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The wolf's muscles rippled with tense power as it started to edge backwards, loosing a growl that, cold as the winterwoods got at night, was visible in curling clouds of misty white that rose from its black and scarred lips.
The wyrm shrunk back to Li's side, but she did not hide behind his legs. Instead, she matched the wolf's glaring growl with a roar, though young as she was, it came out more like a throaty squeak, though there was a rumbling undertone that made it very evident that when she grew up, it would be something to shake the bones.
"I will drive it off," said Iona.
She raised a pale hand towards the wolf, her fingers splayed out. Magical energy began to surge out from her, flattening the gra.s.s near her feet and making her robes ripple. The wolf hunched down, either hunkering down to brace for impact or coiling its muscles to try and dodge.
Li put a hand on Iona's arm and held it down. "No need."
Iona gave Li a questioning look, and Li pointed down to the wyrm. She was inching forwards now despite the wound at her front leg. Her claws were fully extended, digging into the dirt as she took menacing steps forward, her head down to guard her throat. Her tail swayed from side to side with almost stiff movements, the muscles tensed to drive a charge at any moment.
This was not the pose of prey. Neither was it the pose of a young child scared for her life. No, it was the poise of a predator rising to the challenge. There might have been a few shreds of doubt in her at first, but now that Li was by her side, all of that faded away, leaving behind just a bundle of raw aggression and bloodl.u.s.t, of an almost eagerness to fight.
"Look at her. She wants to fight." said Li.
"Are you certain about this?" Iona bit her lip as she eyed the bleeding wound at the wyrm's front leg.
"She's far better off than him."
The wolf was not unharmed. If it had been, it might have been able to inflict a much deeper wound on the wyrm. One of its hind legs was shattered, broken and twisted at an unnatural angle. A gash at its stomach leaked blood that formed a blooming red patch on its white fur.
Li knew that these were not wounds from the wyrm. The leg had been shattered with blunt force, and the gash was carved through with something far sharper than regular claws. No, it had likely escaped from fighting with Launcelot or perhaps a group of humans angry that its pack had killed a child.
Regardless, these wounds evened the playing field a little, but even then, the fight was still up to the air. Li a.n.a.lyzed that in terms of sheer game stats, the wyrm was near level 20. Strong enough to maul the average and untrained grown man, but not quite strong enough to contend with soldiers, beasts and monsters.
In contrast, the alpha direwolf was almost level 30. Yet the numbers did not paint too grim a picture. The gap between a level 20 and a level 30 was far narrower than that between a level 60 and a 70. At the lower levels, the only real difference between monsters was their unique racial traits and the stats provided by levels.
The wolf's debilitating injuries reduced the stat difference quite a bit, and compared to the wyrm who had [Kin Scales] and a [Lesser Pa.s.sive Regeneration], the wolf only had [Bloodhunt] which was useful for tracking prey, not fighting.
The wolf knew this, and, knowing that Li and Iona were now there, decided to flee as best as it could, swiveling around and hopping forwards on its three remaining legs.
The wyrm would not allow this and made a charge forwards. Li could perceive the fight bursting within her, the heat of adrenaline and combat pulsing through her veins. If she could talk, she would probably have called the wolf a coward.
Li had a somewhat good grasp of her personality now, and it was definitively not a delicate one.
The wolf growled as it turned back when it sensed the wyrm drawing near. It snapped at her head, and she did not dodge, instead taking the bite to get her own jaws around the wolf's throat. The wolf's mouth clamped around her neck, but this was where her scales, though still smooth and unformed, concentrated the most.
The wolf's teeth crushed into her neck with a crunching sound as its fangs cracked apart scales, but it did not manage to pierce deep into the flesh. The wyrm being smaller than the wolf meant she had a lower center of gravity, making it difficult for the wolf to bite at the underside of her neck where the scales were thinner and where her vital throat was.
The wyrm, however, had a full clenched grip over the wolf's brawny neck, though her small fangs found it difficult to bite through layers of thick fur and powerful muscles. They were in a deadlock, each of their jaws biting down on each other. It reminded Li almost of a swordlock – whoever could put the most force and bite harder would overpower the other to snap their neck or pierce their jugular.
The wolf let out a savage growl as it exerted a tremendous amount of force, its neck muscles coiling in powerful bunches as it lifted the wyrm aboveground through sheer jaw strength alone. The wyrm, however, did not let go of the wolf's throat, and the wolf instead pried her away by force, swiveling its head and flicking her several meters away.
The wyrm crashed onto the forest floor but immediately leaped back onto all fours. Blood trickled from several punctures at the base of her neck, coloring her green scales with crimson, but her breathing was still even, her eyes still focused to fight and to kill.
"You won't win in a test of strength," said Li. Though she could not understand anyone else's words, she could understand him, and in this way, he would help her to try and win with her own strength. If she was anywhere near as intelligent as her mother, then she could use his words to win. "His leg is damaged. Yours aren't. Not everything is settled with force – use your speed."
The wyrm immediately put Li's advice to use. She darted in the wolf's range, and it snapped at her, but instead of tanking the attack to get her own in, she instead slammed her tail to the forest floor, giving her a burst of movement to the side that let her dodge at the last moment. She did not bite, but instead struck out with a quick swipe of her claws at the wolf's chest, where the gash was, before darting away.
The wolf growled as it limped back, the b.l.o.o.d.y patch on its white fur expanding even further.
Li projected common game sense to the wyrm. "Circle him. If a boss can't attack from a certain angle, then get to that angle and attack from there. His back leg is broken – he can't defend against an attack from there."
The wyrm began to leap around the wolf in a circle, and the beast tried to keep up and face her. However, its broken back leg prevented it from being able to circle as effectively, and eventually, there came a point where she managed to reach his blind spot. She leaped forwards, biting at the wolf's back before tearing away, leaving a few parting scratches behind.
Li did not have to say anymore.
The wyrm had learned, and frighteningly fast. Her body seemed to adapt to his words with a brutal efficiency. She kept a low center of gravity while darting around the wolf, making herself less visible and faster, and when she struck, she sprung forwards like a spring before disengaging just as quickly.
This was not just pure hunting instinct, though that was part of it. It was almost genius-level intelligence in fighting. Her mother had been right to say that she was truly the hope of their entire species, the pinnacle of their strongest genes and bloodlines.
But it was not just that that gave her an edge.
Li realized that the wolf was beginning to move slower. It was like a chill had set upon its body, freezing up its movements little by little. The effect was noticeable enough that it could not just be attributed to blood loss.
In the first place, the wolf was only suffering minor wounds. By attacking the wolf's blindspot, the wyrm insured she could escape retaliation, but at the same time, she could only nick out small bites and scratches at the wolf's st.u.r.dy and unharmed back.
Yet as those small cuts and scratches acc.u.mulated, the wolf started to slow down until, finally, it began to collapse, its breathing heavy.
Li checked the wolf's status with a simple [Power Sense], and he realized it had been poisoned. So it seemed the wyrm had inherited more from her mother than just intellect and natural strength. Though her poison did not melt shields and liquefy flesh, it was still potent enough to disable a fully grown dire wolf in a matter of minutes.
"Wait," said Li when the wolf did collapse, its shaking, venom-leaden legs unable to support its weight.
The wyrm had positioned herself over the wolf's chest, her fangs bared as she readied to bite into the flesh and consume it. She, however, did have the discipline to listen to Li and stop herself. She c.o.c.ked her as she gave Li a quizzical look, her eyes wide.
Li knelt by the wolf's tawny head. It had closed its eyes at this point, its breathing shallow and ready to die. He put a hand to the wolf's head, almost petting it. He did not pity the wolf. It would have died with its leg injury sooner rather than later.
If its pack had survived, they would have driven him out or outright killed him as he would no longer be able to lead them.
This was just how the wild worked.
Instead, he felt thankful that the wolf's death could help the wyrm. This reminded of him when he read about the hunting practices of tribal peoples in his past world, though by Li's time, tribes had long since ceased to exist as a social unit.
He had read that they would thank the prey they caught for their death, and though at that time as a man living in a city, he had no idea what that thankfulness felt like, he felt like he knew now.
Li channeled magic into the hand that laid atop the wolf's head. He casted [Blood Root] to instantly pierce through the wolf' brain and kill it instantly, ending the suffering it would have endured from being eaten alive. He wished he had some sort of instant death spell that could more gently end the creature's life, but most of his spells were meant to torment and agonize.
This was the best he could do.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," said Li to the wyrm. "Go on, eat up. You deserve it."
The wyrm drew nearer to the wolf's corpse, mouth open in hunger, but then it closed its jaws and hung its head. Not to ready herself to fight, but almost in a gentle gesture, touching her snout to the wolf's fur.
Li realized she was sensing his emotions and his intentions and copying him. Or, to be more accurate, she was looking up to him as a parent figure and doing what he did. He realized then that he had much more of a responsibility to raise the wyrm than he thought. This wouldn't just be hands off parenting like her mother had suggested. His actions would set an example for her to follow.