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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.

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