A/N: Okay, this is me, going back to my very first fic after a year away from it. Don't worry about the short chapter, the muse's cooperating and I should have the next one ready before the end of the week. Hope everyone likes it, and please review. Thanks go to Greywizard, Siege, Joshua and 3D Master for the editing.
Chapter 24 – Sniffing Around
There are some moments in time that can make even the more stoic or the more seasoned person, no matter how old or how powerful, to be absolutely surprised. To Bel'drannia of Atlantis, a woman with fifteen thousand years of life crammed into her stunning body, surprise is a thing she almost forgot existed.
But to see what she was seeing, even from KASI's long range sensors, certainly made her jaw drop and her eyes almost jump out of their sockets.
"Please, tell me you're recording this, K," she croaked.
The Knight Automated Sports Interceptor AI made a sound resembling a snort. "Of course I am. What do you think I am, a pocket calculator?"
Bel didn't waste any time replying, she just focused all of her senses in the scene she could barely see at a distance, trying to understand what in the blazes was going on.
She-Ra jumped from WarWolf's saddle, and without any preambles, splayed her hands.
The vampires didn't stand a chance, turning into screaming torches then dust in mere seconds. Both Heirs approached the van, where they were met by a goggle-eyed youngster they had seen last a couple months ago.
"Are you all right?" He-Man asked, to which Oz only nodded silently. She-Ra's silent rage dissipated, and with a calm voice, she spoke. "Hello, Oz."
That surprised the werewolf even further. He opened the window of the van, and in a still scared voice, one of the few displays of emotion He-Man/Xander had ever seen, asked. "Do I know you?"
She-Ra smiled slightly. "In a sense, yes. But we can explain that later. Up to following us? We won't harm you."
Oz relaxed slightly, eyeing the duo. "Van's busted; that's why I was attacked."
"I can put it in front of Willow's house. Good for you?" the redheaded bombshell asked.
"You know Willow?" he asked, wary.
"Like you wouldn't believe," He-Man replied instead, winning a glare from his 'sister'. Oz looked to them both, clearly confused.
"Yes, I know Willow, Oz. So, you want me to transport the van to there?" She-Ra asked.
"Hum. Sure," he replied.
"Need anything from the inside?" she asked, while changing her sword into a simple, unadorned, staff.
"Nah, I'm cool for now."
She-Ra nodded, and she silently mumbled something that even Oz with his werewolf senses couldn't hear. She finally tapped the staff three times on the ground. A sigil appeared under and around the van, spinning for a second, and then it climbed until it reached the van's roof. Once it had cleared the van's height, it winked out of sight, taking the battered vehicle with it.
Bel cursed in a tongue long forgotten, after seeing the display of magic. KASI didn't understand what she said, but the meaning was clear.
"What's wrong, Bel?" the AI asked.
"What's wrong? What's wrong? That woman is wrong, KASI," she said, in a tone bordering on anger.
"Why? I think she saved that young man's life, using what I believe is magic."
"She did, K, she did. Problem is, the type of magic she used," she said, still too dumbstruck to be very coherent.
"Atlantean. She used Atlantean magic," the last surviving Atlantean said, her already skewed world view turned upside down.
"Now, where to?" He-Man asked.
She-Ra smiled. "I know just the place. Crawford Manor."
"Deadboy's?' He-Man said, ending with something like a groan, and Oz looked to him, and then to She-Ra.
"So, tell me about life in the 'burb, B," Faith said, attempting to start a conversation while they patrolled.
"Well, it ain't so bad if you remove the annoying demons and other badness trying to end the world. Good mall, decent food, good coffee - y'know, the usual," the blonde Slayer replied.
"What about boytoys?" Faith pressed on.
"Seems to me there's a shortage of boys as toys," Buffy said. "I'm just no good with them. I mean, what do I say to a guy when he wants to go to dinner, then a movie? 'Sorry, hon, have to leave early to kill things already dead who are trying to end the world.' Kinda mood breaker, isn't it?"
"What about the X-Man?" the Dark Slayer tried again.
"Me and Xander, i-it wouldn't work," Buffy said, shakily.
Buffy didn't answer.
Probably because she didn't know the answer herself.
After the faux-pas from He-Man, who had the decency to blush, Oz got even more suspicious.
"What the hell happened here? You are Xander, aren't you?" Seeing He-Man's nod, Oz turned to the redhead. "That, I suppose makes you. . . Willow?" he said, his suspicion changing to a look of wonder.
"Hi, sweetie," She-Ra said, sheepishly. "Let's leave the explanations to someplace safer, all right? You take Oz, and I'll meet you guys there, okay?"
Both males nodded, and WarWolf approached and started sniffing the werewolf thoroughly. Oz cringed.
"Problems, Oz?" He-Man asked, concerned.
"My wolf's making me want to run. He's like the Uber-Alpha Wolf of Uber-Alpha Wolves," he said, pointing to the armored steed.
"Will it be a problem, buddy?"
The huge wolf gave an almost human shake of his head, while transmitting a feel of acceptance through their bond.
"He considers you a friend, Oz. Can you curb your instincts for a while until we reach the mansion?"
"I can try."
WarWolf lowered his massive body a bit, allowing the shorter werewolf to climb on his saddle. He-Man climbed behind him, and the wolf departed, leaving a statuesque redhead shaking her head.
"Ooooh, this will be a doozy to explain," she said, and disappeared in a stream of light.
"You got all that, right, KASI?"
Bel gave away a shuddering breath.
"I heard two names being mentioned, Xander and Willow, right?"
"Right. Search being made, it's going to take a while. Where to now?"
"The place they mentioned, Crawford Manor?"
"I believe they are talking about one house on Crawford Street that could definitely fit the profile of a mansion."
"Let's check it. I want to know a bit more about those two."
He-Man arrived with Oz, the trio landing at the huge house's backdoor, WarWolf blending with the surrounding darkness, even with his gleaming armor.
"Come on, She-Ra is waiting," He-Man said.
"She-Ra? Nickname?" Oz asked.
"Nope, real deal."
The Heir forced the back door open, and they entered, the huge wolf guarding the outside.
"The house is clear, no invasions from either variety," they heard She-Ra speaking from the front of the house. They quickly passed the empty, dusty and moldy rooms to find the redhead waiting for them, a light spell illuminating the large room she was in. "Now, I think we all have some explanations to give. Who goes first?"
"I do. Mine's shorter, I think," Oz said, and they all sat on the floor, the rickety sofa in a corner was more prone to eat them than to offer any measure of comfort.
It seemed like an entirely different person had stepped inside the almost unflappable werewolf and started speaking.
"I had to leave and find a cure for myself, Willow. I can call you Willow, can't I?" he asked to the redhead.
"Between us, you can, but no one else. Not even Buffy knows, all right? We'll explain the reasons later."
He nodded and continued. "I ended up in New York, was doing some gigs to pay for food and boarding, until fate put one doctor right in front of me. She was a doctor in biology and genetics, and she took an interest in my 'case'. She wanted to know what made a werewolf tick and if there were any mundane means to counter the curse, or at least keep the wolf in check during the transformations. Let me tell you, trusting her at the beginning, not of the easy, but we ended up becoming friends, and later…something else," he said, and looked sadly to his ex-girlfriend.
"That's good, sweetie. I knew you would find someone, eventually. I'm happy, really," she said, and the small smile in her face showed how true the statement was.
"I'm not," he replied, the sadness thick in his voice. "One day, two months ago, I went through the transformation in the cell we built for this particular reason, she had everything set up for another batch of tests. Then I woke up the following morning, the door to the cell was open and…" Oz stopped, head hung low.
"Blood," he said, looking to his trembling hands. "Blood everywhere. I ran to her a-and…" he started, but his voice disappeared and he started trembling and sobbing.
She-Ra promptly moved, grabbing the smaller man in her arms and allowing him to grieve for the woman he had lost. She took a big gamble and decided to check his aura. After he stopped shaking, she touched his chin, making him look into her eyes. He blinked hard when he noticed she was smiling.
"What?" he asked, curious with her reaction.
"You didn't kill her," she said.
"Willow, I saw the marks. She was mauled to death, and if it wasn't a werewolf, I'm pretty sure some bear escaped the zoo and…" he trailed off.
"Oz, when someone kills a human being, it creates a …scar in the soul that reflects in your aura. It's hard to see, but it's there, no matter if you are a werewolf or not. You don't have such a scar. Whatever killed her, it wasn't you."
A glimmer of hope appeared in his eyes.
"Absolutely," she said.
Instead of letting go a breath of relief, Oz stood up and started pacing. Amazingly, He-Man had kept his mouth shut during the whole conversation.
Oz paced for the best part of half an hour, both Heirs silent witness to his gears spinning.
"If I didn't do it, who did? And why?"
"You know if she had any enemies, someone willing to frame you?" He-Man spoke for the first time.
"Anyone else aware of her research?"
"Were you ever in contact with anyone fitting the bill of a psycho?"
That took Oz some time to answer. "I met this girl, during one of my gigs. Pretty, but she looked…weird, somehow. She watched the show for an entire week, always in the same spot, always with the same look. We never traded words, though. One day, she simply vanished."
"Weird, but could be just a groupie. Anything else?"
"Not that I remember now."
"We need someone with more brains. Giles must be awake now," He-Man pointed out.
"First I need to say something and ask a few things," Oz pointed out.
"Shoot," He-Man said.
"I'm being hunted. I'm a murder suspect running away through several states. I know there's a group of U.S. Marshals on my tail. I managed to lose them for a while, but I know it won't take long to find my trail again."
"We could hide you," She-Ra pointed out.
"Don't want that, now. I need to find out who killed Cindy and clear my name."
"We could help out," she replied again.
"Part of our explanation. You want to hear the full story?" She-Ra asked, and with the young werewolf's nod, she started the tale of two swords finding their way to their owners not two days ago, but keeping some of the information from him. By the end of it, Oz was sitting again, and his mouth was almost hitting the floor.
On the outside, almost half a block away, in a vehicle with the best sensor package money could buy, a fifteen thousand year old woman was having a similar reaction.
After a while, and all the questions had been answered, as best as the parts involved could, only one question remained.
"How you guys could help me?" the werewolf asked, still not believing their amazing story, but willing to take them at face value.
"You know I did some research about werewolves when I met you, sweetie, and some texts pointed to a direction, but none of them confirmed what they were hinting. Then the transformation into She-Ra came, and with it, a lot of information on Nature's Magic.
"The curse of the werewolf is not a curse, Oz."
"Huh?" Both males mirrored each other's reaction.
"A very long time ago, a peaceful tribe was being decimated by an invading force. The tribe's healer, a powerful Nature's Mage asked the Mother for guidance. Mother answered by showing the mage how to fuse his essence with another being, one fierce, smart and protective of both his family and the place they lived."
"The wolf," Oz said, in awe.
"Exactly. The ceremony was made, and the mage was the first werewolf in existence. Strong, powerful, almost invulnerable, able to change at will and sharing the better traits of both species. It was also given to the mage the means to share his blessing with other humans. The Great Mother only ordered that during the nights of the full moon, the inner wolf should be set free to commune with Her.
"The invading force was repelled, the tribe kept their ways, and every once in a while one of the tribesmen was chosen to receive the Wolf's Blessing.
"But somewhere along the line, something went horribly wrong. The last chosen, instead of sharing with the inner wolf, started fighting with it. This brought forth pain, anger, violence and finally madness. The elders decided to bind the wolf, but even their binding was not strong enough to counter the will of the Great Mother. During the full moon, the change came, and with it, death followed. Seeing no other option, the elders asked the Mother for a weapon able to kill the mad werewolf. The Great Mother blessed a kind of metal that would kill the wolf and the host; however, before they could use the blessed silver athame, a distraction allowed the werewolf to escape.
"They sent hunting parties after the escaped werewolf, but they were unsuccessful. They learned that the bite of their mad brethren was enough to pass both the wolf and the madness to the one being bitten.
"Afraid of their own actions, the tribe stopped giving their blessing, and eventually died out. However, the cursed one spread his illness, and the mad wolf, still under the base order of the first blessing, roamed the world during the full moon."
The silence extended by a few more minutes, Oz and He-Man processing the information.
"So?" Oz asked.
"The blessing still remains, sweetie, even after all this time. It's possible to release you from the madness and turn you back into a True Werewolf."
Oz didn't waste any time. "Let's do this."
She-Ra raised her hand. "It's not that simple. We'd have to merge our souls and you would have to face your wolf alone."
"If you die, everyone in there with you dies as well."