm crazy!"
She dissolved into sobs as it came crashing down on her that she had been hallucinating, "I don't even know if this is real or if I'm still hallucinating! You, the army to take the throne from Zuko, it's all just too good to be real after everything that's happened!" She dissolved completely into tears then realizing with horror that she actually had lost her mind. Lycaon stroked her hair gently for a moment and then, "Do you know how I deal with nightmares?" "How?" Azula sniffled. "I roast them," Lycaon replied. Azula's eyes popped open and she looked up at him, "What?" A smile stretched across Lycaon's face, "Where is this hallucination of yours right now?"
Azula looked at the cloudbank in question, which was still holding the shape of her mother's frown. Lycaon followed her gaze and a cold, malicious smile grew, "Then let's give that nasty old hallucination a thumping to remember." He tossed her in the air and caught her on his back, now an immense dragon covered in gray wolf fur with burning red eyes. Azula held on to two tufts of fur as a smile grew on her face. Lycaon arrowed across the sky toward the illusion, roaring and spewing flames like a spirit of fiery vengeance come to earth.
Lycaon crashed through the cloudbank, his flaming breath burning it away to nothing. He swooped back around to where the front had been and called over his shoulder to Azula, "Is it still there?" "No!" She laughed, "It's gone!" She laughed, "It's gone it's gone it's gone!" She threw a double handful of blue flames over her head in delight as she realized her nightmare might finally be over. Lycaon smiled as he turned his head back toward the Kimarehto Camp, "Who would have guessed?" He shifted back to his wing-wolf form and he felt Azula's lips touch briefly to the top of his head.
He looked over his shoulder at her, "What was that?" Azula blushed a little, "It was, um, a kiss. I couldn't reach your cheek." "What's a kiss?" Lycaon asked. Azula smiled at him, "It's how my people express affection. If we kiss on the cheek it means we really like the other person as a friend, and a kiss on the lips means romantic attachment." Lycaon blinked, "Oh." He turned his head back to the front and his smile grew. He looked over his shoulder again, "My people do something rather different." Azula smiled, "What do the Kimarehto do?"
Lycaon smiled at her, "We catch the subject of our affection in human form and let them ride on our backs. It's a deadly offense to attempt to ride a Kimarehto if not invited." Azula blinked, "Isn't that what we-" Lycaon's over-the-shoulder smile said it all and she began to laugh, laying her head on the back of his neck, which only made his smile grow even larger as he winged his way back toward camp.
Just before they came close enough to see the camp, Lycaon rolled Azula off and caught her with his hind legs. He landed a few moments later, gently setting her down in front of her shelter. He reverted to his human form before leaning in close and whispering, "Sorry about the switch of position Azula, I've got a reputation to uphold. Can't let the troops know you're more to me than just another captive." He winked and kissed her on the cheek before turning to bellow for Xex. Azula smiled and hugged herself a little as she stooped down and went back into her metal shelter.