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Sonny's beast went around the group of half berserk predators, soothing them, and pulling them back from the feral abyss every predator faced. It was a two edged sword, carrying the power of a predator. If a predator stayed too long in berserker mode, he was more prone to losing his human identity. The last battle with the black tentacles had very near proved it so.
Predator history was littered with people who had turned on family and friends after coming back from battle. When they finally came to, they were devastated, and unable to face what they had done. They transformed into animal form permanently, living in the forest and never to be known as human again.
Now that most predators had lost their full animal form, they didn't have that option of running away. They had to face the consequences of their acts and went mad instead. Eventually, the Clan had to put them down, a mercy kill. Sonny, and everyone in the cave, was well aware of the consequences.
In ones, and then two's, their faces returned to the civil mask that they usually showed the world. Sonny's beast licked and coaxed with rumbling purrs, until everyone had found his human self. With another rumbling purr, the beast walked back into Sonny. This was something that shouldn't have been possible, and although everyone was grateful, there were thoughtful and frightened looks his way. No beast should take on ethereal form like Sonny's could.
Sonny was as surprised as everyone else, but refused to show it. If truth be told, he was scared witless. However, a leader never showed uncertainty, no matter how much he felt it. He gave a confident smile and stared back at anyone who looked him in the eye. He needed them to continue trusting him, no matter how strange things were around them. Their survival, and his, depended upon it.
A small groan had him turning towards the Elder. The Fey Elder was on the cave floor looking wan. The rest of the fey were spread out, maintaining watch. Two were beside the Elder, their faces expressionless, yet Sonny could see fear and worry in their eyes.
He turned to his predators. "You four, scout the vicinity. Go in pairs. No one is to go anywhere alone. If you see any sign of danger, no hero tactics. Get your asses back here immediately. The rest of you are on sentry duty." He moved towards the fallen Elder.
The Elder's face was covered in sweat, and his hair fell around him, dishevelled and lank. Sonny crouched down as he saw the two fey lay hands on him. A glow permeated their palms and they had their eyes closed in concentration.
"Elder, is there anything I can do to help?" he asked quietly.
Elder Wind looked up with tired eyes at the predator prince. "We must get to the end of this journey, prince. I foresaw a threat coming from the skies. You, in particular must find your destiny." With those cryptic words he put his head back down, taking a few deep breaths before shakily getting back up on his feet.
"I'm not sure I follow you, Elder?" Sonny said, puzzled.
The Elder peered at Sonny, searching his face. Sonny stood under the perusal, and felt as if his soul was being bared. He shivered, but refused to cower. He stared back at the Elder. Unexpectedly, the Elder smiled, nodding his head to himself, obviously finding that `something' he was searching for.
"I see that our dear Kiri has managed to visit you, even while you're on your quest journey." the Elder said.
Sonny smiled with remembered passion. There was a lot going on at the time, but his passion, and Kiri's response, sent a tingle down his spine to his loins. He chuckled at the thought that, although he was somewhere under the earth, and in peril, he could still get hard thinking about the things he and Kiri did.
"You could say that," Sonny said with a smirk.
Elder Wind smiled at the young cat. The prince walked with a glow of self-assurance. It was an inspiring sight, for Sonny would need all his good memories to get him through the trials ahead. Thinking of trials, the Elder winced at his own. Being the Elder of Wind, future sight was one of his talents
In his vision, he had felt the pull of the Masculine from the Far South. Kale had watched as Kiri fell into a dark abyss, returning as something cruel and cold. The earth and sky were screaming as Kiri and an unknown, fought over who would claim the Masculine power. So far, Elder Wind had sensed despair in the air, as Kiri lost sight of the impostor. He needed to help Sonny, and guide him as far as possible. Time was running out for all concerned.
The Elder walked towards a rocky outcrop and sat down. He motioned with his hand for Sonny to come and join him. The cave was in darkness, but it was natural. Fey and predator alike were able to see using night vision. `Normally, we Fey are not supposed to interfere, and this is your destiny..." Sonny remained quiet while the Elder gathered his thoughts. "Time is running out, and you need to hear this." Sonny walked over to the Elder and sat down. "You know that Kiri is has become...more?" Sonny nodded his head. "The same applies to you."
Sonny's heart pounded. He didn't like where this was headed. He didn't want to be any more different than he was already. His clan needed him to be their rock and, with the realization that he well and truly loved Kiri, he didn't need any more revelations. Too many things were changing around him, far too quickly, and Sonny craved stability. He was stuck in the middle of rapidly changing history and he didn't need the distraction.
"Take your beast, for example."
Sonny had heard enough. He stood up, preparing to move away, when a hand struck out and held him in place. The elder stared up at him. "Are you a warrior, or a scared little kitten?"
Sonny snatched his hand away, a snarl escaping from his mouth. Some of the predators looked over, but Sonny stared them down. They quickly averted their eyes and continued sentry duty. He turned back toward the Elder.
"I create my own destiny, Elder; I don't need you to tell me otherwise."
The elder blinked slowly before a smile spread across his face. "Good, young prince, very good, you need that fire to help with your destiny."
It was at that moment that Sonny felt his beast flow out of his body. It walked gracefully up to the Elder and sat on its haunches. The Elder stared at it, his face slowly turning from curiosity to awe. He bowed his head, and his beast bowed back gracefully. The hair on the nape of Sonny's neck rose, and the beast turned its golden eyes toward him. He was drowning in those golden orbs; those eyes told him a story. With the same sense of euphoria that he had experienced when he discovered he truly loved Kiri, he gasped in joy. Those golden eyes became a life raft in the middle of a sea of emotion. They flashed silver, and the panther began walking back to him. The eyes changed once more with silver streaks, like lightning, spreading outwards from the centre of its golden pupils. He knew those eyes.
"You have been touched by the Feminine, young prince," the elder said. He stopped talking as Sonny's beast communicated something to him. He nodded his head once, smiled benignly, and turned his blue eyes on Sonny. "It actually started when you and Kiri first made love. While Trevailier forest was once the power source for the Feminine, Kiri is the new source. The forest still holds a portion of that power, but the Feminine is on the move. The last visit that you had with Kiri has changed you both permanently, I think."
Sonny sank to the cave floor and stretched his hands out toward his beast. The beast purred and became solid before Sonny's eyes. He heard gasps from those around him, but paid them no heed. His fingers slid through the panther's fur, and he was surprised at its silky texture. The panther butted its face against his and, with that motion, he knew what he needed to know.
Although Kiri was the power source, Sonny was Kiri's anchor. Without him, Kiri would swim in a world of corruptive power. Sonny had seen Kiri's dark side. Sonny's panther showed him that, without Sonny there, Kiri would not be able to find his way back. The rage and anger that his beast and the world screamed out every day would eventually overtake him. Effectively, Sonny was Kiri's light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
The beast showed him one last thing: what he was here, in this god-forsaken place, to discover. His first intention, to discover the predator history and what the Ciaran were doing down here, was the incentive. But it was not the main reason. His panther sensed a powerful weapon here that would help overcome any battle he faced. Sonny wasn't sure if he was ready, his panther was already growing and changing, he craved stability. The panther warned him that, even if he weren't ready, this dungeon could be his doom regardless. He had to stand and be the leader he was born to be, or withdraw with his tail between his legs.
Sonny snarled at the analogy; he ran from nothing. The panther agreed whole heartedly.
Kale lay beside Nuala. He trailed his hand down the side of her body. Although the fey might look like children, Nuala's body was that of a full-grown woman. It had been a long time since he lay with a woman. Over the years, he had had offers from some of the panther women, but they considered him a novelty, and he wanted to be loved for himself and not as a freak. During the first year in the panther clan he had been used and didn't like the sensation. So he began declining offers from the women wanting to come to his bed. It got to a point when they stopped coming altogether, and Kale went on a very long celibate spree, relieving himself with his hand.
He grimaced when he remembered the first time he lay with Nuala. It had been brief indeed. She had smiled, before inciting his body into another sexual fervour, while he cherished her body. This time around, he made it last much longer, and was impressed that many of his old skills in the bedroom weren't as rusty as he had feared. He smiled at the third and fourth time. He wanted to make sure that his skills were on par with his old standard, and so, as the old saying went, `practise makes perfect.'
A cool breeze swept over them from the open balcony door. White billowy drapes fluttered in the wind, and Kale could see the sun rising over the horizon. It greeted the new day with rays of red and orange. Nuala slept blissfully, curled on her side. He kissed the side of her neck before slipping from the bed and going to the balcony. The cottage was an open plan style, with no dividing walls between rooms. Kale liked the effect.
Nuala had a medium sized kitchen to the left, with herbs and plants hanging on hooks above the counter tops. The plants spread out toward the large mahogany dinning table that took up three quarters of the bottom left side of the cottage. In the centre of the room were three large lounge chairs made out of silk wool, a common material for all fey clothing.. In the centre of the lounge area was a stone table. It shone in the morning light, as the suns rays brought out the flashes of ore within it. Upon the counter top were the red Avatar flowers, singing to themselves.
In the far right corner there was a large in-ground pool that had hot and cold water flowing into it. Kale turned around and looked at Nuala's sleeping form. She lay on a large queen-size bed, with gauzy white drapes cascading down from the four posters at its corners, like a waterfall.
Kale inhaled the scent of his recent lovemaking, and felt his groin move at the sensation. He was almost tempted to get back in bed and awaken her with another bout, but her deep sleep told him to forgo the experience. He shook his head and smiled briefly before walking outside. In the daylight, the scenery was even more impressive. Birds of all descriptions flew and sang around the front yard.
He pondered his life and, in particular, this budding relationship between him and Nuala. She reminded him of her twin, Neela. This was definitely more than just a jump in the hay, but Kale was afraid he was using Nuala as a substitute. He snorted at the idea. To be brutally honest, the love he had felt for Neela paled in comparison to the unrequited love he had for Kira, who was Kiri's mother and the High Priestess. His snort turned into mocking laughter. If he were superstitious, he could believe that he was cursed, and that any woman he fell in love with was doomed to die. Kira and Neela had, and the same could happen to Nuala if he let himself walk down that track again.
He shook his head at his own musings. In many ways he still thought like a mortal. Years of habit were hard to break. Fey, in general, loved openly and unconditionally. Unless they were ready for a soul meld with another Fey, they were impulsive in their carnal desires, a marked contrast to their demure natures while in public. Commitment only came with a soul meld. That was very rare, and therefore most Fey had many different sexual partners. Kale was different. He preferred more than just a casual fuck, and he needed to connect on more than just a physical level with his bed partners. It was the main reason his bed was empty in the Panther Lands. He rubbed his hand over his face, clearing his mind of distractions, looking out towards the view.
The cottage had a garden with rows of vegetables and herbs. They, too, sang and raised their leaves to the sun. He absorbed the tranquillity around him and sighed. He could almost say he was content. He jumped over the balcony and walked toward the pond. He pondered on his ability to see everything happening in the world. Just as Elder Wind could foresee the future, to some extent, or Elder Earth could examine the past, Elder Fire could see potential in the making. And, with the right persuasion, he could make it happen the way he wanted. Each new Elder was blessed with a gift from the previous Elder.
Bending down, he dipped his hand into the water. A vision of flashing fire came into his mind. It was a calling card. Elder Flame had touched base with him. It meant the Elder would call him when he was ready. Kale pulled his hand out and spread his fingers over the water. Images of things happening right now scattered across the water in small images. Thousands of people and places appeared on the surface in small squares.
Kale flicked his hands over the images, sorting out which were important. The snippets of information were keys to understanding everything happening around the world. It was a gift that the true Elder held. Kale's father, never gaining the knowledge of the previous elder, lacked this skill. Even with the power of Feminine.
The images were constantly shuffled around as Kale let some go, and kept others. Soon, his hands were blurs as he removed more and more images. It came down to ten images in all. Six of the images were discussing Kiri, his power, the visiting Fey Elder, and the Prey Prince, Falcon. The last four were of the Predator clans. They involved Sonny, and the disconcerting thing was that Sonny was cloaked just like Kiri. Therefore, he was a major player in things to come.
Although frustrated to realise that he couldn't get a direct image of Kiri, he could get images of those around him. What he found particularly interesting was seeing an Elder Fey involved in Prey politics. Obviously, the land hadn't told her about the new Elder Rain.
He pulled one of the six images out and enlarged it. Elder Earth was talking to the Prey King. She looked to be in her mid twenties, and it was strange to see a fey looking that old. They stopped ageing by the time they were eighteen. He brushed the thought aside and listened in. He frowned as the Prey King wrapped the Elder in his arms. Her direct involvement with Prey was a breach of the code that all Fey were supposed to follow. No Fey were supposed to interfere with the squabbles and court intrigues of either court; Predator or Prey. He zoned back into the scene.
"I have awoken our son's heritage, beloved," Elder Earth said.
The King didn't look too happy at the news. "Tell me why we are doing this again."
She went up on tiptoe and cupped his face. "I have told you; there is a great threat coming to our world."
The King snorted. "Surely your clan, and mine, would be more than enough to stop this threat you speak of?"
"If that were so, beloved, I wouldn't need to awaken my blood within our son. We may need to involve the predators,"
The King rumbled deep in his throat, shadows thickened around him in his deep resentment against the bane of his people's existence. "If we allow them to get involved, they will take over our Citadel. With their nefarious and treacherous powers, I dare not allow them this close to our power source. It could be the end of us."
"If you don't involve them, it could be the end of this world."
"Whose side are you on, Seranan?" the king asked, disgruntled.
She moved away from the King's clasp. "I am on the earth's side, first and foremost." Turning to ease the hurt on her beloved's face, she continued. "You're in my heart forever. However, the avatar is here and, knowing what I know, he will in all likelihood destroy your very pretty buildings. They draw on the power of Earth. Once the ley lines return to their original position, he will have the key to gaining the power of Masculine. We can't have that. We must strike first and gain the upper hand. That powerful child, the avatar, is a Royal of the Panther Clan."
The King gasped, his face turning pale. "But there was no Sigil upon his forehead?"
"I suspect that the Elder Rain has been up to his old tricks. There is fey dust hiding it from your magical view..." her body jolted and she turned to see an image of Kale staring back at her from the surface of the pond.
Kale smelled attar of roses wafting from the image. There was shock, surprise, and a trace of fear upon Elder Earth's lovely face. "Who are you?" she asked.
The King was crouched in battle mode, hands glowing with bright light. He was trying to spot where the danger was. She placed a calming hand on his arm, but continued staring at Kale.
"I am the new Fey, Elder Rain, Kalemendari, leader of the Western Fey and sworn protector of the Avatar."
She couldn't hide the shock on her face, yet Kale noted that recognition also filled her eyes. Kale was starting to get a glimpse as to why she had not responded to his call earlier. If what she said was true; that the ley lines of the earth had been corrupted, then, as the personification of Earth, she would have been deaf and blind while inside the Citadel. To Kale, it meant that her love for the King outweighed the torment she faced by staying there. Regardless of her reasons, she was in breach of her design; it was time she got put to task.
With a quick swing of her hand, Elder Earth banished the image. Back in the garden, Kale sat on his haunches, worry gnawing at him. Kiri was in danger; it was time to see if he could reach the boy through the Carmi.
Elder Earth looked at the Prey King. "We don't have much time; we need to put our plan into action right now," she said.
The King looked at her with concern. "What did you see beloved? I saw you talking to thin air?"
"There is a new Elder who can see through water; he knows about us and we have run out of time. It's time to amp up Falcon's awareness."
With that, she walked out of the King's chamber in search of her son. She had prepared him the night before. His obsession with the Avatar was a side effect she hadn't taken into consideration, but it was something that would need to be overcome. She walked through his door to his room. The protective prey magic within the walls bypassed her. She had made sure of it, when she gave the idea to create protective spells in the walls all those many years ago. Now, she walked into his room, invisible to prey magic and physical sight.
The chambermaids had already made Falcon's bed, and there seemed to be no trace of the prince anywhere in the room. Going on a hunch, she walked outside to the balcony. Looking towards her left, she focused her eyes and zoomed in on a scene that caught her by surprise. Two bodies thrashed in the Avatars quarters; one shining with moonlight skin, the other as bright as the sun.
The Elder's heart beat double time. The child Avatar was about to outsmart her once more. If Kiri bound the Prince, all her work, and that of the Prey nation, would be at the mercy of this avatar, and she couldn't have it. Too much of her essence had gone into the creation of Falcon; it was why part of her youth was gone. Now, the earth screamed about the danger from the sky and her sometime ally, Elder Wind, had foreseen a terrible end where there were no Fey. He had also mentioned a crossroads where the Avatar would have to choose His direction.
The Elder Earth, Seranan, was giving another option. Should the Avatar fail in his duties or, Architect forbid, choose a path without the Fey in it, someone else could carry on the legacy and fight. Falcon was her back up plan. That was the option she held close to her heart, and one that she only spoke in the old tongue to convince the other Fey factions. What she failed to mention was, with her son as the power source of Masculine, she wanted to make sure that she was his anchor, and therefore had access to its power.
She had to do something. She watched as the two young men began reaching the crescendo of their pleasure. The avatar was using the power of the Feminine to persuade Falcon to his side. Raising her hands skyward, she sent out a sound that was felt more than heard. It rippled the air in its passing, as her power raced through to the Avatar's balcony.
Smashing into the floor to ceiling windows on the left of the balcony, glass shattered to all corners. The power rushed into Falcon, and it lifted him off Kiri. The glow from their skin was snuffed out in the storm of power that came through.
"You can't have him!" Seranan shouted.
Kiri closed his eyes as dirt, glass, and sound waves buffeted him. Blood flowed onto the floor from the lacerations and small abrasions on his skin. He turned and looked in the direction where Falcon had landed. He, too, was cut and up against the wall. In a small heap, to the right of Falcon, was Toby. He began to stir.
Falcon groaned and stood up shakily. He looked toward the broken windows, watching as Seranan turned into a hawk and closed the distance between them. She screeched once more, and it hit Falcon like a stampede of horses.
The Phoenix cried out, and began to burn. It screamed triumphantly, and its power blazed beneath Falcon's skin. Kiri crawled towards Toby, and placed himself in front of the recovering boy. Falcon screamed in a mix of bliss and rage. His skin caught fire, and he looked at Kiri. It wasn't one of recognition, but of destruction.
Kiri walked away from Toby, making sure he had manoeuvrability. He had to keep Toby out of the line of fire. Falcon's eyes followed him, burning with an eerie yellow light. The Elder flew through the window, and transformed, with hands turned to claws.
"Attack," she whispered.
Falcon didn't hesitate. He was on Kiri before there was time to even blink. Kiri knew he was outclassed; Falcon had deflected his blows earlier. This faster, stronger Falcon was even more lethal, because there was nothing of the old Falcon in that fiery gaze.
Kiri managed to block any blows that would hit his vital organs, but he was on the defensive. Falcon was too fast. Even with him in witch time, Kiri was still out-matched. Sooner or later, Kiri was going to be a micro second too late, and he would go hurling. His musings became prophetic when Falcon threw him against the wall.
Lights flashed behind Kiri's eyelids as the impact on the wall left cracks zigzagging up and down it. Toby raised his head, and managed to throw a weak gravity shield in front of him. It was all Kiri needed, and he used it to his advantage. As fast as a viper's bite, he lunged and punched Falcon in the solar plexus.
The impact was hard enough that it sent Falcon crashing through the large windows. He went tumbling into space. Kiri raced to the broken windows and looked down. Falcon screamed and, with an almighty howl, burst into flames.
Kiri ducked back into the room, as fire shot up past where his head had been. He heard another roar. This time it sounded deeper. Bright light shone beneath the window pane. Kiri peered cautiously over the edge. He gasped at the sight. Falcon had transformed into an enormous phoenix. His wingspan was at least twenty feet. He beat those enormous wings, and Kiri could feel the backlash of wind and heat from the updrafts.
Toby stood beside Kiri, shaky and scared, but ready to do battle. He called on his black crow and threw a ball of gravity at the giant flapping monstrosity. It struck, and the bird was pushed down for a few seconds before shaking off the attack. Falcon pinned his fiery sights on Toby and, with a mighty screech, shot towards the broken window.
Kiri shoved the boy aside and unleashed a downpour of water from his hands. The Falcon-turned-Phoenix was hit full on, in the chest. It screamed, flipped over and plummeted toward the earth, head first. With a roar, fire balls shot out of the phoenix's mouth and melted the ground beneath. It folded its wings, and plunged into the earth, leaving a large gaping hole in its wake. People in the courtyard below were screaming and running amok. Guards and warrior mages were just coming onto the scene.
Kiri looked down at the gap, preparing to jump from the window ledge and follow, when he felt the earth, far below, tremble and shift. He moved away from the window and collapsed. He had a horrible feeling that he knew why he was not able to complete his full transformation. The Masculine power now had two choices for the new power source. The Elder had created something inside Falcon that made him attractive. He was diving down towards that power source, and it was responding to him like an old lover. Just as Kiri's beast had been attracted to Trevailier Forest and the Feminine, so was Falcon's phoenix to the Masculine. He had to stop it. Standing on his feet, he was preparing to leap when some one spoke behind him.
"Not so fast, Avatar," Elder Earth said. "Unless you want your little servant to die."
Kiri turned around. The Elder had one arm around Toby's neck, while the other had one razor sharp claw at his throat. With all the fighting, he had forgotten about the Elder, sitting in the shadows, watching. How could he have been so stupid? Kiri's body tightened, ready to lunge.
The Elder tightened her grip on Toby, her claw digging in slightly and causing blood to flow. "Ah, ah, ah, ah," she warned, shaking her head in emphasis.
Toby stared at Kiri, he looked defiant. "Do what you have to sir. I'll understand."
"He's a bold one, isn't he?" the Elder commented. "Such a waste to kill him so young." She stared at Kiri as she sliced Toby deeper. He gasped at the sharp pain, but refused to say anymore.
Kiri snarled. Toby was under his protection but, if he didn't hurry, Falcon would end up joining completely with the Masculine, and the there would be no way to stop the World Eater.
"Know this, Elder; your time has just been shortened," Kiri warned.
"Then my duty will be served." Her eyes shone with fervour as she spoke. "And that is to have an Avatar with Fey blood in his veins, and not some mongrel with predator, Ciaran blood." She almost snarled the last part of her sentence.
Kiri stared at the Elder. The beast peeked through his eyes. This time, without Falcon here, he could draw on his rage. Power burned magnesic bright under his skin. His hair shone a radiant red, and the two glows, of white and red grew too bright to look at. The Elder couldn't keep from closing her eyes.
It was her downfall. They say that when a head is decapitated, you're still alive for two seconds. The Elder opened her eyes, only to see her body upside down, as her head fell off her shoulders.
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Thanks as always goes to Richard for his fine work in editing!