Whenever we could, we practiced communicating with each other and learned to filter out the extra thoughts. We worked to protect our bodies as we merged. Charlie’s warning was always in our thoughts: “Protect your body.”
We had designated practice times. Archie would meet us in the clearing. We spent time learning how to quickly merge. The faster we were going when we merged, the worse the injuries were to our body. Sprinting seemed to be the best way for us to merge. I started the first practice, sprinting and calling Eros. As Eros circled above me, I slowed to a jog. When I thought he was close enough, I lifted my arms to the sky and merged. The last thing I felt was my body crumble to the ground. The two of us flew off. Archie ran over to my body and gave us a thumbs up. We had merged without hurting my body.
The others followed. Charlie was next, sprinting as Hercules lumbered out of the tree line and headed in his direction. As Hercules gained speed, Charlie slowed down to a jog and reached over to Hercules. Charlie’s strong body rolled over twice and lay with his face up. Archie walked over and gave us another thumbs up.
Lilly never hurt her body after the first merge. She and Arion were so much in tune that every movement was as if they were one. Now Ollie, that was another story. He was clumsy, sprinting and slowing with no rhyme or reason. Zephyr was confused and kept coming to a complete stop and staring at Ollie like he was stupid. It took days of practice before Ollie could even reasonably safely merge with Zephyr. Finally one day it happened and Ollie managed to merge without hurting his poor bruised body. Bets caught on quickly, and within a couple of tries she was able to leave her body face up and uninjured.
Once we had mastered that task, Archie started working with us on offensive maneuvers. Archie had a suit that you wore when you were training attack dogs. It was padded on the legs, arms and chest, and made Archie look huge. Archie would get his tomahawk, gun, bow and arrows, and knife and stand in the middle of the clearing. He would call one of us out.
I was the first to go. Eros and I flew overheard, trying to find an opening to attack. When we swooped down to attack, Archie threw his tomahawk at us! It sailed through the air and Eros and I banked sharply to the left and the tomahawk whizzed by us. I could feel Eros’s heart beating hard and fast. I was pissed! How dare Archie try to kill us!
Eros and I flew back up and I decided to try a side approach. This time Archie had time to get his bow and arrows out. Eros and I heard the zing of the bowstring. In a panic, we flew hard straight up. The arrow barely missed Eros’s tail feathers.
Now I was really pissed. I decided to let Eros take the lead. He flew straight down and at the last possible minute banked hard to the left, then to the right. Archie had his knife but we were too close and flying too fast. Eros and I reached out feet first and grabbed Archie’s arm with his talons. As we latched on, Eros flapped hard and twisted. We released Eros’s talons as Archie fell hard to the ground. Eros and I flew off to the tree top as Archie brushed himself off, smiled and gave us a thumbs up.
Lilly and Arion were next. They went for a direct attack. Arion thundered full force towards Archie. Archie reached for his gun and fired off a shot towards Arion. Arion twisted sharply to the right, stumbled and almost went down. Arion’s flanks were wet with sweat. He came from an angle this time as Archie sailed an arrow at his flank. Arion skidded to a stop and the arrow flew by his head. Arion was now only a few feet from Archie and he surged, jumping forward and knocking Archie to the ground with his front feet. Arion turned around and galloped off with his tail high. Archie jumped up and gave Arion a thumbs up.
Ollie and Zephyr were nervously pacing as Archie motioned for them to attack. Zephyr was hesitant, and Archie fired his rifle straight at them! Zephyr panicked and ran off in the tree line. Archie gave chase, firing his gun in Zephyr’s direction. Zephyr was running, flat out scared and panicking.
Up to now all of us had been quiet, letting the others concentrate while they were attacking. Now I started talking to Ollie. “Ollie! Shit! Get your head together. Come on, do something and quit running scared before Archie shoots Zephyr in the ass.”
I could hear Lilly, “Outflank him Ollie, get around Archie on his right.” Zephyr veered to the right and came out behind Archie and knocked him down from behind.
Archie rolled around a couple of times and stood up. He called out to Ollie, “Don’t you ever run again. You make the decision to fight and you stand your ground and fight. You hear me Ollie?” Zephyr walked out of the trees with his head down. “That goes for all of you as well. You will never get a second chance to defeat evil. Never show weakness.” We were all quiet.
Bets and Electra stood at the edge of the clearing. Archie motioned to them. Electra bounded forward. As Archie sent an arrow towards Electra, she dropped to the ground and crawled forward, hidden in the tall prairie grass. Archie fired several shots into the grass and we all held our breath. The wind was moving the grass and we weren’t sure if he hit Electra or not.
Suddenly Electra pounced from only five feet away and sailed through the air. She knocked Archie several feet through the air, and it took him a few minutes to get up. We patiently waited. Archie got up and gave Electra a thumbs up.
Finally it was just Charlie and Hercules. Hercules was impatient, rearing up and bellowing. Archie motioned them forward. Hercules dropped to all fours as Archie fired his shotgun at him. One shot grazed Hercules’s ear and he roared with rage. Within seconds, he had run the distance to Archie, and with one swipe of his huge paw he knocked Archie through the air. As Archie fell down, Hercules was after him, roaring with his teeth bared.
I started to panic. “CHARLIE!” I screamed. “STOP.”
I heard Bets and Lilly yelling as well. But Hercules continued on. We were screaming at Charlie, and I saw Archie with his tomahawk and knife preparing to defend himself. I was panicked that we would lose Charlie or Archie. Electra jumped over Archie’s head and crouched down, growling at Hercules. Zephyr joined in, running to get next to Electra and growling, crouched down low. I saw Arion headed to the left of Hercules, and I distracted Hercules by circling overhead and shrieking. My diversion worked, as Arion backed close to Hercules and delivered a hoof kick straight to his head. Hercules dropped to the ground.
Suddenly we heard Charlie. “What happened? What happened?” I said sarcastically, “You tried to kill Archie and all of us.”
“I would never do that,” Charlie said.
“Well, you did,” Ollie interjected.
Archie motioned us toward our bodies. As we returned to our bodies, Hercules, Zephyr and Electra took off into the woods and Eros flew to his nest.
We went to Archie. Charlie was looking at the ground. Archie looked at him. “Tell me what happened with Hercules.”
Charlie looked at us. “I’m not sure. I think I might have had a seizure and I lost control of Hercules. It didn’t feel like a seizure, but something happened to make me lose Hercules.”
Archie looked upset. “I hope you kids remember what can happen if you lose focus. These are wild animals, and without you they will be what they always are. You must be vigilant.” We nodded our heads.
The next lesson was on teamwork. We learned how to attack, practicing once again with Archie. This time Archie put football tackling forms on the field and lined them up around him in a circle. Once we all merged, we discussed with each other what to do in order to bring down all the football forms that represented people and Archie as well. If the forms represented people, then they would be able to shoot us or hurt us if we hit them individually.
We decided to get Hercules in the middle, as he could take stabbing and gunshot wounds without being hurt as bad. My job was to draw the gunfire. Eros and I flew up and then over the area. Archie fired off several shots as Eros and I dodged. The others were running in a V formation with Hercules in the lead. They hit the first tackling forms and knocked down half of them. Then they divided and Hercules took out three more while Electra and Zephyr finished off the rest. Arion hit Archie in the chest as they jumped the forms and knocked him down. Within moments the pretend battle was over. Archie smiled and waved at us.
We spent many hours and days practicing everything Archie could think of. Archie cut us no slack, and sometimes he hurt one of us, but it was never serious and we never made the same mistake twice.
We developed an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each animal. We protected the others’ weaknesses and used their strengths to our advantage. Eros was extremely vulnerable in the air, but when he flew low nestled between the others he had the ultimate advantage. Eros could tear a fake human head to pieces with his talons. Hercules could tear anything apart with his claws or his teeth. Electra could drop out of a tree silently and suffocate someone with her teeth on their neck without rustling a leaf. Zephyr could bring down a runner with his teeth and crush their windpipe. Arion was lethal with his hooves. One strong kick and he could fracture a skull. We were trained to be killers, but none of us thought we would ever really need to kill someone. We thought maybe just the machayiwiw and that would be it…