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Friday, October 20, 2017

The Taste of Fear

The eerie greenish-gold light from the sconces lit the way as Nilla dragged her feet between the two guards that held firmly to her arms. She had decided to not struggle at this moment to reserve her energy for what was to come. As she and her escort followed Amerak, all Nilla could think about was the fact that they were going deep below the fortress.

The air became thick with the scent of unwashed bodies, and the smell of fear intermingled to cause the hackles to rise on the back of her neck. The further they went she could begin to pick up the sound of moans as well as the occasional blood-curdling scream. She felt bile build in the back of her throat as she realized she was being taken to the dungeon.

She had heard tales of what occurred in Amerak’s hall of torture. He employed the most sadistic torturers to glean the information he sought. Very few survived a visit to the underbelly of Amerak’s fortress. She couldn’t stop herself as she began to struggle against the hands holding her. As her struggles increased she felt blood begin to flow down her arm from where the guard’s claws dug into her skin. The scent of her fear was added to the noxious smell of the hellish place.

Amerak cast a glance back at the little thief. An evil grin lit his face as he saw the blood trailing from her injuries. “Fight all you want. My guards will take delight in your struggles. Worry not that I will allow you to be damaged too badly. I still have need of you. Well, need of your blood. With it, I will find your beloved sister and your crew.” Nilla’s head whipped up when she realized what he intended to do. “I suppose I can still let my guards have their fun with you, it will just be more blood to use to create the spell.” Amerak watched as true terror lit Nilla’s features. He turned back and led them into his dungeon.

They soon entered a large cavern with barred cells lining the outside walls, while in the middle was various equipment set up with which to torture the poor souls who found their way there. In one corner a filthy, blood covered male was suspended by a set of hooks that had been driven into his skin. His screams echoed off the stone walls as he struggled to break free. In another corner, a male was stretched out on a rack. His arms and legs spread far apart as grizzled guards turned the ropes tighter. His mouth was open in a scream but his voice was gone. Nilla tried to back away from the tableau that was before her.

“Bring her over here,” Amerak ordered his guards. He stood next to a blood-stained chair with shackles to imprison the hands and feet. Nilla renewed her struggles to break free from the leering guards. They only laughed at her weakness as they threw her on the chair and began chaining her.

One of the guards pulled Nilla’s head back against the splintered wood. She felt a strap fastened around her neck. She couldn’t halt the tears that trickled from her widened eyes. Her heart was pounding so hard it felt like it was going to jump out of her throat. She gripped the arms of the chair with sweat-slick hands. Her own claws adding to the already scarred wood. Her pupils were dilated with the fear choking her. She shrank back as Amerak moved closer wielding a long curved blade.

She fought against the leather encircling her wrist. She watched as he took her arm and turned it so that her palm faced upwards to his view. She flinched when he ran the point of the blade down the center of her palm. She heard screams and suddenly realized they were her own. She glanced up to see a maniacal smile lighting Amerak’s face. When she turned her attention back to her hand she watched as the blood began to seep out of the fine-lined cut. She watched mesmerized as Amerak took a spell stone and began to coat it with her blood.

She watched as he followed the first stone with a couple more stones. She felt dizzy as she watched him run a claw through her blood and bring it to his tongue. “Ah, the taste of fear. It is so powerful. It will be most helpful in some of my other spells.” He then took a hollow reed and jabbed it into her forearm as the pain registered in her mind. She watched as he held a bottle to capture the dark red stream that poured from the reed. Amerak filled three bottles before he pulled the reed from her arm. He did nothing to stop the blood that continued to weep from the wound.

The guard that had pulled her head back released it to move around into her view. “Can we take our fun with her now, my lord?” He asked Amerak. Amerak stopped corking the bottles to study her. She lived in fear of his answer but felt too fuzzy to concentrate on his reply.

“No, not yet. I may still have use of her. Throw her in with the mystic and gather your elite guards. We will be leaving soon. Once I have found the guardians, then she will be your prize.” Nilla watched this exchange through a fog. The bleeding had slowed to a trickle and she felt as weak as a newborn kit. The rushing sound in her ears was the last thing she noticed as darkness wrapped around her.

She awoke to the sound of rattling chains and realized that the bed beneath her was moving. “What happened?” she said to herself.

 She jumped when a hoarse voice answered, “You are a prisoner in Amerak’s rolling cage. We are being moved to the departure site for his upcoming incursion.” It was then that Nilla realized her pillow was, in fact, the speaker’s lap. She turned to look up at her makeshift headrest. Gasping when she realized that it was the ancient mystic. Her eyes moved to scan the interior. Searching for his small companion. She found what she hunted for curled in the corner across from where she and Shénmei sat.

“Is he…” she stopped dreading the answer but felt impelled to ask. “Is he alive?” She watched the figure for any sign of movement but detected none. “Please tell me, I need to know.” She asked the ancient who held her in his arms.

Shénmei followed her gaze to his apprentice. “He sleeps. I did what I could to heal him, now it is up to the Goddess whether she wishes him to ascend. Worry not my child, he is in no pain.” He raised her hand and she saw that it was bound with a dirty rag. “I am sorry for the bandage but I needed to stem the flow of blood. How do you feel? Did they hurt you in any other way?” he studied her face waiting for her answer.

Nilla took a moment to access herself. She had relief in her voice when she answered the ancient. “Other than some bruises and scratches, the worst injury seems to be where Amerak bleed me for his damn spell stones. He intends to use my blood to find the guardians. Unfortunately, he will also find the Triad at that time because that is where they are.” She slowly sat up from her reclining position. “I wish I had a way to warn them of his plans.”

Shénmei tilted his head as if listening for something, his eyes glazing over slightly as he seemed to be somewhere else. Nilla watched as an eerie glow infused the ancient’s body. She suddenly had the feeling that she was alone in the cage. As quickly as the glow began it dissipated in the same fashion. She watched as his consciousness re-entered his body. It all happened within minutes, she shook her head wondering if she still was feeling the blood loss.

A movement from the corner of the cage drew Nilla’s attention from the mystic. She watched the small bundle for more movement; beginning to feel like she was losing her mind. She just couldn’t hold any faith that the little mystic had survived his treatment at the hands of Amerak. Deciding to face her fear she scooted over towards the crumpled form. As she reached her hand out to turn him so that she could view his face, she drew back at the visage that met her scrutiny.

A gasp escaped her lips, and she found herself praying to the Goddess. “What in the world??” she whispered in awe.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Invitation

The group finally reached the shadows cast by the stone fortress. Azereus called to a halt and everyone gathered to see what he had in mind. “I think we should make camp here for the night. This way we can study the layout and figure out the best way to enter the fortress. I have this weird feeling that we shouldn’t just walk through the front gate. What do you guys think?”

Both Bo and Zirede studied the looming fortress. Zirede was the first to speak. “I wish Nilla was here, she has a knack for finding the most unlikely ways into places. I must agree we need to go in some other way. The stories of this place have the missing parties always entering the front gate. I am all for not disappearing over this thing.” Both he and Azereus looked to Bo for his opinion.

As much as Bo hated to look over the place, he knew from experience the front gate was not the way to go. Hell, he doubted any way they chose would save them but he kept that to himself. “I can say for certain I watched my father and then the party sent to find him, walk through that gate and never saw any of them again. So, if we can find an alternative I am all for it.”

The younger group of males sauntered toward their elders. “What do you think they are discussing now?” Dominic asked.

“Probably the best way to avoid going into that big old fortress. You know Bo has bad memories of this place. I think we ought to go explore the area and not tell them what we are doing.” Neko said as he turned to walk backward and gaze up at the gray walls.

Diewen studied the powerfully built Felis, his senses still yelling at him that he was standing in the presence of a Pantheri. He couldn’t prevent the question from escaping, “Are you a Pantheri, and if you are, how are you here?”

This stopped the twin’s dead in their tracks. They both exchanged glances before looking at Neko who had apparently not heard the question or was pondering his response. Either way, he bumped into Donny as he turned to face the little Rex. The look on his face gave witness that he had indeed heard the question.

Neko thought about how to answer Diewen. He felt exposed and that wasn’t a good feeling. What if he said yes, and the little guy decided to use it in some way against him. Yet here they were getting ready to trust the strangers in finding the Triad. He wished CeCe or Bo were beside him so they could advise him on his answer. He ended up not having to say anything though as the little Rex answered his own question.

“I knew it. Don’t try to deny it the answer is written all over not only your face but theirs too.” He pointed at the twins who both wore identical looks of surprise and wariness. “You don’t have to worry, my prince. And don’t deny you are a prince because your bearing speaks of your royal blood. Not to mention the rumors that the prince was hidden away when his family was slain. I can’t believe we found not one member of royalty but two. No wonder Amerak wants you guys dead.”

Neko’s head came up at this statement. “How can he want us dead if he has no idea we are alive. My sister tells me he is the one responsible for the destruction of Mithral, I grew up never knowing who or what I was until we started this quest.” He had turned to watch CeCe and the other females build the camp. “She kept the truth from me to protect me and I am glad she did. Goddess knows how big my head would have grown with that information…”

“And he has a big enough head without it,” quipped Dominic as he bumped into Neko. “It doesn’t matter. We are going to find this Triad thingy and Amerak is gonna lose. Simple as that.” He continued.

The closer to the walled fortress they got the more silent the group became. Just as they were before the main gate Donny stopped dead in his tracks, a look of bewilderment on his face. The others watched as he leaned the Specter’s Staff towards the time-worn rusted gate. The others stopped close behind him waiting for him to tell them what was happening.

“I hear whispers. It is many voices all garbled together as if they all are trying to tell me something at the same time. It’s weird. As garbled as they sound I know what they are saying. They are inviting us inside. They want us here.” He cast a glance back towards the others. “I think we should take them up on their invite. What do you guys think?”

The looks that he received were comical in the way they mirrored each other perfectly. Shock and revulsion mixed in with disbelief that he would ask such a stupid question. He couldn’t help what he did next the staff took over and the ancient spirits dwelling within it pulled him forward. He willingly followed leaving the trio behind to watch in bewilderment as he headed towards a gate that just by chance was opening.

Bo had just turned to start walking the perimeter when he noticed the group of young Felis’ heading towards the opening gate. He took a second glance, and yes indeed the gate was opening as Donny led by the staff calmly walked through it.

“What in the seven hells is he doing? Has he lost all the sense I taught him to have?” He waved his hand to alert the others around him to what was happening. “Donny! Stop!!” he shouted at his brother. He began running towards the fool. He stopped dead in his tracks as he watched the others all running as he was towards the young male.

As he approached the group in which the other young males were gathered he asked, “What is he doing? And please tell me why you haven’t done anything to stop him.”

“The staff is telling him to go in, I for one think we ought to see what happens before trying to go against a cursed staff, don’t you agree, big brother?” Dominic spoke to Bo as he was literally strangling the wood of his bow in his angst over what his twin was doing.

Soon all the group had gathered with Bo and the young males. They all felt this odd sense of relief and panic at what would happen when Donny entered the grounds of the fortress of Black Barrow.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Destiny Awaits

Nilla had just taken the last bite of her sandwich when Amerak startled her by coming up behind her chair and grabbing her shoulders. She hadn’t thought he could move that fast. He had just risen and began to pace around while he waited for her to slack her hunger. The last bite lodged in her throat and she began to choke. “The time for stalling is over little thief”, was growled into her ear as the wizard loomed over her.

“I think you have played on my patience long enough. Tell me what you have found in your search, or that meal will be your last.” To emphasize his point, Amerak squeezed her shoulders painfully. Nilla couldn’t stop the whimper of pain as his claws extended, digging deeper into her flesh. “Now tell me, have you found the Guardians? Or did you and your inept band fail me once more?”

Swallowing the tasteless sandwich, Nilla longed to take a sip of water to help it go down but feared in his present mood that Amerak would take offense of it. “When you summoned me, my band and I were closing in on the whereabouts of the Guardians. We had intel tell us they were traveling with a guide towards Coracre, we immediately set off in pursuit. As we speak my band should be encountering them. If we are finished I would like to join in the battle.”

Nilla tried to remain nonchalant as the lie left her lips. She worried that Amerak would see through it and all would be lost. She didn’t have long to wait to find out if he believed her or not. He quickly released her and moved to stand in front of her. Her heart felt like it dropped to her feet when she saw him signal his guards. The look on his face spoke volumes of his displeasure at catching her in a lie.

“Amazing, I almost believed you. How easy you lie to your lord and master. Now tell me again where they are located? Was it Coracre? Hmm… now according to my spies, it seems the Guardians may have gone a bit out of their way to get there. They say they were heading in the totally opposite direction.” Amerak motioned towards a small figure that until now Nilla hadn’t noticed. “Where was it that your friend Max said he was heading again? I am fairly certain you said somewhere other than Coracre.”

The small wiry fella looked more rodent than Felis, his sharply pointed ears, and whip thin tail just a few of his attributes. His tiny black eyes never seemed to stop in their perusal of all around. You could feel his nervous energy from across the room. Even his voice was squeaky as he spoke. “It weren’t no Coracre that’s fer sure, my liege. It was that old haunted place, you be knowing the one. Black Barrow be its name.” His little nose twitched a bit as he continued.

“Old Max, he was all in a hurry to be gone. Said the ones who hired him were looking for something. Last, I knew there weren’t nothing up that way ‘ceptin’ ghosts. I warns him of it but he still took them up there.” Amerak held out his hand and in it was a pouch of what Nilla could only surmise to be the fool’s payment. She had a feeling he wouldn’t get far with it though. Amerak didn’t like to pay for anything. “Thank ya much, my liege, I can go, right?” He reached out and quickly snatched the pouch from Amerak’s hand.

Amerak waved him off and returned his eyes to where Nilla sat now perched on the edge of her seat. “So, do you have anything new to add? Like the true whereabouts of your crew and the Guardians.”

Nilla tried to think of a way out of her predicament but for once her brain refused to come up with anything. She refused to say anything of Black Barrow. “I have no idea what he is talking about. When we found a trace of them it was up in the mountains, a severe storm was raging and we had taken refuge in a cave. I have never heard of this place he speaks of. When you summoned me, we were just packing up to try and regain their trail. From what Zi said it looked like they were headed in the direction of Coracre.”

Nilla watched Amerak’s hands and flinched when he gave a signal. The guard grabbed her and forced her to stand. His buddy came to stand beside her and took hold of her arm. “What? I told you all I know.” She pleaded but Amerak just walked toward the door, signaling the guards to bring her along. “Where are you taking me?” she cried. She tried to fight from the hold but the guards were too strong.

As Bumbles portal opened the sound of bird song filtered into the cave. As did a flurry of snow, “hurry now. I can only hold this open for so long and we have a large group to pass through.” He was already beginning to feel the strain of holding the portal and he knew that Bo would only be able to concentrate so long on the location. “Time is of the essence, go now!”

Bo fought his repugnance at remembering the hated place. He had never realized how hard it was to stay concentrated on one thing as he did now. Little thoughts kept trying to creep in and he pushed them away as he fought to hold the picture in his mind. Perspiration began beading on his brow and he fought the urge to wipe it away.

At last, he heard the magician tell him to hold on and felt his arm taken hold of. “Keep holding the scene and I will guide you through the portal with me.” He heard Bumbles say as he was urged to walk. “when we are through the portal, I will squeeze your arm. At that moment, it will be safe to let the scene go.” Bo shook his head to indicate he understood and then began to walk.

Neko stumbled from the portal and quickly shielded his eyes from the blazing sun. He had not been expecting to go from the dimly lit cave into a world bathed in light reflected off the ice crusted snow. He felt someone bump into him from behind and turned to find the twins arm in arm as they stumbled out into the clearing next.

“Watch your step, the light is blinding.” He warned just as he watched Dominic grimace from the glare. “You would think Bo would think of a shady spot, but no. Let’s send us smack dab into an open field.” He remarked sarcastically. Next through the portal was CeCe. She had thought ahead obviously because she had her hood pulled forward to shield her face.

“Stop your growling and move out of people’s way” she groused from beneath her hood. She moved to the side of the portal to allow the rest of the group to exit. “Hurry the portal is weakening.”

One by one the others came through the portal, the last being Bumbles as he pushed Bo ahead of himself. The moment Bumble’s tail cleared the portal it collapsed on itself and winked out of existence. Bo stopped short causing the Bumbles to run into him. He stopped and looked up towards the austere fortress looming ahead of them. In his mind, it had always been this huge eerie place. Now it still held the gloomy aspect but didn’t seem quite as huge. Funny how the mind of a kit worked, but then again, he was no longer a kit but a full-grown warrior.

Black Barrow sat on the edge of a cliff. It’s weathered gray walls stood stark against the blue of the sky. Clouds of the same gray drifted among the parapets. He had always thought it had a sad look to it. As if it stood alone in the world. What a fitting place for something as deadly as the Triad to dwell. “Well, we are within reach of our goal. Shall we proceed?” He asked the silent group.

With the silent sentinel of Black Barrow looming over them, the group headed towards it. “You weren’t kidding when you said this place was haunted, I mean does anyone else feel like we are being watched? I am feeling this weird energy. Oh! I can’t explain exactly what I’m feeling but you guys feel it too, right?” Neko rambled on as his sense of unease increased.

“Yeah, we get you, dude. This is not a good place for sure.” Dominic said as he moved closer to his brother. “It’s weird. I feel like running away from it but at the same time I feel drawn to it.” He looked at Donny, “what do you think, twin?”

Donny took a moment to consider the fortress. “There are secrets here begging to be discovered. I hear this strange whispering through my connection to the staff. It feels like it is being pulled toward something. I think we have really found the Triad, it is the only explanation I can come up with.” He picked up his step, “the sooner we get there the sooner we will know. Come on, let’s hurry up.”

Diewen had joined Dominic and Neko and he as he watched Donny picked up his pace. “What did he mean connection to the staff? What is up with that?” He noticed Dom and Neko exchanging a glance and stopped. “What is up with you guys? What aren’t you saying? Is there something my friends and I need to know about you guys?” He narrowed his eyes and blocked them from moving forward. “I want some answers.”

Neko studied the small Felis and considered what he should say. He wished he could consult with Bo and the others before telling this stranger anything about them. He felt they needed to know more, just to prepare them but he didn’t feel he should say anything. He got lucky as Bo’s voice sounded behind him making him jump. “You could say as Guardians we have some unusual tricks up our sleeves. It seems we were chosen to find the Triad and to protect it and the Goddess gave us some unique abilities to do our job.”

Diewen considered what he had witnessed so far in the encounters they had previously with the gang and now it all began to make sense. “You mean like the princess’ healing power and what you did in the clearing the last time we battled? Those are your gifts?” He raised his fingers to make quotes when he said gifts. “What other gifts do you possess?”

Bo raised an eyebrow at the little guy. “We can tell you more once we make camp. For now, let’s get walking. I want to be set up before nightfall. If you think this place is scary now, wait until the sun goes down. Then it becomes terrifying.” With those cryptic words, he went to rejoin CeCe and Azereus.

Monday, August 21, 2017

One Step Closer

Azereus startled at the name he hadn’t heard in years. Amerak had been Queen Viari’s most trusted adviser. Now it all made sense; how the castle had been breached. There had been a traitor standing right at the Queen’s side. He glanced over to where his cousin stood. He saw the same realization wash over her face at the name of someone he knew CeCe had felt was a part of the family. He had to hand it to Amerak though. The man had led a coup that no one had ever seen coming. The man had hidden the fact that he was a wizard all those years. He had just been waiting for the perfect time to strike.

Azereus shook the memories from his head and walked over to where CeCe stood. “I guess that means we just have to beat him to the Triad and make sure he never gets his claws on it. We need to break camp and get moving. The storm has abated enough to move on. That is unless someone…” here he glanced around at the strangers. “Has another portal stone available to use?”

He watched as the cream-colored tubby one’s head came up. His eyes wide. “even if we do have a portal stone without knowing where you are going, it is useless. We used a blood spell to find you here. All thanks to a debt owed by Max.” Azereus watched Max shift uncomfortably at the mention of his name.

“Ah, but we do know where we are going. And even have someone that has been there physically. So, if we had the ability to portal to the Triad’s location, then we will have beaten Amerak to the prize.” Azereus spoke this as he started gathering his pack together. “So, do you by chance have another portal stone or is this conversation for nothing?” He asked the intruders but kept his eyes on Bumbles.

At the mention of knowing where the Triad was located, Nilla’s attention riveted on the tall, heavily muscled warrior. As much as she wanted to stay honor her Queen and cease the hunt. She was owned by Amerak and she hated that she was torn between loyalty and debt. As if thinking about the wizard, she felt the summoning spell taking effect. Amerak was impatient and as she walked away from the others, she signaled her band.

“Speaking of the devil he is summoning me. I feel the spells pull, stay with our Queen. I will try to send Amerak on a false trail.” She took a moment and then asked, “Bumbles, throw me the bloodstone. I will use it to portal back to you as soon as I am able. Good fortune to you all.” With her words fading as a small portal opened and began to swallow her, she was gone within a blink of the eye.

A growl erupted from Bumbles as he held out his hand showing the bloodstone. “I didn’t have time throw it to her. Now she will not be able to find us. What if the master figures out what she plans and harms her. She will have no way to escape.” He worked the small gray stone marked with dark red streaks between his thumb and the palm of his hand. “Why didn’t I throw it sooner?” he said mournfully.

Zirede walked over and patted Bumbles on the back. “No worries, you’re talking about Nilla. You know she is the master of quick getaways if she but puts her mind to it. Besides if she can find a halfway decent magician…” here he jabbed Bumbles in the side and laughed. “She shares blood with one of us, remember. Now answer our new friend’s question about the portal stone. I think we need to be gone from here soon.”

Bumbles put the bloodstone back into the pouch attached to his belt. “I think I have a couple left let me check.” He removed the pack he had slung over his shoulder and knelt to rummage through the contents. He finally produced a leather pouch which he unrolled to show his assembled stones. The multicolored stones winked in the feeble light cast from the cave’s entrance.

“I was correct, I have two stones left. I really need to replenish my supply. Something tells me we are going to need all the help we can get.” He re-wrapped the stones and stood. “When everyone is ready I will open the portal. I will need the one who has been to the site to activate the stone.”

Bo gave CeCe’s shoulder a squeeze before leaving her and joining Bumbles. “That would be me. What do you need me to do?” he asked the portly Felis. “I must admit I have no experience with this type of portal. When we were young, my mother always had a wizard perform a relocation spell. I know that is a bit old-fashioned in comparison of the portal spells done now.” He studied the stone as the young magician manipulated it in his hands.

Bumbles shook his head in agreement, “Yes, I have used those spells before. Compared to the portal stone, they are a bit unstable...” he continued to move the stone between his hands as if warming it. “If you have one errant thought or miss a vital ingredient while working the spell, it will send you to only the Goddess knows where.” Bumbles stopped and glanced around the room, taking note of the progress of leaving. He grunted in satisfaction before continuing.

“When everyone is ready to go, I need you to picture the place you are going in your mind. I need you to be as realistic as possible. Your best bet is to picture the place that you have the strongest memory of while you were there. That is where you will find yourself. When you have found your picture, I will hand you the stone and perform the spell.” He said to the others, “once the portal has opened I need you to enter quickly, preferably one at a time.” He gave Bo his attention once more. “I will then send you through the portal thus ending the spell.”

Bo nodded his head in understanding, the picture in his mind that of the clearing where he and his mother had waited for his father’s return. He carried that picture always in his mind. The snow falling as he watched his father walk away from his small family, never to be seen alive again. A sense of foreboding sent a shiver racing down his back. Would this be where he breathed his final breath too?

Nilla fell as the summoning spell dropped her into Amerak’s workroom. As usual, he had the mouth-watering sandwiches laid out for her. Once she felt she was steady enough to walk without stumbling she headed for the tray. Amerak waited with a slight smile on his face as she stopped long enough to pour a cup of the refreshingly icy water that sat in a decanter next to the sandwiches. “As usual you run for the food. You are so predictable, little thief. What news have you about the guardians? Have you discovered their whereabouts or their destination?” He paused to allow Nilla to take a bite of her sandwich.

As she took a bite Nilla was thinking about the fact that she had disappeared before Bumbles could throw her the stone. How was she going to get to them now? She couldn’t help herself from chuckling when she realized she didn’t even know where they were going to portal into. She was good and truly on her own. “What’s so funny little thief? Did I say something that amused you? Pray tell, do enlighten me.” Amerak said as he moved into her personal space.

Nilla couldn’t help thinking “crap!” when she realized he had heard her chuckle. “No, no, it was just something Diewen said as I was summoned. He was telling a joke he heard in the marketplace, and I just got it.” She quickly took another bite to keep from rambling. Amerak quirked up his eyebrow but let the matter drop for the moment. He had more important matters on his mind.

“Tell me you and your band of miscreants have located either the guardians or my prize. Both would be preferable. The Guardian's death would make me exceedingly happy. It might even make me release you from my service.” He went across the room and dropped into his high-backed chair. “So, go on regale me with your tale. Make me a happy Felis.”

Nilla knew she could only lie so much to the evil wizard, he always seemed to know if she withheld anything from him. She decided the best bet was to tell him as much truth as she dared to not endanger her friends or her Queen. She grabbed another sandwich and refilled her glass before finding an overstuffed chair not far from her master. She plopped down and after finding a comfortable position she gave her report.

The cave was bustling with activity as everyone worked to get all their belongings packed and ready to portal. Zirede, Azereus, and Bo were gathered in one corner debating the next move. “I think we should portal in as a group. Once there we can split up.” Bo stated.

“But if we split up now, it will be better if Amerak breaks Nilla and she tells what has happened. We do not wish to lead Amerak straight to you and the Triad. We must protect it as well as our Queen.” Zirede explained and looked toward where CeCe and Rauwyn sat their heads close together involved in their own conversation.

Azereus just shook his, “no, if we split now you will not have the coordinates to find us. If Amerak does find us we will need all-hands-on-deck. Besides we have some tricks up our sleeves when it comes to battling the old wizard.” He winked at Bo. “We are not going down without a fight. I agree with Bo, we portal together and then split into separate parties. That way we cover more ground and will be better ready to defend the Triad.”

Diewen had come up to the group as Azereus was speaking and interjected, “sounds like a good plan to me. Then once there I will take one of your group and scout the area. Find the best place to stand against any attacks.” By this time Neko and the twins had also joined the men.

“Well, it sounds like we have a plan. Are you ready to get this party started?” Dom said as he clapped Diewen on the back. “I’ll join you in scouting the area, I have unique skills that will be very useful in Checking things out.” He winked at Bo. “We all bring a little extra something to this party. Let’s bust a move. I’m getting antsy.”

Bumbles had been making the rune markings where he planned to open the portal. “Hey, if you’re all done with your meeting maybe you can get ready to leave. I need you.” He pointed at Bo. “It’s time to start, the rest of you, line-up, and be quiet.” Bo had come to stand next to him. “If you have any prayers to say do it now because here we go.” Everyone watched as he began to weave the spell in the air with his hands. They moved in a silent dance, his fingers making intricate designs. As the power grew his hands began to glow. “Get ready”, he whispered to Bo.

Bo stepped closer to the rotund magician, he watched as Bumbles brought out the stone and handed it to him. “Hold this in the palm of your hand, think of the place where we are going. Remember to be specific as possible in your thoughts. When you have it pictured perfectly, nod your head to show me you are ready. I will then direct the spell into the stone. It might feel funny but do not drop it.” Bo held out his hand, not sure if he was ready or not. The picture in his mind became clearer as he held the stone. He could almost feel the sun on his face as the wind picked up. He nodded his head as the clearing became real. His hand began to tingle as the magic wrapped him in the spell.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Naming Game & Writer's Block

You might have noticed that the blog came to a screeching halt. Well, it's a fun story about what happened. I went to update my computer with the latest Windows 10 update and guess what? My computer didn’t care for it and in response shut down and wouldn’t boot back up. I guess I had been working it too hard and it took that moment to declare it was on vacation. I took it to the computer store and asked the guru to help my little old computer to remember that I really need it and to come back from its vacation. He said he would take a look and let me know what he found.

As anyone who spends a lot of time on their computer doing work and pleasure, it was very hard to turn around and walk out the door knowing that there would be an empty spot on my desk for a few weeks. You’re probably wondering why it would take so long to get my computer back and that is an easy question to answer. I get paid once a month and my computer decided to take its mini vacation in the middle of the month when I have little to no money. So it would have to wait until my payday before it could come home. Inconsiderate computer.

I was able to rescue it a few days before my payday because my super fantastic brother went and paid to get it out on early release. You just have to love brothers who adore their only sister. By the way, if I didn’t say thank you, dude. Here I am saying it. Thank you bunches, Ken. You're one of the best brother’s in the whole world. I love you bunches.

I had my computer back and I sat down at my desk and suffer what all writer’s fear. Yes, writer’s block. My muse decided since my computer got to have a vacation maybe it should too. I sat staring at the blank screen and nothing flowed. I tried to force it and only ended up hitting the back space key again and again. I decided to try work on another project that I had dreamed up a few months before. Still, no creative juices stirring. I sat back in my chair, thinking of what I could write about but my brain kept coming up against blank walls, that no amount of thinking made them light up with the colors of great ideas. I knew then that I shouldn’t fight it, but to step away from my computer and my desk and instead work on an entirely new project. Rejuvenating some furniture and building new storage space to hold all of my notebooks, files and such.

So here I sit today finally writing while I wait for paint to dry. I am hoping the second coat is enough because if it is I can start the process of putting everything back together. Sometimes you just need to step away from one type of project and do something totally different. I am at this moment sitting here typing with a black blob of paint on my left shoulder, another on the top of my foot, and a check in the mirror informs me that I have a black streak across my forehead. Talk about getting into your work. I found that by using my mind to create something new out of the old, that my muse’s curiosity got the better of them and I started working on my book while painting. Now I just need to sit down and write what I’ve come up with.

I will have a new installment for The Tales of The Cat’s Eye Gang next Friday. Oh, by the way, you might have noticed the name change of the blog and the book. As I am getting close to completing the first draft I thought to Google my title. Guess what I found? My title had already used. Another series has the title of The Cat’s Eye Chronicles, and so that left me trying to find a new name. I thought up a few and asked my readers on each of my social media platforms which they liked best. At the same time, I googled each to see if they had been taken. The votes matched what I found. My readers liked The Tales of The Cat’s Eye Gang and nothing came back in my search of that title. So that is the story behind the name change.

Well, I need to go check the paint and see if it’s dry. I hope to see you back next Friday to see what has happened in the world of The Cat’s Eye Gang. Until then love fully and laugh often.

Sunday, July 16, 2017


Zirede tightened his hold on the struggling female. He let out a muffled grunt when she kicked back her head catching him in the chin. As he let out a curse, she took that moment to bite down on the pad of his hand. He pulled his hand away from her mouth, and she opened her mouth to scream again. Diewen had entered from the portal and Zirede shoved her into his arms. “Take the little hell-cat”, he said thrusting her toward the surprised male.

Diewen restrained CeCe with a swift club to the head, dazing her. He watched as Zirede looked down at his paw, where blood was welling from the bite. “Hellcat indeed. Are you okay? Watch out! The others are coming through.” The two males moved away from the portal as the rest of the crew came through. Diewen looked down at the dainty female and couldn’t help the smile from forming at the thought of her getting the better of Zirede.

Nilla stepped through the portal assisting Rauwyn to walk. Rauwyn stumbled as they fully entered the cave. Nilla didn’t catch her quick enough and Rauwyn fell to the cave floor. Zirede rushed towards his mate, just as Bumbles stepped through closing the portal behind him. He turned from the portal to see the female held in Diewen’s arms start to stir. “She is coming around, Diewen, be careful.”

CeCe came around her head fuzzy from where the small Rex had hit her. Her first sight was the female falling as she entered the cave. She watched as fresh blood quickly soaked through the bandage around her waist. She shouldn’t have cared if the female died or not but she felt the irresistible urge to aid the fallen Felis. She resumed her struggles feeling if she could just break free and get away from the female, the urge would pass. The one who held her was small but wiry and she thought of her draining power. She grabbed his arm and concentrated on weakening him just enough to break away. She knew the moment it began to work as she felt his hold on her lesson.

She shook herself free from his hold and tried to head toward the mouth of the cave but instead, she found herself walking toward the injured female. If she was surprised that said nothing of what her attackers were feeling. She knelt next to the pretty, but haggard looking female. “Let me help. I am a healer.” She said as she reached to uncover the weeping wound. The big male she had bitten tried to get between them, but she simply reached out and used him for energy. He stopped and landed on his rear end. “I need your energy to heal her. Please, I will not hurt her.” She waited for him to move away before bending back to the female.

Zirede watched the captive closely as she went about removing the bandage over Rauwyn’s wound. He still couldn’t believe how tired he felt from her simply touching him. He hated to think what she could have done if she had wanted to kill him. He looked up to see the same confused look on the others faces as he was sure he wore. “Why are you helping her? This won’t change what we came here to do. In fact, it was one of your friends that caused her the injury. I will have my blood price for the injury to my mate.” He drew back as the captive looked up at him, she had tears in her eyes. What caught his attention the most though was that her eyes were glowing.

Diewen stood to the side of the little she-cat. Something about the way she tilted her head as she studied Rauwyn’s wound sparked a long-lost memory. He knew her from somewhere. He moved around to stand beside Nilla, who was watching the healer intently. He heard her draw in a loud breath as the healer’s hands began to glow where they lay against Rauwyn’s wounds. When she looked up at Zirede he noticed her eyes held the same glow.

“Do you see what I see?” Diewen asked Nilla. He glanced towards his friend and found his answer by the startled look on her face. Nilla must have finally comprehended that he had spoken because she nodded her head in assent. “Have you ever seen anything like that before?” He asked again and this time she shook her no. Out of questions, he glanced back at the healer. When she seemed to melt before him, he rushed forward without thinking. It was Nilla’s hand on his arm that kept him from falling over Rauwyn’s sprawled legs.

The healer raised her head a bit to see what he had done, and that is when he knew why she looked so familiar. He had been just a kit when his mother had worked in the castle of the Mithralian queen. He remembered the young princess often coming out into the kitchen gardens where he and the other children of the servants played. She was older now but he would bet all his ill-gotten gains that this was the same girl. He stepped around Rauwyn and Zirede to lean down beside the weakened healer. In a low voice, he asked her.  “Are you Princess Cecilia of Mithral?” He didn’t get his answer because at that moment all hell broke loose as Bo and the rest of the gang entered the cave.

In a leap, Neko landed to knock the male away from his sister. “Get your paws off my sister!!” he growled. He caught CeCe has she slipped from the arms of the intruder. He wrapped her in his embrace, shielding her from the strangers. Bo had by this time joined Neko and stopped to fully take in the scene they had interrupted. He was as upset that the little male had been touching his mate, but he also saw that the intruders had a member injured. He watched as the rest of the gang took up positions against the intruding group.

“What is going on?”, he asked. The tension in the cave was thick, He took a deep breath trying to breathe in but found it difficult from the stiffness of his muscles. “Why have attacked my mate? Who sent you? I think it is time for answers.” Bo grabbed the Rex and shook him. He had to give the small male some credit as he fought against his restraining hands. “Hold still, you wiggling wastrel. I won’t hurt you…yet. I want answers first.” He shook the male again for good measure while studying the female lying on the floor.

Zirede growled as he spied Bo’s attention to his mate. “You say the healer is your mate, well this is my mate.” Here he brushed his hand down Rauwyn’s cheek, taking note that her fever was gone. “It was one of you that injured her. I came to collect a blood debt from her assailant. As for the group, we have been sent to end your quest by our master.” As Zirede explained this his eyes were on the dark male holding the healer. “I will have your head if my mate dies. Be warned dark demon.”

Zirede glared at the one who had almost cost him his life and was startled when he heard a sound. “I will live, my love,” Rauwyn said her voice raspy from lack of use. “I feel stronger with each passing moment, and if you just look at my wound, you will see it has faded as if never there.” She emphasized her words by pulling the bandage that had covered her ravaged side. The fur lay undisturbed as if the male’s claws had never touched her. “My worry now is the healer. Is she okay?”

All eyes turned toward Neko and CeCe. Bo bent to kiss her forehead and took note to her breathing. A soft snore was his answer. “She is asleep. That, unfortunately, is one of the costs of her gift, it depletes her energy. She usually will draw from someone before attempting to do it. I wonder why she didn’t this time?” He looked back over to the striped female who was trying to sit up despite her mate’s insistence that she get some rest.

Zirede gave up the battle and helped Rauwyn sit up. Bumbles brought her something to lean back on, Azereus doggedly following him. “She did say something about that when she touched me right before you came in. I felt like she was sucking the life out of me. When she let go I started feeling better. Why would she offer to heal her enemy?” he asked. He fell back on his bottom so that he could sit bedside Rauwyn. He pulled her close as he felt like he needed to keep touching her to make sure she really was better.

Neko hadn’t noticed that CeCe was awake until she spoke. “I felt drawn to her. Believe me, I fought the urge but my gift is stronger than me. I am still learning how to control it. For some reason, I feel like I was meant to heal her.” She batted both Bo and Neko’s hands away as she fought to rise. “Get off me, you are pissing me. I want to get up. Come on guys.” She said in exasperation. Finally, she broke free and moved to where Rauwyn was sitting. “I stopped pulling energy from you because it was hurting her, due to your mating. I was pulling her energy too. So, I chose to use my own to complete the work.” She took Rauwyn’s hand, “How are you feeling?” she inquired of the pretty female.

While the others had been talking Diewen continued to study CeCe. He was certain that she was the same female he had known at the castle. “You are her!” he said excitedly. “You’re the princess. I knew you when you were little, but you are her.” He suddenly dropped to his knee, bowing low. “You are no longer the princess though. You are my Queen. I swear my service to you.” He said to the astonished crowd. “I am Diewen, my mother worked as a cook in the royal kitchen. We played together as kits.”

CeCe studied the young Rex before her. He did seem familiar, as he spoke she flashed back to playing in the kitchen garden with the servant’s children. Those had been some of her happiest moments. “Please stop bowing, and rise. I remember you a bit. It has been a long time and a lot has happened since those days playing in the gardens. I am just CeCe, I am the queen of nothing. My home is gone.” She said sadly.

While she had been talking she noticed the other intruders bowing as well. She startled when she felt Rauwyn’s hand touch her own. “It matters not if there is a city. Our Queen is more than the city that she rules. You are Queen of the Mithralian people, not the building we dwell within. You do have a home, and people who are loyal to your line.” As she finished Rauwyn inclined her head to CeCe. “You are my Queen.”

In that moment CeCe felt the full weight of her royal blood, she had her people still. Mithral was still alive, the enemy hadn’t beaten them. “Thank you. I will try to be a good queen, but I’m not even sure how to do that. Never have I missed my mother more than at this moment.” Her voice broke a little as a tear made its way down her cheek. “I am overwhelmed, to say the least. Now please tell me, who sent you to end our quest?” She looked around at the faces of her new subjects. It was the one who resembled her patient that finally spoke. The name that Nilla spoke, awoke a fear in CeCe as she heard the name of the one who had destroyed her world.

“His name is Amerak. He is our master. He has sworn to find the Triad and he will kill anyone who stands in his way. I have seen firsthand what he does to those who try to fight him.” Nilla’s found her voice a bit gruff as she thought of the little apprentice’s crumpled body. “If you seek the same prize, then be warned. Even if we break off our pursuit, others will follow.” Suddenly the cave seemed to be just a bit too crowded as the full weight of what she said was heard. A feeling of doom permeated the huge cavern.

(I apologize for not getting the post out on Friday as it should have. Unforeseen technical issues delayed it.Thanks for being patient.)

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Unexpected

CeCe woke up to a weird sensation in her head, and a weight on her body. She tried to move only to have the weight tighten around her. She opened her eyes slowly and smiled feeling the familiar warmth of Bo wrapped around her. She loved the way even in his sleep, he wanted to protect her. His large body curling around her smaller one. She smiled a bit bigger when she heard his purr of contentment when she snuggled deeper into his embrace. The sensation in her head was lessening and she drifted back to sleep held in her mate’s strong arms.

Neko jerked awake from a terrible dream he had been caught in the middle of. In it he was searching for his sister everywhere, calling her name but his voice seemed to be sucked into a void before it could be heard. It was so hard to see with the snow blowing in his face. He felt a sense of terror building deep within himself at the fear of not finding her. Soon he stumbled upon a small mound covered in snow. As he studies the mound, a pool of blood encircles it, spreading ever wider until it has coated him too. He reached for the mound and turns it over. Lying in a huddled ball is his sister; her body cold and lifeless. It is her eyes though that strike Neko the hardest. They are filled with a look of disapproval and loathing. He had failed to save her.

He shook the images from his mind, trying to quell the feeling of dread. He rolled over to look to where his sister slept within her mate’s arms. How could he have missed them mating? He knew it was stupid to feel like Bo had encroached on his territory, but it was his job to protect his family. Feeling like he was spinning in circles with these thoughts, he climbed out of his bed. He figured it was a perfect time to check the weather and get some fresh air. Moving quietly through the sleeping bodies, he made his way towards the cave entrance.

The brightness of the sun hitting the newly fallen snow temporarily blind Neko as he exited out of the dimly lit cave. The world was carpeted in the white snow. Icicles glistened like diamonds from the branches as the sun reflected off them. The only sound to be heard was the ice crashing down through the bows of the trees to the earth below. Neko shielded his eyes taking in the area, scouting for the way to go when they broke camp. This high in the mountains it was best to move through the day because come nightfall the temperature would drop. He didn’t plan on being caught out in another storm if he could prevent it.

He felt a presence behind him and turned his head to see Max stumbling out into the bright morning light. He grinned a bit at the clumsy way Max tackled the snow drifts to reach him. His short legs no competition for his own long-legged stride. “Hey Max, how are you this morning?” Neko enquired of the shorter Felis. “Do you think we will have any major problem getting back on the trail today?”

Max huffed a breath of air out before taking a long sweeping look around the glade. Here and there the darkness dotting the hillside gave evidence that there were other caves scattered in this area. He finally pointed in the direction where it looked like it was a sheer climb to make it up the mountain. “We need to head in that direction to go to Black Barrow. It will be a climb and with the snow, the possibility of slipping is higher but it is the straightest course. I take it from your friend that there is a bit of a time crunch on getting there.”

Neko nodded his head, “yeah, the one who sent us this way says time is important. He also said we are running out of it. Whatever that’s supposed to mean. I will just be glad to get there and be done. I love adventure but this one has lost its adventure quality and now feels more like a chore.” He moved back towards the mouth of the cave, “I need something to cheer me up.” He was met by the twins as they came out blocking him from entering. He failed to see the look that crossed the two identical faces before he heard his name called.

“Hey, Neko!” Donny shouted. Just as Neko turned to see what he wanted he felt something hit him in the chest. He looked down as the snowball exploded on impact covering him in the powdery substance.

“Gotcha!” Dominic laughed as he ducked a missile thrown at by his brother. Neko’s face lit up in a bid smile, his fangs flashing. Suddenly, he was back when the three of them had been kits playing in the freshly fallen snow. He bent and grabbed a handful of snow. He let it melt just a bit and then began packing it into a tight frozen ball. He glanced between the twins, wondering which one to hit first. He did a quick fake throw towards Donny, but at the last minute spun it towards Dominic. That is when the real battle began.

The three of them eventually dragged Max into the fight and it had become Max and Donny versus Neko and Dominic. The snowballs were flying freely between two snow banks when Bo and Azereus made an appearance outside the cave. It was as if a silent communication went through the combatants and the wet snow packed missiles found their mark in the two older Felis’.  One hit Bo on the side of the head and the other one smacked Azereus in the belly. A big “whoof!!” went out of him as he was caught by surprise.

The scowl that Bo gave all the players should have been enough to stop the frivolity. All it did was make them reload and aim again. He looked at Az who was by this time covered in snow, “If you can’t beat them, I guess you join them. A little bit of fun is needed I suppose. The next few days are going to be rough.” He watched Az as he bent to start creating his own ball, and after a moment bent down to build his own.

Nilla heard a tapping and it took a moment for the source of the sound to work into her consciousness. Someone was knocking on the door, she turned to squint at the offending noise and noticed Diewen had risen and was answering the door. She let sleep claim her once more, sure in the knowledge if it was important Diewen would awaken her.

Diewen cracked open the door to their room and when he saw who was there he opened it and stepped outside so they wouldn’t disturb the others. “What news do you bring?” he questioned their early morning visitor. The male that stood before him was dressed in a mismatched set of leathers. His pants a once royal blue but now sweat and dirt had turned them to a dull dark blue. The vest was a potpourri of varies sizes and fabric patches on a what once had been a sleek sable colored garment. He wore his stocking hat pulled low over his ears, but a hole had begun and the tip poked out. His fur might have been white or cream but now was a dingy gray.

The stranger pulled a wrapped object out of his pocket. The course homespun material opened in his hand to reveal blood seal, a talisman that money lenders used when lending substantial amounts of gold. Diewen looked from the stone to his visitor. “Is this what I think it is? Whose blood marks it? I hope you’re going to tell me it is the stone of one of our prey.” He looked expectantly at the scraggly vagabond.

“Nay, not your prey, but it does hold the blood of the one who guides them. My master spoke with Zirede and they reached an agreement over its use last night. With this, if your magician is talented enough he can portal directly to where he is. My master thinks this is what Zirede had in mind when they talked. He wants me to gift you with the stone and says to tell Zirede the price has been paid.” As the raggedy male said this he was re-wrapping the stone. He placed it in Diewen’s hand. “Good journey to you, my friend. Beware the workings of your master.” With this said, he pointed toward the window at the end of the hall, and the sky where black clouds still rolled ominously.

The visitors took his leave and after looking once more toward the window, Diewen re-entered the room where his friends slept. He noticed that Zirede had risen to fix a broth for Rauwyn, and he was slowly spooning the weak broth up to her dry, cracked lips. He walked over and sat close enough to speak quietly but to still give Zirede room to feed Rauwyn. Zirede looked at him as he sat down, “let me guess. Our visitor brought something for us to use. Were there any messages for me?” he asked as he continued in his task.

Diewen shook his head, and then spoke up when he realized Zirede wasn’t looking his way. “He told me to tell you that the price has been paid, whatever that means. He opened the cloth and held the blood seal up for Zirede to check it out. “Do you think Bumbles is adept enough to use it?” he asked. He was surprised when the stone was snatched from his hands. “Hey! What the…” he began to say only to stop when he realized Bumbles had grabbed the seal.

Bumbles rubbed at his sleep-filled eyes, as he studied the talisman. The darkened spots where Max’s blood had dripped during the contract, still held a strong essence. The seal had been evoked recently. He smiled a little bit darkly. “To answer your question, yes, I am adept at using blood magic, and this you should remember little one. I sat at the knee of a harsh master to learn my trade.” He took the stone and headed back to his pack to prepare the spell he would need to use when opening the portal. “I will be ready soon, you should rouse the others. We need to finish this business.” Was said as he bent his head, his hands buried in his pack pulling out assorted herbs and such.

Diewen gave him a strange looking thinking to himself about touchy magicians and then went about rousing the others.

The snowball fight had ended in a draw, and Bo, Donny, and Azereus went to check the trail to see how bad the snow pack was. Dominic and Neko volunteered to go hunting. The fun of the morning had made them all a bit ravenous. Max chose to stay close and guard CeCe. He had entered the cave to find her sitting beside the fire stirring a pot of porridge. She looked up when he entered, “Good morning, Max. Did you sleep well? I heard all you guys out there having a bit of fun. I take from the silence that the battle is over?”

Max chuckled as he joined her by the fire, “Yeah, it is. It felt good to have some fun after the tension of last night. Speaking of last night how are you feeling this morning?” he asked as he reached to take a mug of coffee she offered.

CeCe cocked her head to the side, and Max could see her trying to remember the night before. “It’s strange. Bo told me of how they found me, but all I can remember is losing sight of the rest of you and then trying to find you. I remember nothing of the fall or its aftermath. I do know that when I woke earlier, my head felt a bit strange but I didn’t think much of it.” She took a sip from her own mug. She noticed the way Max was looking at her and asked, “What has you so perplexed? You look at me so strangely, I feel like I need to reach up and check if I have a third eye or horns. It’s quite disconcerting.”

Max shook his head and laugh. It was a bit stifled but still a laugh. “I’m sorry, I just keep going back to last night and watching the wound on your head fade as if it had never been there before. To see that kind of magic up close is rare for someone like me.” He stood and began to move around, suddenly nervous now that he had spoken. “What kind of magician can heal themselves? I have never even heard that there was such a power. I must admit I have never met people such as you and your companions.”

CeCe reached up to touch her forehead, Bo had told her how they had found her when they had woken up. She felt the residual energy that she had used to heal still pulsing in her blood. She hadn’t known that Max had been witness to the moment though. “We are just travelers, sent on a quest by our Queen. I cannot explain to you how I am able to heal, I can assure you that I am no magician. The only power I hold is that I can heal, but it comes at a cost.” She was glad she had been training herself to control the drain she made on others to heal. For her to heal while unconscious, in a way scared her. What if she had drained Bo? She would have killed them both in vain.

She stood to start packing her things away, and Max came up to her and stopped her with a hand on her arm. “Thank you for explaining what you could. I want you to know I hold you and your friends in high regard and nothing you do will change that. Besides thanks to your quest, I will be able to pay a blood debt on my return to the city.” He went and began packing away his belongings as well.

They soon had the cave packed up and ready for the others to return. Max took a moment to go answer the call of nature, and CeCe had returned to her spot by the fire, this time sewing another rip seam on one of Neko’s shirts. She was happily humming an old tune her nanny had sung to her as a child when she felt a disturbance in the air behind her.

Turning to see what caused it, her mouth dropped open as a gateway portal opened right in front of her. The swirling kaleidoscope of colors held her captive as the eye in the center began to expand. Unknowingly she took a step back as shadowed forms began to grow bigger. She was in the middle of turning to flee when a huge male stepped out of the vortex and grabbed her. Her scream never realized as his hand came up to cover her mouth.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Before The Dawn

Bumbles open the pack that held their precious portal stones. They were running out of the hard to find commodity. He lifted one of the black stone triangles, as he shifted it back and forth in his hand, a rainbow of colors awoke within the stone teasing of the far-off destinations that awaited one if you just used the right incantations. “We need to figure out in which direction the guardians headed, otherwise the portal stones are useless. When will Diewen and Zirede be back from questioning their contacts?” he asked as he re-wrapped the stones and placed them back in his pouch.

Nilla barely glanced at him as she pulled the bandage from her sister’s wound. She did her best to cleanse the raw, infected area before placing the healing poultice they had procured from a healer on their way to Bluelyn. She said a prayer to the Goddess, before wrapping it once more. “They will be here soon. Rest while you can. We won’t be able to rest much once we get under way, have you seen the skies over the mountains? That is our master at work. The guardians are there somewhere.”

Bumbles went to the window of their small room casting his gaze toward the mountain that only the day before had been alive with summer colors. Now the only green remaining were the bahaj trees that dotted the stark landscape. A huge ominous cloud circling the peaks and obscuring the views of the farthest mountain tops. He felt a cold, shiver run down his back, ending right at the white tip on his tail. “Are you trying to tell me we are heading up into that?” Another shiver took hold. “Is the master trying to punish us or kill us? I wonder which he truly wishes to do.”

He moved away from the window and went to take a seat next to Nilla. In a rare show of friendship, Nilla leaned into his arms and he wasn’t surprised when he felt her answering shiver roll down her back.

Max had found a cave that was big enough for the gang and their horses. He had begun a fire once he had found enough timber that had found its way into the interior of the cave. He knew he would have to search for more once the others arrived, but for now, he sat and soaked up the meager warmth offered by the nascent flame.

Soon he heard the voices of the others and went outside to guide them towards where he was. As they came trudging up, he scowled at Bo as he carried CeCe inside the cave. Azereus patted him on the back, filling him in as they followed the others inside. “Miss CeCe got turned around in the blowing snow and must have tripped. We found her unconscious against a very nasty looking rock. I think in their battle, the rock won.”

Neko ran ahead of Bo to get a bedroll made out before the fire for Bo to lay CeCe on. Bo nodded at him as he bent on one knee to gently place her on the blankets. Neko went to reach to help him but withdrew quickly when Bo growled low in his throat at him. The others stopped well out of his swinging range identifying the mating growl for what it was. No one would be able to come near CeCe while she was injured, her mate would nurse her.

Dominic moved over where Neko knelt in the shadows watching his sister’s mate care for her. His claws kept opening and closing in his agitation. He had always taken care of her when she was hurt, now someone new had replaced him. He was having a hard time accepting this. Dom watched him for a couple of minutes before asking in a voice lowered so that his brother couldn’t hear. “Dude? When did the mating occur? We’ve all been stuck together like peas in a pod forever. Did you know about it?” Dom pulled in a hasty gulp at the injured, angry look turned his way.

“No! You would at least think they would warn us, you know how us guys are around our mates. Any one of us could have set off a territorial dispute for just touching innocently.” He turned to look back at the mated couple. “Why couldn’t they wait until this was all over. It was too dangerous for them to do right now. If something happens to one, it happens to both now. Their incarnations are linked.” He shook his head sadly, a huge lump forming in his chest at the thought of losing his sister.

When a Felis mated they bound their life forces together ensuring that they would incarnate through each cycle together in tandem. If one mate was killed out of their incarnation year, they were dead for all the rest. And so was their mate. Both CeCe and Bo were only in their second incarnation which in and of itself spoke of their love. Most Felis couples waited until the fourth. Neko’s concern was with the fact that Bo was a warrior born and bred if he was killed in battle, CeCe would die at the exact moment he did.

Dom listened to the concern in his friend’s voice, but he was also watching as Bo placed both of his hands on either side of CeCe’s face, and bent his head as if in prayer. Dom took that moment to look around and noticed that Az and Donny were watching him too. The only one oblivious was Neko. “Hey, bro, I understand. And I’m a bit hurt too but this makes us family in all ways now. I have a funny question. With CeCe’s healing mojo she has going on now, won’t that help them both? And doesn’t it look like Bo is offering her some of his go-go juice to heal?”

Neko’s head swung up and he watched closely for any sign that CeCe might be drawing from what her mate was offering. He saw that the rest of the gang had thought the same thing as Dominic. The only one who appeared confused was Max.

The door burst open as Zirede and Diewen came into the small room the thieves were staying in. They seemed to be in good moods, which gave Nilla hope that they had found out where the guardians were heading. She received her answer quickly. “We had to buy a few rounds but we know not only were the guardians head but that it is where we will find the master’s treasure.” Zirede boasted as he swung Nilla up and around. Obviously, he had imbibed more than just a few rounds.

“Put me down, you fool,” she said as she beat on his shoulders. “You’ll awaken your mate and that would not do either one of you any good.” Nilla threw a cuff at Zirede’s ear before he finally set her back down on her feet. “So where do we find our prey? We leave at first light. Bumbles have the Portal stone ready for our trip. So where will the portal be taking us? Where will this finally come to an end?”

Zirede sobered at the mention of his mate and went to check on her. Nilla felt sorrow for taking away his small moment of joy. She had but a moment to contemplate it before turning to Diewen, “Where is the wonderful place that holds the all-powerful Triad? Where shall we lay our heads to rest tomorrow night?” Diewen had brought a wineskin back with him, and he gathered cups for the crew. He smiled as he watched Nilla dance from foot to foot waiting for his answer.

“You may not be so excited once you learn our destination. We are headed for a very haunted place. There may be a reason that no one goes there, and why the Triad was hidden there.” He stopped to take a drink and gestured to the others that they do the same. “We will step from the portal on the cliffs that hold Black Barrow.”  He stepped away from the table just in time to save getting wine spat in his face. He was wearing a sly smile, as he caught the faint flicker of fear that crossed each of his comrade's faces.

He finished his drink and went to where he had made his bed for the night. “I suggest that you all get some sleep. Tomorrow will see the end of our quest. I think we may need to be rested against the guardians and what they bring to battle with. He then turned his back to the room and covered his head.  His mind going back to the last encounter with their adversaries. The rest of the group finished the wine, the same memories coming to plague their thoughts, as well as those of the tales of Black Barrow.

It seemed to take forever before a small glow began where Bo’s hands rested against CeCe’s cheeks. He had been rubbing her whiskers not even realizing it. He just kept repeating a litany of “please don’t leave, not so soon. Wake up my love, wake up.” His eyes were closed as if in prayer, so he was unaware until the heat he had been feeling finally penetrated his thoughts. He opened his eyes and watched as the wound on her head seemed to sew itself together. The jagged edges smoothed out before the fur once again covered it as if it had never been there. That was his last view before darkness claimed him, and he slept.

Max stood staring at what he had just witnessed, his mouth hanging open. “What- what the hell was that? Is he dead? Am I going crazy?” He just kept jabbering about it until Donny came over to him and took some pity on him.

“He’s cool, just taking a nap. You’re not any crazier now than when you hired on with us. And CeCe has a gift that heals. She just kinda borrows a bit of mojo from whoever might be touching her, that was the big guy over there snoring with his head in her lap.” Donny patted Max on the shoulder before making his way to his pack to make himself comfortable for the night. “They’ll both be fine come morning.” Were his final words before settling into sleep. Max remained where he was for a bit, before finding his own troubled sleep.

As night settled over the town of Bluelyn and the cave in the mountains, neither group knew what the new day would hold or how it would change all their lives.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Into The Storm

Azereus cast his eyes over the once verdant plain, but overnight it seemed to have died and now all that remained was drab, brown tufts of grass. Small boulders decorated the plain laying testament to the fact that they were deep in the mountains. He cocked his head listening waiting for some sound, but it was silent. Not even the birds felt the need to sing on such a forlorn morning.

He felt a presence just as Bo clapped him on the shoulder. He noticed that Max was tagging along behind him. “This feels un-natural. It isn’t the time of the year for the grass to grow brown. The deer will have little to forage if this goes on. He covered his eyes with his hand as he looked up toward the sky. “I think we are headed for some nasty weather. And if my aching old bones are any indication it’s going to be one hell of a storm.” He dropped his arm, rubbing at an old battle injury.

Bo studied the sky as well. The clouds seemed to roll like the waves on the ocean. The differing shades of gray the ebb and flow of the heavens. “What do you think Max? You are more accustomed to the weather up here; do you think this is normal for this time of year?” He watched as Max seemed to sniff the air, as he contemplated ominous sky.

“This being the mountains anything is possible; my suggestion is we travel as far as we can today before whatever this is bringing comes. Then we find someplace safe to weather it out. I do not like the thought of being trapped out in the open, but maybe with luck, we can make it to some caves before it gets too bad.” Max turned after taking one last look at the roiling cloud banks. “Let’s get the others and get moving.”

It began to snow shortly after the gang started on the trail heading ever closer to Black Barrow. First, it was just a light sprinkling of the fluffy looking ice crystals, collecting in their fur to melt when met with their body heat, but soon it seemed the weather gods opened the sky and it began to snow in earnest. The gang stopped to don their warmest clothing, hoping that they reached the caves soon.
 It wasn’t long before visibility had dropped to barely being able to see the one who rode next to you.

The sky so dark and the snow falling at such a rapid rate. The world had become a snow-carpeted landscape. The animals that they saw scurrying to find shelter from the elements. It was getting more difficult for the horses to walk as the snow rose higher. Bo called them to a halt, “At the rate, it is snowing, we need to dismount and lead the horses. How far are we from the caves, Max? We need to find shelter, there is rain mixing in with the snow and the temperature is dropping.”

Max dug out his compass from underneath the layers of clothes he wore and took a bearing. He studied the disappearing landmarks and pointed in the direction they needed to go. “If my calculations are correct, we’re not far now. You can see that we are riding through more outcroppings, I’d say within the hour we should be there.” He tucked his compass back under the safety of his clothing and dismounted his horse. He ran his hand over the mare’s muzzle to wipe away the snow collecting there.

Everyone began dismounting and were soon on their way heading for what they hoped would give them refuge from what was swiftly becoming a blizzard. CeCe was trudging along, the snow so deep now that her short stride was making her lift her legs higher with each step. She was feeling so tired. She was soaked through to her fur, and icicles had formed on her eyelashes and the tips of her whiskers. She didn’t even want to talk about how cold her tail was. She was afraid if someone bumped it, it might break off.

She was so intent on just placing one foot in front of the other, she never noticed that the males had worked their way further away from her. She had looked up, to see where they were at when the trail suddenly gave way and she went tumbling down a small hill. Her arm was wrenched as she worked to free her hand from the mare’s reins so that she wouldn’t be dragging the horse or worse the horse come tumbling down on top of her.

The wind had picked up while they had been walking, and now it blew so hard that it made it difficult to hear any sound but it. As she continued falling, her exclamation of surprise when she fell, had been swallowed by the thunderous wind. The ground under the snow was filled with many jagged rocks, and even through the layers of clothing, her body took a beating. Her decline came to a sudden halt when her body slammed against a rough-edged boulder. Her head slamming against one of the edges. Tearing open a huge gash between her eye and ear. The white of the snow underneath her soon turned crimson as her blood ran from her wound.

As the circle of red grew, CeCe lay as still as death. Not too far from her lay the darkened openings like dark eyes watching her unconscious form. The caves were clustered in and around the area. Some provided homes for the animals who dwelt in there. Others were cold, empty caverns winding deep within the heart of the mountain. The little mare had fared better than her mistress, while she had stumbled a bit down the hill, she had regained her footing and now stood ground tied to the spot near where they had fallen.

Max held up his hand to bring the group to a halt, as the others came up to him, he pointed down a small incline toward what could be barely made out as cave openings. “We need to get down there. The horses can’t go any further, and in truth neither can I. We need to get warm and out of these wet clothes. Come on, let’s get a move on.” He pulled his horse's reins to get the poor beast moving once again and started down the hill.

Bo turned to ask how CeCe was doing only then realizing that she was nowhere to be found. He studied the path they had just taken, already there was no sign that they had passed through the undisturbed snow. “Hey…guys… where’s CeCe?” he queried those near him. He handed the reins of his horse to Donny before walking back the way they had come. “Where is she? She was just beside me…” he stopped to think when he had last looked over to check the small bundled figure.

“Dammit, we need to find her! She can’t be that far.” He started calling her name. “Come on, help me!” his voice had taken on a panicked tone. Neko by this time was heading back the way they had come, sweeping the area, praying for a sight of his sister.  He started calling her name as well, hoping that she would be able to hear them above the roaring wind.

Dominic came running up next to Bo and reached out to stop him. “Max told me he is going ahead to find a cave and get it ready. That way once we find CeCe we’ll have a warm place to bring her.” Bo just shook his head in agreement as he continued his search. Dominic took up the search and worked to keep the others in his sight as he went.

It was while he was tracking where the guys were, that Dominic began to wonder if the weird long-range vision he had experienced before would work again. He stopped and chose the figure of his twin to focus on. With his and Donny’s coloring, they blended the best into the snow storm. The grays, blacks, and whites echoing the surrounding perfectly. He cleared his mind and trained his eyes on his brother, as he looked he noticed that he was indeed seeing Donny clearer with each second.

He had trained his sight to the point he could see individual hairs on his brother’s face when he turned and began to scan the surrounding area. He fell into a zone, where he was aware of the others, but his vision was picking up the most innocuous animal. As he slipped further into The Sight, he began to see heat signatures. “Cool, this ought to make it a bit easier.” He said to himself as his gaze swept the terrain.

He found her horse not long after that, the poor mare had at least been smart enough to move around a bit from becoming frozen where she stood. Dominic came up beside her, running his hands down her withers brushing the built-up snow as he did. “Where’s your mistress?” he questioned the pretty mare. Dom began to study the area around the horse trying to figure out why CeCe would have abandoned her. His vision expanded he noticed the disturbed snow. He followed the trail, leading the mare behind him. He would have missed her completely but for the dark blue of her cloak and the circle of frozen blood under her.

Dom ran to the small snow-covered heap, he started yelling for the others to join him. While he waited he started brushing the snow off the Mithralian Queen. Neko and Donny arrived about the same time with Bo and Azereus arriving seconds later. “She’s hurt,” Dominic stated as Bo bent down beside him. Bo pushed the hood of CeCe’s cloak away from her face to see the jagged wound.

“We need to get her to the caves. We can worry about her injuries once there.” Bo stated as he scooped his love up into his arms. He frowned at how cold she felt. “It appears she found the caves before any of us.” He said indicating with his head the caves spotting the landscape. “Quickly now! Let’s find the one Max has made shelter in.” He rose slowly with his beloved and started carefully heading towards the caves. Praying they found Max soon.

“I’m way ahead of you, bro. I’m using my eagle eyes to locate him now. Follow me.” Dominic called over his shoulder as he took off heading in a specific direction. Azereus gave Bo one those looks that spoke of the eagerness of youth. Bo figured he would put his faith in the brother who had found CeCe in this wintry expanse.

Amerak stood at the window, his eyes a strange opalescent color. His lips moved whispering words in an ancient dialect long forgotten but by few. His hands moving in a series of twists and turns, a soft glow emanating from them. In the corner, a glass globe filled with the vision of the blizzard overtaking the Tlaqix Mountains. His hands came to a stop, and as the glow faded, his eyes returned to their usual malevolent color. Laughing an evil deep-throated laugh he walked toward the globe. “Yes, that should do nicely at slowing the guardians down so that my band of thieves can finish their job.” He ran his hand lightly over the stormy view. “Soon guardians, you’ll be gone and the Triad will be mine.”

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Next Move

Artwork by Jongmin Ahn

Nilla and Paevia found where the others had made camp inside the walls of Amerak’s fortress. Zirede sat tending his still injured wife. She was weak and had gained a rattling cough that had settled deep in her chest. Her worst wound was one made by an arrow. It had punctured her right side and the arrowhead and buried itself deep in her tissues. Zirede knew as well as the others that such wounds were almost always fatal. The fact that Rauwyn clung to life was a testament to her strength of will. It was one of the many traits that had drawn him to her.

When Nilla and Paevia had entered their overcrowded tent, he barely noticed. He had removed Rau’s bandage and was looking at the ghastly sight before him.  They had tried as gently as possible to cut the arrow from her body, but end the end it had been decided that they would have to push it all the way through. To pull out the jagged arrowhead would have caused more internal injury, so pushing had been their only option. The entry wound had festered and a sickly yellowish-green pus rose from the puncture point. The smell of infection so strong that it quickly permeated to every corner of the small tent.

Zirede felt the tears gather in the corner of his eyes as he began to wipe as gently as possible around the wound. He frowned at the blood that seeped out with the pus. What should have been a bright red, was a deep brown. Some of the smelly discharge had matted in her fur and he grimaced for her as he worked to clean it. “I’m so sorry, love. I hate to do this. I know it hurts you so much. Would that I could take your place I would in a heartbeat.” His tears flowed a bit more freely, and he didn’t see her hand come up to caress his wet cheek.

In a pain filled voice, she said with a slight grimace. “Nay, my dearling, I couldn’t bear for you to be in my place. You take such excellent care of me. I will get better, and it will all be because of your love that I do. Your love, and that of my sister.” She stopped as a coughing fit took her voice and breath. Zirede watched the wound as she coughed noting that the brown sludge that had replaced her blood pumped out a little quicker. He rushed to cover the wound to stop her from bleeding out.

The coughing subsided and Nilla brought a cup of fresh water for her to drink. Zirede lifted Rau’s head a bit higher so she could drink her fill without fear of choking. When she pushed the cup away, he handed it back to Nilla before turning to finish bandaging his mat’s wounds. “Never fear then, love, for I will adore you until the end of time and beyond. Our incarnations have only begun together, we are not done yet.” He spoke to her of his plans for their future as he finished cleaning and bandaging the exit would on her back. Her little energy sapped, she slipped into a deep sleep. Where even then the pain chased her, indicated by the slight frown on her pale features.

Bumbles came through the tent flap with his arms full of firewood. When everyone turned to look at him, he gave them a blank look and said, “what? I’m not leaving it outside. This place is full of thieves.”  He couldn’t stop the blush when everybody started laughing. Blustering a bit, he continued, “You know what I mean. There are so many Felis here that wood is at a premium. At this point, I think a mother would kill her son for his peg leg. If we’re to have wood for a fire to keep Rauwyn warm then it needs to be stored in here with us.” Bumbles headed to an uncluttered corner and dropped his load, then went to his pack to search for his canteen.

Diewen watched his compatriots with a bemused smile on his elfin face. “Was our master pleased with our gift?” he asked of the returning pair. “What has he contracted us to do next? Slaughter someone’s elder while they watch, kidnap the Queen? Amerak never asks anything nice or easy.” He waited for an answer by grabbing his knife and a piece of driftwood. He had already begun carving something into the wood, and he returned to it now.

Nilla scowled at the Rex, he had an innate way of getting her ire up and today after the audience with Amerak the Ass, she snapped at Diewen. “Our job remains as it has been from the start to find the Queen’s questers. Only the little apprentice pulled a fast one on us, his rescuers were those we sought all along. Now our master is seething at our not putting an end to them.” She had been pacing the small walk space of the tent; her tail swishing in her agitation. A few times the inhabitants had to duck to keep from getting swatted with it.

“He has charged us to track down our enemy and see their quest put to an end. If we fail, then he will see to our end. After watching what he did to the small one for his master’s deceit, I can tell you I would rather find our enemy and bring their heads to Amerak on a platter.” Nilla watched her crew as what she said sunk in. Her thoughts were still on the small, broken heap crumpled by the gilded cage. The ancient mystics hand reaching out toward it, yet unable to reach. She was tired. Tired of all the death, and fighting to survive. She barely remembered a time when she and her sister hadn’t had to fight tooth and claw to survive. Try as she might she couldn’t shake this deep sense of sorrow engulfing her.

What Nilla had said about the apprentice must have finally got Zirede’s attention, “wait, you said after what he did to the apprentice. What did the wizard do to the small one?” His question brought everyone’s attention to Nilla. “The ones who wounded my Rauwyn and killed Quillan are our prey. How did our paths cross in such a way? We were intent on the apprentice at that point.” Zirede had risen to take over Nilla’s pacing, which in the small confines made the tall male monopolize the space.

“I need some air. Let’s step outside.” Nilla said in the suddenly confining space.
She slipped through the canvas flap that covered the round opening in the tent wall. She stopped to take a breath of the acrid air that smell of too many bodies being crammed into a small area. She was surprised that the tents weren’t set one upon another. All around campfires were being built to prepare the evening meals. Soon the mingled smell of spices joined with the mélange of odors that hung in a cloud over the fortress.

The rest of her band slowly made their way out of the tent, with Zirede bringing up the rear. He had stopped to make sure Rauwyn was resting peacefully before going out to the others. “So, we search for our attackers, who just happen to be the queen’s champions. This must be the most twisted turn of events. I guess we should figure out in which way they were heading when we stole back the apprentice. Is the small one still alive?” Zirede asked Nilla as he moved to stand where he could hear Rauwyn if she called for him, but also keep an eye on the strangers moving all around them.

Nilla took up a position beside him and watched as Brambles began to build their fire for the night. Paevia was digging around in her rucksack, and let out a small affirmative grunt when she found what she was looking for. “I have no idea if the apprentice lives. Amerak in a fit of rage began shaking him and then flung him at the cage he held the old one in. You could hear his bones snapping. It was the most sickening sound I’ve ever heard. I wanted to check on him, but he was just too angry to do anything to get his attention. Especially since in his eyes we had failed already not once, but twice. So, which way do you think the queen’s group have gone in? We need to find them now.”

Zirede seemed to be considering where they had found the apprentice among his protectors. It had once been populated by the ancients but there wasn’t much in the way of towns or villages that would hold the kind of information the questers would require. It was Diewen who spoke up with a possible place to start. If my memory is working right, it seems like there was a town that wasn’t far from where we located them. It is one of the few outposts along the trade route heading that deep into the mountains.” He stopped looking off into the distance. “the name of the place escapes me, but I will look at our maps and see if I can locate it.”

He finished as he stepped back into the tent, leaving the rest to settle around the fire and wait for Paevia to work her magic on their meager rations. Nilla reminded herself that they would need to re-supply before leaving the fortress.