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|More Short Book Than True Short Story. Can A Race Of Cat-morphing Jungle People Save Their Princess From The Invading Romans While Trying To Stay Alive Themselves?||
A Roman merchant ship had been blown off course in a storm somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. After a hard-fought battle by its crew, the small vessel survived the storm. With both the ship and its crew battered, it anchored off the shore of a group of jungle islands for a rest and to regain its bearings before continuing on its original course. The captain, a merchant by the name of Corin, picked out the largest of the islands and designated it as their resting-place for the night.
The crew was not on the beach for more than an hour, when the men found that they were not alone. From the thick jungle foliage emerged a large band of warriors, who were without weapons, and were wearing the various furs of jungle Cats as clothing. Captain Corin stared at them for a moment, not believing that any man could take on such powerful beasts as jungle Cats and live, and wondering how they fought and hunted without weapons.
Then, from the crowd of warriors, there came an elderly man, who, by the respect the others showed to him as he passed, appeared to be their leader. With eyes gleaming gold in the fading light, the old man looked right into Corin’s eyes and spoke in clear Latin the words “Do you come in peace?”
The Roman captain only nodded in response, shocked that so isolated a people knew how to speak in such a civilized tongue. Finally finding his voice, he said, “My ship and its crew has just weathered a storm, and we only wish rest here for the night before we move on.”
The elder nodded to this request, saying that Corin and his crew would be permitted to hunt and gather what they needed from the island’s resources. To make polite conversation, he then asked what their destination would be when they set sail in the morning. Corin answered this by saying he was looking for a good place to set up a trading post/respite port for ships traveling to Egypt, the Byzantine Empire, and other cities that had trade routes with Rome. Corin’s question to the elder was where, exactly, were they?
The old man smiled a wise, knowing smile. He said that they were on the largest of a group of islands that were off the eastern coast of Greece. This island, named Felona by its people, was the only one of the chain inhabited by human life. The elder then added that the island was not more than a day’s journey from the ports Corin had mentioned, and that he was welcome to build his trading post on Felona if he wished.
After about three days’ discussion between the two men, the compromise was drawn up on paper and signed by both of them. In addition to the promised port, the Romans were also given, as a special gift, a sizable piece of land to build a settlement on. In return, the Felonans wanted nothing more than respect for their lands and identities.
It was then that the men made another agreement and promise, but this one was not signed with ink and paper, but sworn by word and honor. It had been agreed in the contract that the Romans could hunt on the island, but the elder now limited this to all creatures except the jungle Cats living on the island. He then explained that the Greek Goddess of Cats, Felona, had granted the island people with the ability to shape-shift into the form of jungle Cats. The elder also said that these Cats would do no harm to humans found hunting outside the settlement, and that they were to be trusted. Corin and his crew then solemnly swore upon these terms.
When all had been settled, Corin sent word back to Rome about the new trading post, and the construction of the island settlement began. After many weeks of Romans and Felonans working side-by-side, the low-walled, Felonan-friendly settlement was finally completed. The settlement prospered, and the two civilizations virtually lived along side each other for many years.
The peace did not last as long as they would have liked, however. Ten years after their arrival on the island, Corin mysteriously met his death on a hunting trip with his two sons, and the Felonan elder died quietly of old age. Rhea, the elder’s daughter, replaced him. Raiden, Corin’s eldest son, took control over the Roman port settlement, and the changes he made were not pretty. He ordered the settlement’s walls to be built up and a large set of wooden doors put up at the entrance. He banned all contact between the Roman settlers and the savage “Cat people”.
It was only two short years after Raiden had taken over that all Tartarus broke loose on Felona. The news circled through the entire Felonan population in less than an hour. A young mother leopard and her two infant cubs had been found murdered and skinned in the jungle. Rhea and her warriors wasted little time in making their way to the Roman settlement; pounding on the doors and demanding Raiden show his face. When he emerged, Rhea demanded to know the meaning behind the murders and wanted the men who had killed her people to be brought to justice.
Rhea was brought inside the doors of the high-walled settlement and stood on the platform in the town-square to address the people. When she told the people of what had happened, all were silent until two young men stepped forward. One spoke up and confessed their crime of killing the Cats for their skins, not knowing there were actual people under the fur and fangs. Rhea studied them closely and saw they were showing genuine remorse for what they had just done. She dismissed them on the circumstance that they were too young to have known about the hunting laws set by Corin and her father.
In order to impede further attacks, she and Raiden agreed to have a twenty-yard safety radius ringed around the settlement. Any Roman to step outside it would take the risk of being harmed by Felonans and vice-versa. However, it was not the settlers that were found dead at the murder scene, but Felonans stabbed and stripped of their valuable hides. This period in Felonan history came to be known as the Great Killing; more Fèlons lost their lives during this time than in any other period in their history.
The one tribe that suffered most during this time was a unique tribe of Cats called the Kre-talmè, or “Snow-furred”; more commonly known on the island as the Kre-tal, or Ghost Cats. These sleek Cats had the build and agility of jaguars. Their eyes were blue like those of a white tiger, their fur pure white. Such a sight awed Roman hunters, and during the Great Killing, this tribe was all but wiped out.
Over the years, a young Greek merchant named Jason had become a close friend to the Felonans. He and the leader of the Kre-tal tribe fell in love, and he managed to keep her safe for almost five years. During this time, the two were married and the Korena, the tribe’s queen or matriarch, was carrying their child. The little one was brought into the world safely and raised for almost a year before the threat of another Kah-lo—the Felonan name for the White Man—attack was reported.
Jason was leaving for Greece the morning of the discovered ambush, and the Korena raced for the dock with a bundle in her jaws, praying to Hermes to bring her speed. Finally, she reached the dock and her waiting husband. But as she was making her way down the wharf, she tripped and the bundle went flying from her teeth. It flew through the air and landed safely in Jason’s arms.
“Bring her back in fifteen years,” she said, struggling to her feet. “Her name is Cera.” Not a moment after these words were spoken, a Kah-lo dagger struck the Korena in the back, killing her instantly as the last Kre-tal sailed off to Greece.
Deep in the jungle of Felona, a young Fèlon slept soundly in the safety of his warm cave.
“Wyte,” the voice of a woman lingered in the darkness. “Young One of the Ghost Tiger tribe, awaken. I have a task for you, Kah-shako.” “Young White-Stripe,” she called him, an affectionate term for the Tiger she was addressing.
The young man opened his eyes and sat up, scanning the darkness with his glowing Cat’s eyes. Except for himself, his home was vacant of all other life. “What on Olympus is going on here?” he said with a slight growl. “Who’s there?”
“I have a task for you, young Ghost Tiger,” the voice said again. As these words were spoken, a beautiful woman with auburn locks and amber Cat’s eyes appeared before him. She was clothed in a long flowing chiton comprised of hides from each of the Felonan tribes; it was the Goddess Felona herself.
“O, Great Goddess,” he lowered his head at her presence, “I had no idea you were calling on me. What is it you ask of me?”
“The prophecy has come true, mec Kumè, my Tiger; the Kre-tal Cora, the Kre-tal Princess, has returned to my island, but a year too early and to the wrong place. She has been a dancer in Raiden’s court for the past year now. I want you to be her Camutor, he protector and teacher, Wyte; I want you to teach her the skills that have for sixteen years lay dormant inside her. You must take her from the Kah-lo settlement and bring her here to safety.”
“All you ever need do is ask, my Goddess, and I shall be ready.” He jumped out of bed, morphing into his Cat form as he did so, and bounded off for the settlement.
Wyte crept around the back of the Roman settlement, climbed a tree and leapt over the wall with little effort, barely making a sound. This will be the easiest part of the quest after those guards. The guards at the front gate of the small palace Raiden had constructed as a home were unusually alert. Raiden knows something, he must.
After poking his head through a few open windows, Wyte found a room where more than a dozen young women were sleeping on a maze of cots. He leaned on the window, and it swung inward with a small creak. He slid through and paced warily around the room, looking carefully at each sleeping face. After walking the length of the room, he retraced his steps and stopped by the bed of the only blonde. He recalled as he paced silently to the bed that all Kre-tals had blue eyes and golden blonde hair. When Wyte looked closer at his choice, his eyes widened with surprise.
“By the Gods,” he gasped, “has Felona brought the Kre-tal Korena back to life?” He sat stalk still for a moment, not believing what he was seeing before he shook off the shock. “This must be the Cora; her resemblance to the Korena is undeniable.” He was leaning over to pick her up when he heard a movement nearby. Wyte froze, hoping it was just one of the girls shifting in their sleep.
Unfortunately, luck was not on his side just then. The dark-haired, deeply tanned woman sat up and seemed to stare right at him. “Kah-shako,” she whispered in a perfect Felonan accent, “what are you doing here?” The words made him jump under his thick fur, but on the outside, he remained still. “Are you deaf, Kumè?” she asked in a louder tone. “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
“You see me, Shalek-Af?” Wyte replied, shocked, respectfully calling her “Dark One” for her dark skin tone and black hair.
“Your shape and your eyes, but not any definite features,” she replied, straining her eyes in an attempt to see him more clearly.
There had been only one outsider since Corin’s death that had lived with the Fèlon tribes. She was a dancer of Raiden’s who had run away into the jungle two years ago. She was found and captured three months later, and the tribes had not heard word of her since.
He returned to his human form, crouching on the floor and remaining stalk still. “Aisha?” he tried the name, his gruff, baritone Tiger’s growl had now turned a dark tenor.
“I recognize your human voice, Fèlon; who are you?”
“I am Wyte, Kunè Kah-Shako, Young Ghost Tiger,” he repeated his “title” in Latin just to be sure.
“Wyte? Wyte! Mecha! My friend! Do you not remember me? We met two years ago when I ran away from this awful place, remember?”
“Aisha, is it really you?” She nodded, and the young Tiger seized her in a hug. “It is so good to see you again, mecha. We have missed you.”
“We?” She eyed him suspiciously.
“The entire tribe has been worried about you since your capture,” he stopped and smiled. “I have missed you, too,” he said, glad she could not see him blushing. “How have you been?”
She sighed. “As well as can be expected for someone living under Raiden’s roof and law.” She gave her old friend another sideways glance. “What are you doing here; you run a great risk by coming here to the Kah-lo settlement?”
“Leta Felona has sent me for the Kre-tal Cora.”
“The Kre-tal…. Cera?”
“You know about her?” Wyte replied, genuinely surprised.
“Yes, I have heard the legend at least three times, and besides, Roana, Tah-lin and I figured it out when she arrived last year.”
“Come with me tonight,” he offered with a persuading look in his eyes.
“What?!” she was taken aback.
“Be rid of Raiden. Come with me, Aisha; he will not find you this time.”
“I can’t, Wyte; as much as I want to, I can’t. I would only be jeopardizing the tribe if I did. Besides, you will have enough trouble when Raiden finds Cera missing.”
He smiled wryly. “You are probably right; we will have to be on our toes. I am sure Raiden knows how valuable she is. I will have to be extremely watchful; Felona has appointed me her Camutor.”
She placed a hand on his shoulder. “You are worthy of such an honor, mecha, serve her well. You had better get going; the guards will change soon, and it will be more likely for you to be spotted.”
He nodded and lifted the sleeping body from the bed. Taking a ribbon from the night table, he loosely tied her wrists together. Wyte then slipped his head through her limp arms and situated her body so she hung from his neck down his back. When he morphed, Cera was lying on his back with her arms wrapped snugly around his furry gruff. With a nod and a low growl that meant “farewell”, Wyte bounded out the open window.
A dim light was shining when Cera opened her eyes. She sat up to see a crackling fire, its flame licking the stone walls with its shadow. A dark figure approached her and knelt beside the bed. She jumped back at what she was seeing. A man clothed in a white Tiger’s hide was looking into her eyes.
She gasped in surprise. “Y-you’re one of those…Cat-people who have invaded Lord Raiden’s island.”
So, Raiden considers himself a Lord now, even when his father was no more than a Roman Captain? “De sek af fet les…” he began, then remembered that she did not know their native tongue. “I am one of those ‘Cat-people’,” he said, starting again in Latin, “but we are not the ones doing the invading; the Kah-lo attacks us. We lived here long before Corin brought the Romans to our island, and we lived along side them. Raiden, his son, is the tyrannical one; he wishes this island for himself.”
She shook her head. “No, you are lying; Raiden would never lie to us.”
He could not help but laugh out loud at her ignorance. That Raiden ever muttered a truthful word in his life was even amusing.
“Take me back where I belong,” she insisted. “You had no right to take me away.”
But you belong here, Cora. Wyte sighed and shook his head. It was obvious she had been brainwashed by Raiden’s guile, but it was too soon to tell her who she really was and what she meant to the Felonan population. She had to agree to stay here by her own free will before anything else could be done.
He sighed heavily with reluctance before saying, “Follow me.” He morphed into his Cat form and led her outside; Cera’s eyes were wide with awe as she watched the transformation. “Keep your hand on the gruff of my neck and never leave my side.”
Wyte coaxed Cera onto his back so he could scale the wall and get them through the window easier. Once in the room, he padded softly to her bed and lay her down on it. They stared into each other’s eyes for a long time.
“Good night, Cora,” he said finally, breaking what seemed to be an eon of silence. “I hope this is not good-bye. Zu-le, Cora.” Without another word, the Tiger disappeared into the night.
Wyte lie awake in bed the next night, unable to find sleep. “Felona, Goddess of my people, please help me. Shen Cora does not wish to stay here with her people where she belongs. What can be done?”
“Mec Kunè Kah-shako, My Tiger,” the Goddess replied, “the Cora must be convinced to stay. She has fallen under Raiden’s influence, and she must be turned back to the ways of her people.”
“For you and the good of your people,” Wyte answered, “I will do all that I can to convince her that Raiden is evil, and the Felonans are her blood and destiny.”
Cera was not at all happy to find herself in the place she had been the night before. Although Wyte did all he could possibly think of trying to persuade her into believing his view of the Roman invasion situation, nothing seemed to be working.
“What am I doing here?” she all but screamed at him. “Don’t you understand I do not want to be here?!”
“Will anything I say convince you stay? Is there nothing I can say or do to get you to believe me?” he replied, feeling all but helpless to her undying faithfulness to Raiden and his deception. “Goddess Felona has made me your Camutor, your protector, and if I can not get you to stay here on your own, then I have already failed my Goddess, her people…and you.”
“You cannot force me to stay here,” she said. “You said so yourself; I have to agree to stay here on my own, and I do not want to stay here.”
“That may be true,” he replied, “but I cannot let you go back. Raiden is an evil man, and he is not to be trusted.”
Despite this, Cera was hard on her word. “I am loyal to him.”
“Loyal?! You are loyal to that…that killer?! That Kah-Mako?! You shall one day regret your words, Cora,” he snarled through clenched teeth, revealing his sharp, gleaming, ivory-like fangs.
Cera gasped with surprise, inching back. “Y-you have…fangs,” she stammered.
“All Felonans have fangs, in both their human and Cat forms,” he said in a calmer tone. “Come,” he said with regret, “I will bring you back.”
“But, I thought you said….”
“No,” he shook his head. “I can not force you to stay here. Again I will say that you must agree to stay with me on your own. So I will return you to Raiden until you are ready.” If I can not convince her to stay here, maybe her own experience with Raiden will.
Back inside the settlement walls, and having put Cera back in her own bed, Wyte prepared to bid his Cora another farewell.
“You seem to know a great deal about who I am,” she said, “but I know almost nothing about you.”
“What does that matter, mec Cora?” Wyte replied, feeling desperately lost and hopeless. “After tonight, we may never see one another again.”
“But I would still like to know the name of the valiant Tiger who would risk his very hide to take me away from this place.”
He smiled thoughtfully. “My only wish is for you to stay with me, so I will not have to risk that precious hide of mine once more,” he said persuasively.
“No,” she said painfully, tears forming in her eyes, “I can’t. Lord Raiden told me that if I ever ran away, he would…send men to…threaten and even kill my father.”
“Jason!” he whispered, hoping she wouldn’t hear.
But her ears were better than he had guessed. “How do you know my father?” she replied.
“Felona and her people know much about you and your past, Cora,” he answered with a smile. “You are reluctant to return with me now, but it is your destiny by birth to live among the Felonan tribes. And because of this, Felona has chosen to give you one more chance,” he slipped a small silver ring into her hand. “If you do reconsider, slip this ring on your finger before you sleep at night, and you will wake up where you have for the past two nights.”
“Your name, Tiger, please.”
“I am known to my tribe as Wyte, Kunè Lera Kumè, ‘Young Ghost Tiger’. It is not a true name, but it is what I have until I earn one.”
The two were silent for a long time, staring into each other’s eyes. Cera raised a hand to touch the soft fur on his chest, but she hesitated and recoiled. He took her hand in his paws and placed it on the thick, soft fur of his chest. She smiled, stroking absently for a while before letting her hand fall away.
Wyte caught her hand in his padded paws. “Zu-le, until we meet again, Cora. And as I have said before, I hope this is not good-bye.”
He leapt out the window, and she heaved a sigh. If she chose to leave—no matter what he said her destiny was—she would be jeopardizing her father’s life.
“Cera,” a voice came out of the darkness. “Are you awake?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Who’s there?”
“It’s Aisha. What are you still doing here; Wyte’s been here twice now?”
“As much as he says I should, I can’t stay with him. If I do, Raiden has threatened to kill my father.”
“But if you stay here,” Aisha said, “you risk the lives of an entire people. Besides, Raiden’s threats are empty ones.” She paused for a moment before continuing. “Cera, Wyte has given you the Ring of Choice, and you have an important one to make.”
“I see what you mean,” she said slowly. “Can I sleep on it?”
“Well, I don’t see why not,” her friend replied with a smile.
The next evening, after the court dancers had been released for the night, Cera saw Raiden standing by the door to the sleeping chamber. He stopped her, and she greeted him with a low curtsey.
He placed a tender hand on her head, telling her to rise. “Good evening, my dear. Would you please come with me; I have something I want to show you?”
With a nod of her head, she followed him down the now-familiar corridors to the entrance of the Main Hall. Then he led her down a series of alien hallways until they reached a small bedchamber.
“Wait here, please,” he said as he slipped through another door on the opposite wall.
She sat down on the bed and waited patiently for his return. While she waited, Cera looked at her surroundings. The room was small—a ten-by-ten-foot square—and its only furnishings were a bed and a wardrobe. On the adjacent wall, there was a portrait of a young woman and a man who was unmistakably her father. She stood and admired the painting. The woman was tall and slender with long, golden blonde hair and bright blue Cat’s eyes.
“She looks…just like…me… Mother.” Her eyes were wide with surprise. “My mother was a Felonan?”
Just then, she felt something touch the base of her neck, sending a tingle down her spine. Lowering her eyes from the painting, she felt the sensation again on her shoulder. A third, then fourth time on the back of her neck. She stood still for a moment longer and felt her top loosen and fall to the floor. As quickly and as nonchalantly as she could, Cera covered herself with her thick blonde hair.
Raiden tricked me. She sighed, moaning slightly, and Raiden’s kissing quickened at her false signal of passion. How could I have been so ignorant? She did not dare to resist him, for fear of what he might do, and Raiden had his way with her, turning the Kre-tal princess into his thing of pleasure.
When they returned to the dancer’s sleeping quarters later that evening, Raiden left her with a strict warning. “You will tell no one of what has happened; I have ears everywhere. Tell no one, or else you may no longer have a father. Are we understood?”
“Yes, Milord,” she replied meekly, stifling her tears.
After he dismissed her, Cera slipped quietly into the dancers’ sleeping room. After weaving her way through the sleeping cots, she sprawled over her bed and began to cry. In the dimming evening light, she caught sight of the little silver ring Wyte had given her last night. Remembering what he had told her, Cera slipped the ring on her finger and closed her eyes.
“Oh, Wyte,” she whispered through her tears. “I changed my mind; I want to stay with you. If I ever wanted you to take me away from here, away from…him, it would be now.”
When she opened her eyes again, it was to the welcoming sight of a fire’s shadow on a stone wall. She sighed with relief. “Thank you, Wyte,” she whispered. “Thank you so much.”
“You are more than welcome, mec Cora,” a soft growl-like whisper came out of the shadows. His dark form drew closer and he took her hand, his blue eyes glowing with an amber tint in the dim light. “You were crying when I came for you, Cora. Are you all right; did something happen that I should know about?”
She turned away, looking into the fire. “Something did happen tonight,” she began slowly. “It is the main reason why I decided to come stay here with you; I feel safe with you. Earlier this evening, Raiden met me in the hallway and took me to a room where…he…. Wyte, he raped me!”
His eyes lit up with shock. He could see the tears in her eyes when she turned back to him, and he closed his eyes tightly at the stinging meaning to her words before looking into her eyes. “I am so sorry, mec Cora,” he said slowly with remorse. “Raiden has hurt you, and it is a hurt that will never be able to fully heal. I deeply regret not being there to protect you from him, but I will not let him hurt you again.”
She sighed as he dried her tears. “It is so good to be away from that place,” she said slowly. “I never want to go back.”
“And you think living here will be any easier?” his tone made a drastic change; he was suddenly very demanding. “You are the Cora, and the only living member of the Kre-tal tribe. You have lived away from your native lands and people for a long time now, and you must be trained in our ways. Your skills must be revived from a sixteen-year sleep. You must learn to speak Felonan because few of us speak Latin or Greek. You must master morphing from a human into your Cat form. Then come the skills of stalking, hunting and listening for danger.”
She looked at him reproachfully. “You are starting to sound like Raiden with all your expectations of what I should be. And if that’s the way it is going to be, then maybe I don’t want to stay here after all!”
Cera jumped out of the bed and ran out of the cave. Seconds after she had fled, Wyte morphed and started off in the direction she had taken. He stayed in the shadows as he sniffed the air for her scent. The ground was dry from lack of rain, and there was little sign of footprints. He had almost given up all hope when he heard sobbing coming from behind a nearby bush. Peering over the top, he saw Cera curled up against it crying.
He smiled thoughtfully as he rounded the bush and nudged her onto his back. She has no sense of direction. “Wrap your arms around my neck, mecha,” he whispered.
She clung to his fur as he paced slowly back to his home. “Oh, Wyte,” she sobbed. “Please forgive me.”
Forgive. He searched his mind for the Felonan equivalent of the word. Finding it, he smiled. “Yes, mec Cora, I forgive you.”
Safely back inside his cave, Wyte lay Cera down on the nest of furs he used as a bed. She was still clinging to him. “Please stay with me, Wyte,” she said softly, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I need you.” The helpless look in her eyes pleaded for the need of his protection; they beckoned him to rest on the soft furs next to her.
A strong feeling of loyal devotion emanating from his heart and soul told him to stay with her, but a whisper of apprehension and fear for her well being and dignity urged him to let her go. He was afraid for her, and being taught the way she had by Raiden, she would not say a word if her hurt her. After a long pause, he shook his head, released her arms from around his neck and spoke.
“This is not right, Cora. After what Raiden has done to you, you would trust a complete stranger again so soon?”
“I know you better than I ever knew Raiden, he never told us anything about himself,” she said slowly. “Besides, I know I can trust you, Wyte; you are my Camutor.”
He looked away with a nervous sigh. She needs me, but will she show trust in another man so soon? Should I believe her, what if I am wrong? He turned back to her, looking into her eyes. There were tears in her eyes; she did need his security after all. He touched a hand to her face. “I will stay with you, Cora.”
Stifling a sigh, she forced a smile and threw herself to him, closing her arms around her Camutor in an embracing hug. He smiled compassionately, hugging her close, and absently stroking her golden hair. Wyte hushed her sobs until Cera fell silent in his arms. Taking care not to disturb her slumber, Wyte lay down and pulled the furs up around them.
Later that night, Cera woke to the sound of a low rumbling. When she lifted her head, the sound seemed to stop. She dismissed it as just hearing things, but when she rested her head on Wyte’s chest again, the odd rumble returned. It was not a steady hum, but rhythmic, in short intervals with a few seconds between. She stopped for a moment and listened to Wyte’s breathing. After a minute or two, she smiled. He was purring. Cera rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes, still smiling.
“Cora,” Wyte whispered into her ear early the next morning. “Cora, time to wake up.”
She rolled over with a moan. Although she had her eyes closed, she was mentally awake and aware of her surroundings. She felt something brush over her face, tickling her. Unable to control herself, Cera’s face lit up with laughter.
“Wyte, stop…ha-ha! You’re tickling me!”
He smiled mischievously and winked at her. “That was the point, sleepy one.”
She opened her eyes, and got the first clear look at his face. He had soft blue eyes, a kind smile and sun-streaked light brown hair. His body was lean and slightly muscular, his skin lightly tanned. He was younger than she had originally thought him to be, but older than she was, handsome and well suited to what he was.
“You were purring in your sleep last night,” she countered with a sly smile.
“I was what?” he replied, shock painted on his face as clear as day.
“You were purring in your sleep last night,” she reiterated more slowly. “I woke up to a rumbling in your chest. You were purring, Wyte, admit it.” She had him cornered, and he knew it, too.
“All Cats purr,” he admitted, “even Felonans. But I have never actually caught myself doing it.”
“But I thought big Cats like Tigers and Jaguars gave up their purr for a roar.”
“That is only true with wild Cats,” Wyte replied. “The Felonans have been gifted with both abilities,” he said, struggling slightly with the pronunciation of the last word.
“Why do Cats purr, and what is this word, ‘Fèlon’ you have been using?”
“Roughly translated,” he said slowly, again fumbling with the big words, “‘Fèlon’ means ‘Cat’, and ‘Felonan’ means ‘Cat-person’. We purr, I suppose, when we are content, calm, relaxed.” He stopped and listened to his breathing rhythm, smiling to himself. “Like right now.”
Cera giggled, smiling. “If I am all you say I am, then I should be purring soon, too?”
“Yes, I would think so,” he kissed her on the forehead and stood. “I have to go for the day, but I should be back by nightfall. I need you to stay here; you will be safer. If anything happens while I am away, follow the marked path behind the cave. It will lead you to Council Circle, to me, and to safety.”
“Is there anything I can do while you are away?”
“You are not confined to the cave, just don’t wander too far. Hmm…. Something you could do…. Here, follow me.” From a shelf by the hearth, he took three wooden bowls and led Cera from the cave. Outside, he stopped in front of a cluster of berry bushes opposite the cave entrance and handed her the bowls. “Please do your best to fill them with the purple and red berries. There is another cluster of bushes behind the cave,” he took a quick glance at the sun. “I have to go now, or else I will be late,” he morphed. “There is food inside when you get hungry. I will be back by moonrise. Zu-le,” he said and ran off behind the cave.
The last bowl was about half filled with ripe berries when she heard a rustling in the brush behind her. Startled, she whirled around. Nothing but trees, bushes and other jungle vegetation met her eyes. The rustling had stopped. Quickly, she recalled the words Aisha had spoken to her when they had met:
“De sek Cera. De sek cal mecha. De sek shen Kre-tal Cora. I am Cera. I am a friend. I am the Kre-tal Princess,” she repeated in Latin the Felonan words Aisha had taught her. There was no response from the jungle surrounding her. “Come out, whoever you are,” she said. “You are frightening me.”
“Then I shall have to try harder to terrify you!” A large Tiger leapt from the brush, and Cera dropped the bowl, backing away. “My, what a pretty one I found.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Who are you?”
The Cat eyed her more closely. “Call me your new Master, my lovely.”
“I belong to no one,” she replied sternly.
“Oh, but you do,” the Tiger retorted. “When a Felonan male finds a female, she belongs to him. And I have most certainly found you.”
“Well, in that case,” she said, “I am afraid you are too late. I have already been found by Wyte.”
“Wyte?” he chuckled. “Why he is only a mere cub at this game. Wouldn’t you prefer a man with more experience?”
Cera acted quickly, putting into action the skills she had learned while living under Raiden’s law. “Maybe I would,” she said smoothly, scratching under his chin and caressing the smooth fur on the top of his head. The Tiger purred, closing his eyes and moaning with pleasure. Cera used this opportune moment to get away. She pulled away, letting his head nearly fall to the ground. “But he would never be you!”
The aggravated Tiger growled at her. “You conniving little Siren. Thinking you could seduce the likes of me. You will pay for such foolish actions!”
She turned and ran, remembering what Wyte had said, looking for signs of a path: snapped branches, claw marks on tree trunks and paw prints in the mud. After what seemed like forever, Cera saw a clearing up ahead. That must be Council Circle. Suddenly, she felt a searing pain shoot up her left leg to her spine. She staggered her pace for a moment before forcing herself to go on. I will be safe in a few more strides, she told herself in reassurance. The Circle drew ever closer as she ran, trying to ignore the pain she was feeling. With her last reserved of strength, Cera bolted into the center of a large ring of standing Felonans and shrieked “Help me!” before collapsing to the ground, unconscious.
From the ring of Felonans arose a cloud of murmurs and whispers:
“Who is she?”
“Is she a spy from Raiden?”
“How did she know where Council Circle was?” was the query of many; only Felonans knew where it was located.
Just then, a large Tiger, its fangs bared and its claws unsheathed, leapt from the brush towards the fallen stranger. There was a sudden gasp of terror from the ring of Felonans, and a white Tiger sprang forward to defend the fallen girl.
“Leave her be, Conè-Mako,” Wyte growled.
“Why should I?” he snarled. “I found her; she belongs to me!”
Wyte chose to use words instead of actions, but kept his reflexes on edge in case the older Cat tried something. “She belongs to no one Fèlon; she belongs to the entire race. She is a member of every tribe; she is shen Kre-tal Cora.”
“How can she be the Cora?” Conè-Mako replied in a calmer tone. “She is human and speaks barely a word of our language.”
“Do you not remember the legend?” Wyte said calmly. By this time, both Cats had relaxed and were sitting back on their haunches, speaking in more casual tones. “We were both alive when the Korena was killed. We were present when Jason took the baby Cora away to Greece. She has returned as the prophecy foretold. She,” he indicated the inert body a few feet away, “is the Cora.”
Conè-Mako caught his breath, realizing what had happened. “By the Gods,” he whispered. “What have I done?”
Wyte placed a comforting paw on his shoulder. “You did not know. The wound is not fatal, and she will walk again. However, I would like to know what happened.”
“It was just as I said; I found her and claimed her. She said she already belonged to you. The little Siren seduced me, and…. You know my temper, Wyte. She ran, and I pursued her. Then one thing led to another…and then this happened.” The older Tiger sighed in dismay.
“Cera,” Wyte said in reassurance, “and Felona will forgive you.”
“She said she belonged to you,” Conè-Mako said. “She said you had already found her.”
“Felona has appointed me her Camutor,” he said with a proud smile.
“Conè-Mako,” Rhea, the Tribal Leader, intervened, “to your place in the Circle. Wyte, bring the fallen one to me.” The two Tigers obeyed: Mako went to his place in the Council Ring while Wyte brought Cera up to Council Peak. “Take her inside and tend to her wounds, Wyte,” she told him when he reached Council Peak. “Jo-le is at your dispense. I will be in when the meeting is over.”
Rhea was all ruffled fur when she came in after the meeting. She was overjoyed to see the Cora safely returned to her people. Other than being all a-flutter, she was little help to the two trying to clean and bandage Cera’s leg. Despite this, Wyte and Jo-le were able to make her comfortable and sedate the pain before he carried her back to his home.
Cera slowly fell into consciousness. She was dizzy, and her head was throbbing. Slowly, she opened her eyes, moaning from the pain. The room seemed to be spinning around her. “Wyte,” Cera said weakly, “what happened? Aaugh!” She moved, unaware of her injury.
“You were attacked by my brother, Conè-Mako,” he said softly. “You received a very bad gash on your left leg.”
She sighed and flinched as she shifted the injured leg back to its original position. “Is it as bad as it feels?”
He shook his head. “No, but now that you are awake, I can give you something to ease the pain.” She watched him as he poured a deep green elixir into a tall wooden cup and handed it to her. “It will make you sleepy, but you need your rest to heal.”
“Will I walk again?” she asked with a tinge of fear in her eyes.
He smiled with sympathy and tenderness. “The wound is not half as bad as it feels, and it will heal; you will walk again.”
“Thank you…for protecting me today.”
“For you, I would risk my hide ten times over.”
Just as he had done every morning for the past week, Wyte came to the bedside to wake Cera from her sleep. Today, he asked her to sit up because they were going to the riverside.
“Wyte,” Cera began, “I cannot even walk yet, much less get out of bed on my own. How are we going to get to the river?”
“I am going to carry you; the same way I carried you from Raiden’s palace, Cora.” He took her hair ribbon from a shelf near the hearth. “Let me tie your wrists together.” She complied and held her hands up, palms touching, as he wrapped the ribbon securely around them. “Now,” he said, sitting next to her on the bed, “loop your arms around my neck. Can you kneel? Good, now slide off the bed as I morph, crossing your ankles on my back.”
When the pair arrived at the riverside, Wyte lay down at the water’s edge and let Cera roll off his back. After she was situated, he returned to his human state and untied her wrists. Cera slid her legs into the rushing river water, immersing the injury, and let out a shriek.
“The water’s cold!”
Wyte smiled at her reaction. “The day will be hot, and you will appreciate the water’s coldness as the day goes on.” He slid into the cold, rushing currents and also shuddered at the frigid temperature.
He waded over to her and started to remove the bandage on her leg. As he was removing the final layer of wrapping, Cera held her breath, braced herself and prepared for the worst. But as the last of the cloth bandage was lifted away, Cera exhaled slowly in relief; it was not half as bad as she thought it would be. There were three parallel lacerations, each one nearly six inches in length, running from just below the knee to just above the ankle. Although the gashes had begun to heal over, little streams of blood could be seen as the river water cleansed the wounds.
Wyte smiled with satisfaction at what he saw. “The salve Jo-le gave me is working its wonders. The wounds should heal over completely in the next few days. I will re-dress the wound in a little while; it needs to breathe.”
After washing them out in the river, Wyte hung the bandages out to dry in the sun before turning his attention to the surface of the rushing river, scanning the clear-as-glass water. Suddenly, Wyte plunged his hands into the water, resurfacing with a large fish in his grasps. In one fluid movement, he flung the wriggling creature towards the shore, and it landed on the bank next to Cera with a wet smack. She jumped when it hit the ground beside her, but she quickly caught her wits and filled a ceramic pot with water, placing the gasping creature inside. After catching the second fish, Wyte waded back to the riverbank.
“Two is all we will need,” he said as he waded over to her. “There is enough meat stored at home to last us a while.”
He sat down on the bank and reached for the leather sack he brought from the cave, removing a small cloth pouch. From it, he removed a waxy looking lump. “Soap,” he said with a smile and went back into the water to wash his hands.
Returning from the water’s edge, Wyte took the dry cloth strip from its branch and proceeded in bandaging Cera’s leg. He smeared salve over the three wounds and began wrapping the long cloth strip around her leg. Starting at the knee, he wrapped the cloth down to her ankle, securing the edge of the bandage with a series of neat tucks and folds.
“There you are, Cora, all done. Now,” Wyte said as he stood, “let’s see if we can not get you on the path to walking again. Take my hands and stand up.”
She had not moved much since the attack, and her muscles were stiff due to the lack of movement. Cera took his hands and struggled to her feet, wincing from the pain. When she applied weight to the injured leg, she flinched and tried to steady herself. When she had retained her balance, Wyte slowly let her hands go. She slowly lowered her arms to her sides and straightened out her posture.
Wyte smiled, with a mix of sympathy and compassion glinting in his eyes. She is determined to walk again; she has a strong will. “Now, when you are steady on your feet,” he said, backing up about ten paces, “walk to me.”
She took a deep breath and made an attempt at her first steps. The first few were slow, staggering and painful, but moving became easier when Cera told herself to forget about the pain and just walk; the pain would eventually go away on its own. Once that thought was secured in her head, she walked into Wyte’s waiting arms with little trouble.
“Good, Cora,” he commended, “very good. You are doing very well. Do you think you will be able to walk home later?”
“Yes,” she nodded, “I think so.”
.“Then let me clean those fish, and we can have something to eat.” He assisted her back to the water’s edge. Wyte took a knife from the leather pouch and sat down next to the pot in which the fish were waiting. After cleaning and de-boning the fish, he laid the fillets out on a large leaf to bake in the sun.
“And Wyte, please call me Cera from now on. You are my Camutor, yes, but you do not need to be so formal with me.”
“But you are the Kre-tal Cora,” he replied sheepishly.
“That may be true, but you will be closer to me than any of the others, almost like an advisor, and there is no reason for formality between us when we are together.”
“All right then,” he consented. “But only when we are alone or among friends.” She nodded and smiled in agreement, Wyte returning the gesture.
Wyte and Cera did not stay at the river for very long afterwards. Although she had been away from the Roman settlement for a little over a week, they both knew it had been one week too long. Wyte did not want to confine her to the cave, yet he could not leave her out in the open for too long, either, in case Raiden’s men had already began to search for her.
When Raiden discovered that Cera was missing, the entire town was in an uproar. The whole settlement was searched, and when she did not turn up, he was furious. As the days turned into weeks, he did not have a clue as to where she could have gone.
“Two weeks!” Raiden snarled. “How could she elude me for so long when she possesses neither the skill nor the cunning to do so? Wait,” he said slowly, finally coming to his senses. “She must have one of those bloody Cats helping her. I am going to find her,” he snarled, “if it is the last thing I do!”
The very next day, Raiden sent out hounds-men as a search party for his missing dancer, telling them only that it was important that she be returned safely to him. The men dared not stay out after dark, for fear that one of the “Demon Cats” might get them, and the search for Cera went on for more than two months.
While Raiden’s men searched the island for her, Cera had all but completed her training and was now considered a true Felonan. The only thing yet to happen was her transformation. Cera and Wyte both were a bit surprised that after she had learned the Felonan language, along with the needed hunting and stalking skills, she did not awaken the more feline side of her heritage. After a thorough examination from Jo-le, it was concluded that the Cora was in excellent health, and all that her final Fèlon instinct needed to develop was time.
Late one night, about a week after visiting Jo-le, Cera fell out of an uneasy sleep. As she stared into the darkness, she caught sight of her reflection in a large piece of mirrored glass mounted on the cave wall that Wyte had retrieved for her. When she looked closer at her reflection, Cera noticed that her eyes were…different. They were still blue, but her eyes resembled Wyte’s eyes in the way that they glowed with a hint of amber in the darkness. She soon discovered that she could actually see herself in the mirror, despite the pitch-black dark of their cave home.
“W-what’s happening to me?” she said. When she said this, she came upon a surprising sight in the mirror. When she spoke, Cera saw a set of smooth fangs, like her Camutor’s, gleaming between her lips. She gasped in surprise and fright. “Gods! What’s happening to me?!” She continued to stare at herself in the mirror as tears formed in her eyes, trickling down her cheeks as she began to cry in fear.
Wyte rolled over in bed, draping his arm across the place where Cera should have been next to him. Not finding her, the Tiger opened his eyes with a groan. He found her sitting up in bed staring blankly into the mirror on the opposite wall. He moved up behind her and tenderly wrapped his arms around her waist, resting his head on her shoulder. She jumped a little, not expecting him, then settled back into his embrace. Only when Cera leaned back against him did Wyte notice her tear-streaked face.
“Cera,” he purred tenderly into her ear. “What’s wrong?”
“Just look at me!” she sobbed fearfully.
He turned her to face him and gently lifted her chin, looking down into her eyes. Her eyes were different, he could tell just by looking at them. They weren’t human any more; the transformation had started. He smiled tenderly back at her.
“Yes, Cera,” Wyte said softly, “you are beautiful. Just as you always have been.”
“But…my eyes, and,” she hissed slightly, showing her fangs, “these?”
His smile broadened, and he almost laughed out loud at her shock. “You are just fine, Cera. Your transformation has begun, and you are beginning your change from human to Fèlon. This part of the change happened first, but the rest will happen all at once. Then I can train you in shape-shifting, so you can control your form.”
“When…will the rest of me change?” she asked, her fear slowly residing with his reassurance.
“Soon, I think. In a few days, maybe.”
“What will it feel like? Will it hurt?”
“Shape shifting is not painful, and it will soon become a second nature to you; like walking or talking.”
“Oh,” she said slowly. “Thank you, Wyte,” she said, snuggling up to him. “I don’t know what I would do without you sometimes.”
Wyte just chuckled softly and held her close before laying them both down to sleep.
A few days later, just as Wyte had predicted, Cera woke up a Fèlon. She panicked at first, and jumped out of bed, not knowing what to do. But she clamed down after she remembered that Wyte would help her through this phase of her development as a Felonan. He told her that before he could tell her how to become human again, she needed to get used to being in this form and adapt her learned skills to her Cat form as well. Once she was comfortable, Wyte would teach her how to change back and forth at will.
Cera soon discovered that her new body and form was not at all like her human state. All her senses had been heightened, and she focused on every sight, sound, scent and sensation. Walking on all fours was a new task in itself, her agility and speed were amazing, and her hunting and stalking skills took on a new meaning in this form. She also found that she was more aware of what was going on around her. In actuality, she was a Cat in every aspect, but with a human soul and mind.
After she was stable on her feet, Wyte decided to give Cera her first full training session as a full-fledged Felonan. The Tiger morphed while her back was turned, so he would be sure to catch her off guard. He took a firm stance and growled a challenge. She turned and started when she met his wild eyes. She took a cautious step forward, and he growled again in warning. Cera knew then that he wasn’t kidding, and that the two of them were about to have a mock battle. She backed up a couple of paces before taking her fighting stance. They were not out to do any real harm, only sparring, and the end of this match came when one Cat pinned the other on his back.
When she was ready, she growled back at the Tiger. At first, they paced in a circle, sizing each other up and looking for the right time to make the first strike. It was obvious that Wyte had the size advantage; due to his gender, weight, and the type of Cat he was in general. Tigers were known as being bigger and stronger than their spotted cousins were, and the Kre-tal’s physique shared the Leopard’s traits. To make up for the lack of physical size and bulk, Cera’s form was sleeker and more agile. She clearly saw that he was looking to intimidate her with his size, but she was not about to be faked out with simple mind tricks.
Wyte saw an opening first, crouched and pounced at her, but Cera saw him coming and quickly leapt out of the way. While he was still in mid-pounce, the Ghost Cat ran towards the airborne Tiger, leapt into the air and knocked into his side with her shoulder, hitting him blindly. The pair flew through the air, landing on the jungle floor—Kre-tal on top of Tiger—with an audible thud. The Tiger, dazed and not quite sure just what had hit him, groaned and began to roll over onto his back, completely forgetting that the sparring match had not ended. Before he had regained his senses, Wyte felt his shoulders being pinned to the ground. He looked up and met the eyes and fangs of a growling Kre-tal.
He sighed, closing his eyes as he turned his head away. “I yield, Cora,” he said in his rumbling Cat’s baritone. “Let me up now, please?”
Her growl resided into a purr as she looked deeply into his eyes. “And what if I choose not to?” she said smoothly.
“Then you will remain as you are until you do,” he replied. “No other Felonan will tell you how to turn back into your human form. Only I, your trainer, can do that.” She thought about it for a minute before letting him up. “Thank you. Now, think of yourself in your human form. Then in your mind, say, ‘Goddess will me to my other form’.”
Cera stood up and said the phrase in her mind as she visualized herself in her human form. She felt her fur slowly melt away, her posture once again become erect, and her bipedal body return to her as she was restored to her human state.
“To complete the transformation,” Wyte continued, “think the words, ‘Goddess keep me in this form until I again desire the other’. These mental chants will work both ways. These chants and form changes will soon become second nature to you.”
Up until this moment, neither had paid much attention to Cera’s clothes, but when Wyte looked up at her, what he saw was amazing. Instead of her dancer’s garb, Cera was now wearing a sleeveless cut-off top and wrap of her own fur. He morphed quickly and stood in front of her, awed.
“Goddess be praised,” he gasped. “Cera, you have to come see yourself.”
He took her over to a pool of water and motioned for her to have a look. She stepped to the water’s edge, curious as to why he was acting so strangely all of a sudden. Her answer came when she met her reflection in the water. An outfit made of ebony fur had mysteriously replaced her dancer’s garb. A sleeveless, cut-away top and a knee-length wrap made up the simple outfit. Both pieces were form fitting and modestly flattering. When she looked back at Wyte, he was smiling broadly, his smile both happy and proud.
To her awe-struck expression, he responded, “She has blessed you with the fur of your own tribe to wear. You are a true Felonan now, Cora.” In hearing this, she ran to him and embraced him in a hug. He returned the gesture and continued to hold her long after they had stopped hugging.
It was one week until the first full moon of the fall season, or Demeter’s Harvest Moon as the Greeks often called it, and the anticipation was heightening. It was during this time that the mainland Grecian farmers prepared for the harvest. The whole week prior to the full moon was a chain of celebrations to Demeter for a good harvest this year and for the year to come. At the end of the week, after the three nights of the full moon, the fields were reaped and the crops sold on Market Day. This time was a period of great rejoicing for the Felonan people as well. Although they were not farmers, the first full moon of fall meant it was time for the Naming Ceremonies to take place.
When they were born, Felonans were not given true names, as they must earn them by proving themselves to their people in some noble way. Until that time, they are fitted with a name that translated as being a “young one” of their tribe. During the week of Demeter’s Moon, the celebrating on the island seemed endless. Small gatherings of Felonans came together in celebration all over the island, and Felona was ringing with the sound of music, laughter and merriment. No one fell asleep until after dawn, and as soon as one could stand on their own two feet again—or four, depending on which form they had fallen on their noses in the night before—the Cats were dancing, singing and drinking again.
On the night of the full moon, however, all was different. Every Cat was gathered in Council Circle, each one of them sober and looking their very best. The Name Candidates stood in a half circle inside Council Ring. Instead of Rhea greeting them from Council Peak, the gathered Felonans looked up to see the Cora, in all her royal Kre-tal splendor, looking back down at them. Wyte was among the Candidates, and he felt a shade embarrassed because the others who had been chosen worthy for this honor were all only about half his age. He grinned and bared it, though, knowing that they were all here to receive the same honor, and their age differences did not really matter.
The meeting began with a series of formal speeches congratulating those being honored. As the Ceremony continued, name after name was given to the proud young Fèlons, and before long, Wyte found himself standing alone in the middle of Council Circle with the entire Council Ring staring at him. He let his eyes wander to meet the numerous pairs that were staring back at him. Before he had the chance to realize it, Cera had descended from Council Peak and was now standing in front of him with a proud smile spanning her face. She placed a hand on his shoulder, telling him to genuflect, as all Cats did when they were about to receive their true name. He did so and raised his eyes to her again.
“You honestly cannot know how hard it was for me to choose a name worthy of you and all you have done, Kunè Kah-shako,” she said after a long silence. “You have been so much more to me than just shen Leta’s Camutor ro shen Cora, the Goddess’ Protector to the Princess. But, after much thought and consideration, in addition to guidance from our Goddess Felona, I have reached a decision. Wyte, from this day on, you shall be known as Garren, ‘Trusted Protector’.”
He stood and waited. The sounds of chanting and cheering from the Ring were enough to tell him that the formalities were over. Garren turned to Cera and seized her in a strong hug. “Thank you,” he whispered, stifling tears of pure joy. “Leta edon Cora, thank you!”
“Now you are a true Felonan, Garren,” she said, trying not to cry herself. “Come, dry your tears, mecha, there is celebrating to be done!”
Two weeks later, Garren all but jumped out of bed when he heard odd noises outside their home. Cera was up, too, and she quickly became aware of the strange sounds. The Tiger morphed and leapt out of bed, stalking towards the door. Cera heard a loud roar, and then shouts and whimpering as the men and their dogs were chased away. After a few more minutes, Garren came sauntering back inside and got back into bed as he returned to his human form.
He chuckled as he put his head down on the pillow, absently draping an arm around Cera as she snuggled up close to him again. “And dogs are supposed to chase Cats!” he said with an amused smile on his face. “I think it’s the other way around on this island,” he said with a chuckle before closing his eyes again.
Late the next night, Garren heard noises again. He groaned, opening his eyes and blinking several times before he sat up. He growled at having his sleep interrupted for the second night in a row. “Gods,” he said, slowly getting out of bed. “What now?”
He shuffled towards the door, still in human form. Cera sat up quickly, noting his shoddy procedure. Garren was drunk from a gathering they had attended, and he was making a bad mistake by proceeding into a potentially dangerous situation without having his wits about him. She began to say something, but he only shooed her away with his hand as he continued towards the cave entrance. After a minute of silence, Cera heard the sounds of a struggle, then a loud scream that had caught itself somewhere between human and animal.
Cera morphed and leapt out of the cave, landing in front of three men armed with swords and, shockingly, Raiden himself. She growled, glaring at each one of them before eyeing Raiden. “Where is Garren?” she snarled.
“The Tiger is safe,” he replied rather coolly, considering the situation. “Safe, so long as Cera, the human Cera, returns to the palace with me tonight.”
“How can I possibly believe you after what you have done to me and my people?” she growled in reply.
“You have my word, Cera. Your precious Tiger will remain safe, and alive, as long as you return and stay with me. Understood?”
“You had better mean that with your life, Raiden,” she snarled. “Because if I find that you have harmed him, I shall find little remorse in ending that life of yours.” Without a word, Cera returned to her human form, shocking all that stood around her as they witnessed such an event, and agreed to return with Raiden.
Back inside the settlement walls, life in Raiden’s palace went on as usual. Cera was returned to her place as a dancer, but Raiden seldom let her out of his sight. After about a week, Cera noticed how strange Raiden reacted when she asked him about Garren’s safety. He reassured her that her Tiger was safe, but there was a curious tone in his voice when he answered these questions.
One night, after the dancers had been dismissed for the night, Cera decided it was time to make a move. She strolled up to Raiden, putting on her most seductive façade, and took his arm. “Raiden,” she said smoothly.
He turned to her, and, seeing the look in her eyes, he smiled. “So, you have decided to come around, I see. Shall we go somewhere to be alone, my dear?”
She smoothly paced around in front of him and climbed into the chair he was sitting in. She knelt down and straddled him, her attractive body poised over him gracefully. She looped her arms around his neck, smiling sensually. “Here will be fine, Milord,” she said.
A low rumbling “Mmm,” was his only response to her actions. He placed his hands on her hips, pulling her to him. The smile remained fixed to his lips as he stared deeply into her eyes. In one quick movement, he could claim her as his own again. He chuckled as he leaned Cera towards him to kiss her. He felt her move against him, and he groaned with pleasure as they indulged in the kiss.
Their lips parted and Cera gently kissed down around his shoulder. She stopped, raising her mouth to his ear. “I shall give you what you so desire from me, Raiden,” she whispered sweetly. “But first, I want you to tell me what you have done with Garren.”
“Garren?” he said, raising an eyebrow. “Oh, the Cat. Your Cat friend is perfectly safe, Cera, I assure you.”
“You are keeping him somewhere, Raiden,” she countered sharply. “He would have long since rescued me otherwise. There is something you aren’t telling me,” she said, rubbing against him as she moved to level her eyes with his. She was torturing him with these arousing movements, and Cera knew she had the upper hand by enticing him with her mocking sexual actions. She knew Raiden would tell her anything in exchange for pleasure. “I want you to bring me to him, or you shall not receive another drop of me, Raiden.”
“Ah, yes, of course,” he replied rather sheepishly. “If you would follow me?”
Cera smiled slyly and slid off his lap. She then followed him out of the room and down the palace halls until they stopped in front of what appeared to be a large piece of jungle enclosed by stone, iron and glass. She gasped in awed terror. She had never seen anything like it before. The structure looked awesome and yet so imprisoning at the same time.
“Your precious Tiger is in there, Cera, dear,” Raiden said. “You may go inside and see him if you wish.”
“Why are you doing this, Raiden?” she asked, almost pleading with him. “What do you want with Garren when you already have me?”
“Security reasons, my dear,” he replied. “So long as I keep the Tiger, I am guaranteed to keep you. Now go in and see him if you want to so badly. Or shall we…continue?”
“You will get nothing more from me until I am assured that he is safe, as you promised he would be,” she replied sharply.
“Then see for yourself,” he countered tersely, motioning towards the door.
With a proud, defiant composure, she passed him and opened the door. Raiden went back to his business, reminding himself to return to claim his reward. Stepping cautiously into the room, the familiar sounds of the jungle filled Cera’s ears as she scanned the surroundings for any signs of danger. Suddenly, she heard a low rumbling coming from above. She looked up to see what seemed to be a Tiger crouched on the cliff above her, but this was not a Tiger as Cera had ever seen one. It looked like a man covered in Tiger’s fur with claws and a whipping tail. Everything about him said “Cat”, but his raging blue eyes were undeniably human in soul behind their feline appearance.
To her utter horror, she realized that her Camutor had been changed into some sort of Fèlon beast. “Garren,” she gasped. “Oh, Gods, no.”
Suddenly, he leapt from his perch on the cliff and landed only a few short feet from her, growling. Cera closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She was terrified. She needed time to sort all this out; time to convince herself that this was her Garren, and not some inhuman beast. Despite her terror, Cera remained standing before him. Please, Felona, let him know me.
Then, much to her surprise, he spoke. “So,” he began in a low rumble of a voice, “I see he has decided to feed me early tonight, but human flesh?”
“Feed you?” she replied surprised. He must think that I am to be his next meal. My only chance is to make a run for it. Now.
She morphed and made a mad dash for the door with him in close pursuit. With a sudden surge of energy, Cera made it to the door and slammed it behind her as she left. Too tired to return to her human form, she collapsed on the floor in the hall just outside the door. On the other side of the glass wall, the Cat-beast Garren watched the blue-eyed, ebony Cat, as she lay sprawled on the floor with fatigue.
“She…is a Cat…like me. No,” he said, shaking his head. “She can choose her form, where I am caught somewhere in between the two. And she…knows me. Garren…is that who I am? Grrrr…Aaauugh! Grroww…Hisss!”
He growled and hissed as another surge from his magic collar ran through him, changing his mind from man to beast. He toppled to the ground, fighting the power as it plunged through his body. As the rage subsided, and Garren’s mind was left to drift between that of man and beast, a soft, soothing voice filled his mind and spoke to him.
:Cera,: the voice said. :Her name is Cera, Kah-shako. She is shen Kre-tal Cora, and you, Garren, are her trusted Camutor.:
Suddenly, something inside his mind snapped, and Garren’s mind was fully his own again. He remembered everything. “Felona, my Goddess, why am I like this? What has happened to me?”
She appeared before him and knelt beside the confused Tiger. “Raiden’s wizard has cast a transformation spell on you with that collar you now wear, mec Kumè. Only Cera can break that spell for you, Garren. I will tell her what she must do to have her Tiger back, but remember this, when I leave you, your mind shall return to that of a beast. I have answered your prayers for remembrance, but when Cera chooses to return to you, you must remember on your own. You must remember her through the mind and eyes of an animal.” She gently stroked his furry cheek, smiling kindly. “Your mind may be that of an animal, mec Kah-shako, but your heart remains that of a true Felonan.” He looked up into the Cat Goddess’ eyes, on the brink of shedding tears. She dried his eyes and kissed his forehead. “You will be free, mec Kah-shako. Soon, you will be free.”
Meanwhile, Cera had overcome her episode with the “Cat-beast” that Garren had become. She could not believe that Raiden could have done such a thing. No, wait, this was Raiden she was talking about here; she could. Suddenly, Felona’s voice entered her mind, relaying to her what needed to be done to free her Camutor of his magical prison. Having come to her senses, she stood and was about to morph human when she heard footsteps coming down the corridor.
Raiden was her first thought as her senses were again on edge. A man did emerge from the shadows, but this man was clearly not Raiden or one of his men. He showed no fear towards the sight of a Felonan and actually stepped closer. This man was Raiden’s opposite in features as well, with light hair and eyes and a friendly smile.
“Kre-tal Korena?” he asked. His Felonan accent was close to perfect.
“Not Korena, mec mecha,” she replied in Latin, “but Cora. And who are you?”
“I am Raiden’s younger bother, Brian,” the man replied. “I have been a good friend to your people for quite some time now, Cora. I am to be trusted.”
“You called me by Mother’s title,” she said, melting out of her fur into her human form. “Did you know my parents?”
Brian did not so much as blink at the transformation. “Yes, Cora,” he said. “Your parents and I were close friends. So close that when I saw you, I mistook you for the ghost of your mother. So, what are you doing lurking around in dark corridors?”
“Regaining my strength and courage to go back in there,” she said, cocking her head towards the glass and iron prison. “Garren, mec Camutor, is in there. Raiden has turned him into some sort of Cat-beast, and Felona has told me that only I can free him.”
“Hmm. I see. Well then, all I can say is have strength and good luck. I shall keep watch for you in case my brother returns.”
Cera smiled wryly, nodding in agreement to his offer. “Thank you. I shall need both the luck and the lookout.”
Remaining human, Cera entered the jungle prison again. She was deep within the jungle before she heard the telltale rumbling of Garren’s growl. She turned, and he was there. Instead of being perched above her, though, the Cat-beast was poised almost majestically on a low shelf of rock, staring at her with his wild blue eyes. Cera gasped in surprise and took a step back. A moment later, he was in the air, flying towards her in a raging pounce. Cera froze and stared as he came towards her.
“Garren! No!” she shrieked as she closed her eyes, bracing herself.
Still airborne, Garren’s mind clicked as hearing his name and the sound of her voice caused him to remembered her, and his mind was once again his own. The collar snapped off, falling to the ground. His form returned to human as he collided with Cera, knocking them both to the ground. His senses had returned to him just in the nick of time, too. As his body made contact with hers, Garren braced his arms around her back and pulled them to the ground. When they fell, the Tiger had her safely against him as the ground met his back with a thud. She began to move slowly as he moved his arms to hold her tenderly.
“Mec Cora. Mec Rasom,” he whispered, kissing her forehead. She moved suddenly, lifting her head and meeting his eyes. She was awed; Garren was himself again. “Zamba, mec Cora,” he said, smiling. Cera threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. Garren chuckled. “Felona said you could do it, Cera. Were you doubting yourself?”
“Doubt?” she said looking up at him again. “Oh, no. I was confident that I could free you, Garren. It’s just that you moved so quickly, and I froze and just did not have the chance to react.”
With a final embrace, and knowing that they had to find Raiden before he took action, Cera and Garren left the jungle-prison with haste. When they reached the doorway and entered the dark hall, the Tiger morphed suddenly and growled fiercely at the strange human that came out of the darkness to meet them. Cera quickly dropped to her knees beside him, her eyes on Brian, and wrapping her arms around her Tiger’s furry gruff.
“Garren, no,” she said, trying to restrain him. “This is Brian. He is a friend.”
“A friend?!” he replied, doubtful. “He is a Kah-lo; one of them.”
Brian and Cera exchanged knowing smiles. Garren glanced from one to the other, confused.
“Too young to remember me, I think,” Brian said with a smile. “I am a good friend of the Felonan people, Kah-shako. I stopped visiting because of the risk it might put on your people by doing so.”
“Brian is here to help us, Garren,” Cera reassured.
Reassured, Garren returned to his human state and approached the older man. “I apologize, Brian,” he said. “My people sometimes forget that there are still those humans who are against Raiden and his ways.”
“Yes,” Brian replied, “I know. It does seem that way. Only the men working for Raiden are against us. Many of those living in the town remember the events of twenty years ago; the happy times. I am with you all the way.”
Garren nodded firmly and smiled. “Then the time to take action is now. We need to find Raiden and his men and send them back to Rome—”
“With the charges of murder, treason to the Empire and kidnapping tagged to their brows,” Brian added.
“Whoa, hold on,” Cera interrupted. “It’s all ‘strike first, plan later’ with your kind, isn’t it? Men.” She gave the pair a sly smile. “We need a few things done before direct action can be taken. First, we need a reliable ship to transport Raiden and his thugs to Rome. We need a place to keep them while such arrangements are being made. The townspeople need to be rallied to rightfully overthrow Raiden in order to put Brian in his place. That is what you wanted, correct?” She glanced at Brian who nodded firmly in agreement. “Good. The Felonans need to be gathered in the Circle to decide on an organized plan to clear the palace of Raiden and his men. Think about it, you two; this whole thing may take longer than the time left in this day.”
The two men glanced at each other, then at Cera, both nodding in unison.
“Cera’s right,” Brian agreed as Garren nodded again. “The three of us need to sit down and plan this out. The entire process may take a few days at most. And I know just the place; come with me.”
The two Felonans followed Brian down the halls to a small door at the end of a narrow corridor. On the inside, however, there was a spacious apartment with four large rooms that hinted at the luxurious with its lavish furnishings and an open-air patio with a view of the jungle.
“No one will bother us in here; these are my private rooms,” Brian told them. “No one will bother you, either, so long as you come and go by way of the terrace.”
Garren nodded his approval and the three sat down to business. Brian knew that there were several reliable ships that sailed to Felona from Rome and back, so their transportation problem was solved. Brian agreed to send word to the town while Cera and Garren gathered their people. Once the townspeople and Felonans were rallied, taking Raiden from his seat of power would be an easy task. With Raiden in bonds, his men would follow without a fight. Their plan would be put into action in three days time.
On the appointed day, the three met briefly before going their separate ways to complete their parts of the plan. Garren and Brian had the Felonans and the townspeople gather together in the settlement’s main square. The Felonans would enter the palace to capture Raiden and his men, Cera and Garren among them. Brian would remain behind with the townspeople to finalize Raiden’s impeachment from power over the Roman jungle-township.
The Felonans stormed the palace, but stayed concealed while in search of Raiden and his thugs. It was Cera’s special task to search out Raiden and safely see her dancer friends out of the palace. One by one, Raiden and his men were rounded up and herded out into the square where Brian and the entire adult population of the town were waiting. When Raiden was brought before the crowd, and the charges read, the people unanimously agreed to overthrow him and his tyranny, putting Brian in his place.
Everything was going smoothly as planned as the Felonans and a group of men from the jungle town armed with swords escorted Raiden and his men to the docks for transport back to Rome. Garren, Cera, Conè-Mako and Rhea walked along on Raiden’s four sides as the party made their way through the jungle by way of the paved settlement road.
It was at about the halfway point of the trek when things began going awry. Raiden had freed himself from his rope bonds and had grabbed Cera, holding her tightly with a dagger to her throat, forcing her to morph human again. At her sudden shriek, the Cats whirled around, growling, and the men encircled the pair, sword points inches from Raiden’s body. Mako took a daring step forward, and Raiden pressed the dagger blade against his captive’s throat.
Raiden glared back at them, a triumphant expression on his face. “Yes, come at me, Demon Cat, and kill your Princess in the process!”
Garren stepped up beside his brother, growling at the tyrant. “Let her go, Raiden. Your petty threats are nothing to us, or her, now; you no longer have power here.”
“Ooh, big words for a savage. A wonder you know what they mean,” he sneered. Garren growled loudly, taking another step towards Raiden; he edged the blade closer to Cera’s neck, causing her to let out another fearful shriek. She wasn’t in the position to flip him like Garren had taught her, and if she morphed, she’d slit her own throat. She was helpless. “One more step from either of you, and she dies.”
“I don’t think so, Raiden.” An unfamiliar voice came from outside the crowd. It parted to reveal a tall, middle-aged man with streaked brown hair and beard and deep green eyes. He was finely dressed and appeared to be a man of some power. “You will let her go, or I—”
“Or, you will what?” Raiden snapped. “And who are you to tell me what to do?”
“I just happen to be Cera’s father,” the man replied.
“Ah, Jason,” Raiden replied coolly. “An honor to see you again. What was it, a year ago that I came for your daughter? Pity, you are just in time to bear witness to her untimely death.”
While Jason had Raiden distracted, Garren struck Raiden from behind, knocking Cera loose from his grasp. Mako caught the gasping Cera before she hit the ground. Garren turned Raiden onto his back, pinning him to the ground while one of the other men pried the blade from Raiden’s fist. After Raiden’s wrists were tightly rebound, Garren let him up, and the party resumed their march to the docks.
Raiden and his men were sailed back to Rome. They were tried and charged in court for several accounts of rape, murder, kidnapping and high treason to the Roman Empire. They were promptly executed for these charges.
The Roman Council officially appointed Brian as the new leader if the Felonan settlement and the trading post. Within the year, the island town had been returned to it’s previous “Felonan friendly” status. The safety radius that had been placed around the settlement over ten years ago was all but dissolved for its lack of use, but kept intact for “safety reasons”.
A majority of the dancers were sent back to their homes, but for those who chose to stay, they were invited to stay on the island, either with the settlers or with the Felonans. Aisha, who was among them, chose to stay with her Felonan friends.
That following spring, Garren and Cera were wed. The entire island joined in Council Circle for the joyous celebration. Another celebration was held not long afterwards. During the end of the colder months, the couple had their first child, a little tigress they called Wyte, in the loving memory of her father’s pre-name.
|Magic Warriors||Thief of the Heart|
|Witch's Snow White|