17 Chapter 3: 10/24/03, 12 PM. Becky I, Allen III "Catlily once told me that she wishes she was as strong as I was emotionally. I told her I wish my emotions could be as strong as hers." The First Tale of the Quest by Sailus Delamagique “Miss,” a soft voice cooed. A warm hand ran down the werepanther’s face. She moaned sorely, but as the recent images flew back into her mind, her muscles sprung and popped her back to her feet. Her daggers spun around her fingers and pointed at the origin of the voice in fear. “Sister, what are you doing?” “You’re supposed to be dead, extinct!” she snarled, flicking her weapons in the air and pinching the blades between her fingers, preparing to release both into her foe's face. His bow rose up, along with his companions. “I don’t even know you, so I do not know how you would know about my death.” “But you were all killed off… I’m the last one…” “She must have gone mad,” the werelion mumbled, turning to a white, black-spotted werecat, “Snowfall, do you have anything to calm her?” “I’m fine!” she shouted, sheathing her blades. “But Flare!” she blurted, running to her friend. Blood slowly seeped from his abdomen and dried on the dirt below him. Catlily ran her hand down his colorless face. Her fingers went to his neck, but his lifebeat, though weak, remained. The snow wereleopard moved beside her and pressed a large leaf against the wound and lathered it with a floury paste. The warlock winced and moaned sleepily. Catlily started to push the woman off of her friend and raised her fist, but the werelion held her back and pulled her away. “Snowfall is a herbalist, she can help your friend!” “How am I supposed to know that?” she snapped. “She's wearing the Cloth!” Catlily looked to the bright green band around the wereleopard's upper am without recognition. "Of the Healers? Are you not from among us?" “I'm from Bluewater,” she explained. “Bluewater?” the werelion spurted, “That human city? How… only…” “Lionheart,” Snowfall interjected, “The bleeding stopped.” “That fast?” the werelion and Catlily inquired at the same time. “Yes. I think the sight of the blood caused him to faint.” “He isn’t startled by blood.” The healer and leader turned to the werepanther with concerned looks. “We’ve seen our share.” Lionheart nodded in understanding. Catlily shut her eyes and transformed back into her human-like form. “I prefer this form,” she muttered as he shut his own golden eyes. For the first time, she saw another change forms. The part of the mane beneath his chin shrunk back, the slit beneath his nostrils reformed into skin, and the goldenrod body 18 hair melted into his flesh. His tawny yellow hair fell across his neck and ended at the bottom of his broad shoulder blades. His big blue cat-eyes became human. The werepanther blinked in surprise. “We all do,” he said. “We?” she asked. “Lycanthropes,” he stated, “Werebeasts. You never met anyone of your own kind before?” “No. Everyone in Bluewater thinks they… you… we are all dead,” she whispered as she recalled the previous night’s event. She walked to her friend and knelt beside him. The werelion sighed and went to his soldiers inspecting the corpses. “Is he going to be alright?” Catlily asked the wereleopard. “He’s fine,” the healer answered softly, “He bleed very little.” “That’s good,” she whispered. “He’s not a human, is he?” Catlily shook her head, and her face made it clear that she wouldn't say anymore. “Very well,” the wereleopard remarked softly, stalling her personality. She turned towards on of the younger members of their party. “Smokefoot, have you built that stretcher yet?” The werebobcat inspecting the fallen werewolves stood up and looked at the healer. “I haven’t started yet, mistress.” “Then you’d better start.” The wereleopard turned to Catlily. “My apprentice. Rather good, but much like the squirrel.” “You have an apprentice?” the werepanther asked, ignoring the strange metaphor. “You can’t be too much older than me.” “How old are you?" “I'm 17. We both are.” “It’s not that rare for people my age to take apprentices among my… our people.” Catlily nodded, but another thought came to her. “Well, why do we need a stretcher?” the werepanther asked. “We’re going back to the city.” “I don’t remember agreeing to that.” “Your friend needs to rest,” the werelion commented, walking up behind her, “Where were you planning to go?” “But I…” “You had said that you had never seen your own people,” he stated. She shook her head. "Then don't you have your reasons to be among us?" He walked away from her and began leading his group deeper into the woods. Catlily shivered. Change was a new concept to her, but she nodded softly to herself. “You’re alright, aren’t you?” Snowfall asked with a soft smile. Catlily looked at her and smiled back brightly. ..... 19 Flare moaned; his eyes flickered as he awoke. Catlily slept besides him, her face peaceful with sweet dreams as he rested her head and hand against his chest. The moons shined bright, but light from a nearby campfire allowed him to see. He popped up supporting himself with his hands. Catlily opened her eyes and smiled at him. “Catlily… they’re…” “They’re scouts from Enchantai.” “Werecats? Enchantai?" His mind rushed back to earlier events. "Wait… what happened?” “You were hurt in the battle with the werewolves.” “I was dying!” “It wasn’t that bad. The bleeding stopped quickly.” “You’re kidding. The dagger was in to the hilt.” “Could you stop exaggerating?” “I’m not exaggerating. I wouldn’t make up something like... okay, I would, but I’m not this time.” “Then how did it heal so fast?” “Maybe that dragon…” “Dragon?” “A small one… about the size of Alon’s cat…” “Did you see it before or after the stabbing?” “Cat!” “I’m sorry. But there isn’t even a scar.” The warlock’s hand went to the wound, but the werepanther hadn’t been lying. “I don’t understand.” He sighed. “Another one Flare?” Catlily joked. “I’m serious.” “Why didn’t I see it?” “Gee, maybe the werewolves.” “Ha-ha.” “Well,” he whispered sarcastically. He fell back into the dirt. “But what about everyone here. Obviously they haven’t done anything to you.” “Quite the opposite. They’ve been nothing but friendly.” “How did you find them?” “That’s how I escaped from the werewolves. They saved me.” “But Guin said you were the last werecat on Tailen… he sent people out looking for them.” “Repeat your sentence.” His eyes went up as he thought, but he quickly took hold of her meaning. “He lied to us.” “Of course he lied to us. He always lied to us.” A pained look flashed onto his face. “Why didn’t they come for us?” 20 “I don’t know.” “Why didn’t Alon tell us?” “She might not of known any better than us. Most humans don’t.” “That bastard.” “I know. But isn’t it great in a way? We might have families.” Flare's frown stayed as he thought. "What is it?" “Families. Families that probably sold us into slavery.” “Flare...” “Sorry. I’m just…” he sighed again. “I know. I feel twisted up inside too.” “But... this changes everything. Again.” “I know.” “Twice in… how many days was I out?” “Just one.” “Two days. Is it just me, or is the world going crazy?” “A little of both.” The werepanther yawned. “I’m sorry. You’re tired. Let’s go to sleep.” “No, think about how long you’ve slept. I want to talk to you for a bit.” “About what?” “About us… I mean, well… about our futures and other things.” “What about them?” “I don’t know. It’s just… so much has changed… by myself. It’s different than it has been. I mean… no matter what happens we’re still going to be together aren’t we?” “You think I’m going to leave you with a bunch of monsters, Cat?” She laughed silently. "Who would protect you?" "I don't need you to protect me." "Well, then whatever comfort I can provide." ..... “Cat! Cat, wake up. We have to go.” “What time is it?” “It’s late morning. They want to start walking now.” “Damn,” she moaned. “Damn? I thought I’m the one who is suppose to be grumpy in the morning.” “We both share that responsibility.” The werepanther moaned as she arose. Flare handed her small pack to her. “Do we have to walk? The horses could do it.” 21 “I’d prefer walking if that’s okay with you,” she mumbled. “Alright, but you must massage my feet when we are done.” “Ha.” “Oh, I didn’t say anything about the Guin or anything of that sort.” Her eyes suddenly opened wide. “Thank the Lights,” she whispered in relief. “Why didn’t you?” “I don’t want them to know anything about it.” “Why?” “Not now!” she whispered as Lionheart made his way over to the pair. “Are you both prepared for another 10 hour march?” “10 hours?” gasped Flare. “What is wrong with this?” he asked somewhat surprised. “No, as long as Snowfall has some medication for blisters.” “Your friend has been amusing us ever since he woke,” the werelion told Catlily with a smile. “And he's only slightly tired.” “Alas, you two are running circles around the wounded,” he joked, following the scouts who had already started along the path. “Interesting friend you have there,” the werelion remarked slyly. “Interesting? That’s one term for it,” she grinned. ..... “I wonder how far we have to go. I didn’t know this was going to be a four day march.” “I thought I was the only one moaning,” Flare snipped. “I’ve never had to walk this far either,” Catlily argued. “We need to get to Enchantai before their leaders get worried. Just concentrate on all the exercise we are getting. It helps me.” “I guess you’re right. I just miss my bed, that’s all.” “The one Guin gave you?” “Well, it was comfortable.” “Still,” he muttered, slightly disgusted. “Why don’t they have horses anyway?” “It’s the jungle. They don’t have any way to feed normal horses. Plus, the poor things would probably trip or break a leg on the roots of one of these trees.” Unintentionally, they both looked up at the tropical forest around them. Everything around them screamed with life. The leafy sky above them colored every thing around them with green light. Their feet crushed the brown leaves that covered the ground. Birds cried in song from what had to be miles away. "I could get used to the scenery," Flare admitted. 22 "Me too." The two of them paused in wonderment, and thoughts about their future. The silence quickly became uncomfortable. "My feet hurt,” the werepanther commented. “Why don’t you change form? Your panther form would be much better suited for this kind of travel.” “Lionheart said it’s better training to walk as humans.” “But the..,” he began, but Catlily’s head twitch silenced him. “What is it?” “I hear voices.” "As do I." "Ones not from your lips." “That’s because we are here,” Snowfall responded, walking up behind them. “Thank the Lights!” the pair moaned in jubilee. Lionheart ran back to the pair. “I’ll shall have to meet the leaders before you can walk among us,” he remarked to Catlily. “About Flare?” “I’m not sure what they shall say about him. They must want to be careful when it comes to outsiders. The tree spirits that protect our homeland could reject him as well." “I understand,” the warlock murmured in agreement. "Tree spirits?" Flare asked. "Do you really believe that there are friendly ghosts protecting them?" "After dragons and ogres and werecats, I'm almost willing to believe in anything." He chuckled as he opened up the packs of food Lionheart and the others had given them earlier. They sat for a long time in thought, eating the jerked meat and dried fruit in silence. The warlock could see the worry on Catlily's face as she thought about the negative possibilities associated with Lionheart's warnings. "Flare, if they don't…" "Just ask them for a place for me to camp. I'll leave as soon by tomorrow." "We'll leave together." Their eyes met. "It's just… we've never been apart. It would be strange to leave you after so long." "Oh," he replied, a little disappointed. She shook her head in frustration, not knowing how to explain what she wanted to tell him. "Actually, Flare, I-" "They said that you both may come to the Council's Chamber," Lionheart called loudly. He walked up to them with a soft but stern smile. "They will make their final decision then." The werelion turned from them, indicating that they should follow him. They entered what Lionheart called the ground village, where the shops and storehouses of Enchantai stood. The people must have heard about the new arrivals for several people had abandoned their work to examine the pair with curiosity. Both instantly felt out of place. The children particularly ran behind them with keen and guarded interest. They took note of the Lionheart said nothing about it, and merely led them towards an even more enormous tree in the middle of the village. At least 20 people could wrap their arms around it before wrapping around its circumference. The freakishly, gigantic plant had an enormous hole in 23 front of it, making it appear to be cave. The werelion took them inside. Tiny oil scones kept back the darkness, but the tree appeared to be carved completely hollow. "How is this possible?" the werepanther asked. "Magics. Ancient ones," Flare responded with interest. "Yes. However, the tree spirits still live on. Please cover your ears." The pair did, not really paying attention to the murmuring werelion. Tiny green sparks emerged from the floor above them, quickly swallowing them in emerald light. In less than a moment, the world reappeared without any apparent changes. "What was that? Besides magic," she added, before Flare could respond. "The tree spirits have taken us the branch village," Lionheart answered. "What?" "Come along," he replied, leading them out of the tree. Flare and Catlily looked at each other in frustration but followed him anyway. They almost jumped in shock at the height of where they now stood, at least 1000 feet above the ground. Flare yelped out excitedly, and Catlily was stunned to silence. Their eyes quickly absorbed the rest of the scene quickly. On some branches stood small houses, balanced by big wooden supports beneath them. An elaborate web of sturdy rope bridges and wooden walkways connected the huts to one another, with several intersections connected between them. Hundreds of people were walking back and forth along the system. The werelion had already taken to the rope bridge connected to the Tullk tree's platform. Flare and Catlily quickly followed, both a little intimidated by the seemingly weak bridge, but quickly realized its stability. Taking the path Lionheart set for them, they noticed another werecat sewing some more strength into the thick ropes. “Where are we going again?” Catlily asked. “The Chieftain’s Council chamber,” the werelion replied. “Our chieftains are waiting for us.” “For the three tribes?” asked Catlily. “Yes,” Lionheart answered. “This is our destination.” The hut wasn't the largest, but it certainly wasn't the smallest either. The werelion took them to the door, but paused to open as shouts of “red army” and “werewolves” Lionheart knocked on the door cautiously. “Enter,” shouted a hoarse female voice. The werelion swung open the door and stepped inward. “Chieftess Roseclaw, I present-“ He stopped at everyone’s shocked expressions. “What is it?” The vibrant old woman in the center chair and Catlily had the same shocked expression on their faces. “Tulippaw?” asked the older woman. “It can’t be,” protested the man sitting beside her, but they all continued to stare. “No,” Catlily shook her head, “My name is-“ “Catlily,” the old woman completed, a tear dropping from her eyes. “How did you know?” 24 “Roseclaw, it can’t be!” shouted a new husky male voice. “Look at her,” the old woman stated sternly, pulling a lock of fading black hair off her shoulder, “We used to have the same hair. Her eyes are mine and my daughter's. It has to be Catlily.” Everything about one's physical appearance could find a counterpart on the other. “Where has she been?” the man asked. “Where have you been, child?” the old woman repeated. “I’ve lived in Bluewater all my life… as far as I’ve known.” “But how?” the other woman asked. Flare took a step back when he noticed her brilliant sapphire hair. “It’s a human town.” “I… I…” she whispered. She couldn’t find the words. “Lionheart, why?” the older woman snapped. “She told me…” “In Bluewater, I go by Cat,” the werepanther replied. “That’s the only name I gave him.” “What are you talking about?” snapped Flare, not understanding what was going on and getting thoroughly annoyed. “Catlily is name of Roseclaw’s dead granddaughter,” stated the man motioning to the old woman beside him. Catlily’s eyes widen as she heard the words; though she had guess this from earlier, the results remained the same. She whipped around and bit her finger as nervous habit. “How?” asked the warlock, “I mean, wouldn’t she know if her granddaughter was dead?” “The body was never found.” “I didn’t know you were alive!” Roseclaw blurted out attempting to be strong. “Your godmother said you were taken by the Pack… I believed her… I don’t know what to say… Please forgive me!” Catlily could find anything to respond to and burst into tears. Flare moved to her and wrapped his arms around her protectively. “Lionheart,” shouted the blue woman, “I’m going to take the girl and her friend to my room. You stay here and talk to the rest of the council.” The woman walked out the door, saying a quick “Please follow me” as she passed. She led them across the bridge, her shoulder-length hair bouncing across her back. “Why is everyone here so well toned?” the warlock whispered to himself, noticing the complete lack of fat on her arms. Catlily and he had been trained all their lives, but most of the people in Bluewater hadn’t. His friend merely turned aside from him. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. The woman led them another enormous tree, but this tree was tilted diagonally and the sides of the wood had been smoothed out. She sat on the edge of the tree and rolled her self over the edge and slid down the side of the Tullk tree. The pair turned to each other surprised and jumped onto the waxed wood. They zipped down the slope impossibly fast, picking up speed rapidly, and the hot air within the tree blew through their hair wildly. The light at the end 25 of the tunnel approached rapidly, and the next thing they knew they dropping threw free air. They hit the water with a smash. Catlily’s head bobbed up moments later, followed by Flare gasping for air. She grabbed her friend around the waist and swam with him to the shore. While Flare could swim, a sudden plunge in deep water and his fire-based powers didn’t mix. “What’s the matter?” asked the woman, returning to help walk the warlock to the shore. “Flare can't swim,” lied Catlily. “You could have said something.” “I’m sorry,” the lady added. “It’s is not natural for me to think about outsiders learning the rules of our people. We haven't had one among us since… nevermind.” “Obviously,” muttered Flare, unconsciously using his powers to dry himself off. “So,” Catlily whispered in an attempt to move past the issue. “You are a weredolphin then?” “Correct. My name is Wavechaser, Chieftess of the Dolphin Tribe,” the blue lady whispered turning down the shore of the bay. Several children, some in their dolphin forms and others just as small blue and silver haired boys and girls, splashed about in the waters. Farther into the bay, the weredolphin fishers and water-trappers dove deep into the ocean practicing their trade, the main source of food for all three species living in Enchantai. “I would prefer to speak in my own home, but I can bring a blanket out here if you would prefer the sunlight. “No,” answered Catlily quickly. “I think I want a little privacy.” “Do you want me to leave?” asked Flare. “No,” she replied quickly. "Please don't." He nodded and took her hand, trying to comfort her as they walked towards the chieftess' house. The round hut held only one large room with one large bed and a few other pieces of furniture. She sat them at stools around the small table. “Would you like some tea?” “No, thank you,” whispered Flare quickly. “So…” “Was she Catlily’s grandmother or not?” the warlock demanded. Catlily smiled at him slightly, but couldn’t really get her mouth to move in that direction. “I… I can’t tell you for sure. But other explanations escape me." "What makes that even possible?" Wavechaser paused and turned aside and placed her hand on a small wooden sculpture habitually. "I assume you’ve never known your parents?” “How could I?” asked the werepanther. “Then I shall start at the beginning, 19 years ago. Roseclaw had been the leader of the Cat Tribe for many years. Her daughter was twenty… Tulippaw. It’s remarkable how much she looked like you… although the Lights chose her to be a weretiger like her father. I imagine you are a werepanther… Lionheart neglect to tell us what your bondspecies was. That is why Roseclaw called you her." "Did Tulippaw… have a daughter then?" Flare asked hesitantly. 26 Wavechaser paused. "The father was Tigerstar, white weretiger warrior. A champion of many of battles, including the one for Tulippaw's heart. Many of our men desired to share her bed with her, but only one ever did. They became lifemates in that year… a strange ritual to take for a couple so young. Two years later, they gave life to a beautiful baby girl, a silhouette of her mother. “The day you were born,” she started, but Catlilty had turned aside. Flare turned to her and placed his hand on hers. “That day, Traicana somehow entered the city with no one ever even sighting her presence. I have never seen a woman with such silver hair… not as gray or white, but metallic silver. Yet she was your age at the time… and very different from any of the humans I have heard about. We did not even know she was among us until we found her giving medicines to one of our children… he had eaten a mushroom that would have killed him otherwise. We were going to send her away under the influence of the forgetting tea, like we had the other humans, but she begged us to stay. Your father convinced your grandmother to allow her to stay: the boy was one of his cousins. So, she joined the Cat Tribe and walked among us. “I have never met anyone quite like Traicana of the Green. She was the most amazing herbalist and healer. She used berries and plants and treated our sick like none of our own ever had or ever could. She taught the few of our people who use the forest to become better at it. A very strange woman. “A month after your birth, the werewolves tortured the passwords of one of the Paths into the upper city. They were quickly removed, but your father was stabbed in the stomach by a sword. Traicana found him bleeding to death and somehow threw ten of the werewolves off the rope bridge. She fell to your father and covered his wound with a black leaf and forced some sort of medicine down his throat. She couldn’t save him, but she kept him alive in time for him to speak Tulippaw and their child. I have no idea what he said, but then he kissed his child on the forehead, and kissed his lifemate on the lips … and he died. "Your mother mourned for the month as was proper. She cut off her hair and broke her sword into against one of the trees. She asked Traicana to teach her to heal… I think in a way it was to heal herself. “The two became fast friends, and Tulippaw learned quickly. They, and often the baby as well, went into the forest for hours and sometimes days on end looking for the herbs to heal our people daily. Soon after your first birthday, your mother, Traicana, and Catlily in a small basket went into the woods for a day trip, and promised to be back by the next day. They didn’t. Your mother sent out a search party immediately. Two days after we started, we found a deep part of the jungle covered in heavy vines and bushes. Deep into it the mess, the scouts found your basket empty beside the dead body of your mother. Traicana lied beside them, her leg cut off at the knee, but she had somehow remained alive to speak to the scouts. She told them that you had been carried off by the werewolves, and then she died.” There was a pause. “So, the werewolves brought her to Bluewater?” asked Flare. “I doubt that,” Wavechaser responded quickly, and then realized her mistake. “Why?” Catlily asked. The weredolphin turned aside. “Why?” the werepanther demanded. 27 “Werewolves… they prefer the flesh of the young.” “But… you all think she’s alive now. I mean, that woman looks too like Catlily.” “Yes, so it is possible that the werewolves did as you suggested. But it is also possible that Traicana brought you to Bluewater on her own.” “She would have to have been on horseback,” argued Flare. “She might have been. The scouts found horse tracks indicating such. But some wererats have been known to steal ponies.” “Why didn’t they follow them?” asked the warlock. “It rained before the search parties could get far. It was the rainy season.” She turned to the solemn werepanther. “We searched all over the jungle for months, but we found nothing. So we had to assume…” Catlily sharp turn away silenced Wavechaser’s sentence. Flare reached to give her a comforting hand, but sharp pain struck him in his side. “Ow,” he moaned. . “What’s the matter?” the werepanther asked, not bothering to turn to him. “It stings,” he whispered, his face in obviously in pain as the sharpness intensified. He almost fell from the stool, but Catlily caught him by the arm. “Flare, is that where you were stabbed?” she asked him. He grunted, but they both understood it meant yes. “He was stabbed?” asked the weredolphin. “In the forest. Lionheart and the others rescued us from a group of warlocks and he was stabbed. Then the wound disappeared after the tiny dragon healed him.” “Tiny dragon?” “That’s what he said. I know you probably don't believe me…” Catlily responded. “I do,” the weredolphin replied quickly. “Lay him out of the bed, I will be back in a few minutes. Try and keep him awake.” Before, Catlily could protest, the woman ran out the door. The werepanther led the warlock to the bed and laid his head onto the pillows. Flare had fainted at some point. Sweat covered every inch of his body and soaked through his clothes. Catlily ran her hand down his incredibly hot face and tears began to leak from her eyes. “Don’t leave me, Flare,” she whispered. Her eyes cautiously went to his lips as she took his hand in hers. The cloth door to the hut swung open and Wavechaser came towards the pair followed by Roseclaw and a woman wearing dark brown robes and the green Cloth wrapped around her arm. The woman moved to Flare, took something out of her pocket and placed her hand and the object on the warlock’s chest. Flare gasped in surprise and sat up, his eyes open. The woman took a step away and all attention went to the chicken egg that had rolled off of his chest. The egg glowed bright white and suddenly cracked. Out of the egg flew a tiny silver dragon the size of a dragonfly. The creature rapidly grew in size and landed on the warlock’s leg. Suddenly, it was the size of a cat and resting on Flare. The warlock turned to the rest of the people in the room. “What just happened?” the warlock asked as the creature fell asleep. 28 “Did you see him before?” the woman in brown inquired. Flare nodded. “This is a forest spirit,” she explained softly to the warlock. “A dragonite. They typically are lured to people of high magical powers and become their familiars if they find enough power and nobility with in a person, typically of royal descent.” Flare laughed at the idea and smiled at his werepanther friend before returning his attention to the medicine woman. “Catlily,” whispered a soft voice from behind her. She turned around to look into the Cat Chieftess’ eyes. “You look so much like your mother,” she whispered. The younger werepanther turned aside. “I never knew her,” she whispered. “I… I don’t think I’m your granddaughter Roseclaw. I mean, Tulippaw… she couldn’t of had me… I’m too...” “Beautiful,” answered Roseclaw. “Not really,” she replied with a shy smile. “Catlily, I want to show you something.” She reached a hand out. Catlily turned to her friend, but the warlock had seen the situation. “Go on. I’ll learn about this thing," he remarked, implying the tiny creature laying across him. Catlily took Roseclaw’s hand and silently followed her back up into the upper city and into another of the large hut. “This is my home,” she whispered softly leading her into the room. “Roseclaw…” “No, Catlily, no words.” The elder led the girl to a nearby mirror. “Look into it and close your eyes.” Roseclaw made noise that indicated she had retrieved something from the other side of the room. “Now open them.” The younger werepanther looked into the mirror and then to the painting that Roseclaw held up before the reflective glass. Her mouth dropped but her voice wouldn't come to her. “This is my daughter, Tulippaw,” Roseclaw explained. Catlily’s eyes went to the woman’s startling brown eyes to the blood red lips to the cascading black hair and the dark tanned skin. “They're almost all same, but you have your father’s eye color. But...” “It… it… it…” Tears streamed down Catlily’s face. “This is your mother, Catlily.” The young woman smiled at her grandmother before allowing the familiar stranger wrap comforting arms around her. ..... “What’s this?” Catlily asked as they approached the house across the rope bridge. The moon wouldn’t have provided a human or a warlock enough vision to guide their path, but the lycanthropes’ eyes used the light more efficiently. “This was your parent’s house… it’s rightfully part of your inheritance.” “I… I mean…” “It’s yours,” she added. “Roseclaw…” Catlily whispered, her head pointed down. 29 “Grandmother.” “Roseclaw,” the younger werepanther repeated. She still couldn’t get words of affection to her lips. “I have a lot to tell you about the life I’ve been leading before you make me a part of your family.” “You are a part of my bloodline whether or not I love. Yet, part of a family is unconditional love. I can already tell you have good heart.” Catlily shook her head with a shy smile on her face. “I don’t even know that for sure.” “No daughter of Tulippaw could have a cold one.” “Who’s in there?” she inquired noticing the flickering of light of from the windows of the house. “Your friend… if you don’t want him in there, I can get him another-“ “No, that's what I would want. We’ve always been together. I think I’d be uncomfortable without him there.” “I’m sure there’s much more to that,” the elder woman whispered with a chuckle. Catlily turned to her, but all Roseclaw would do is wink. “Go talk to him. I’ll see you both tomorrow.” Catlily nodded, moved to the door and waved a quick good night to her. The one-room hut seemed surprisingly large when she entered. Flare was sitting at a small table on a stool with a book spread out in front of him. “It’s nice to see you,” the warlock greeted with a smile, the silver dragonite resting on his shoulders. In the center of it’s scaled forehead, a single gold scale shined in the light. “This is Duce. Actually his name is something like Duceamoreaichachachaheekytalky. He apologizes for my poor, uncultured tongue.” “He can talk?” “This familiar thing… we have a telepathic bond. He’s rather loud.” The silver dragon flew up, clicked its tongue annoyed and made his way to the werepanther. He stuck out his tiny forearm and shook it with Catlily’s fingers. “He doesn’t flap his wings enough to fly,” she whispered confused. “He can levitate. He flaps his wings to move forward.” “He’s a very handsome creature.” “He says thank you, and that you’re a lot kinder than me.” “Has Flare been swinging you around by the tail?” the werepanther joked. “Unlikely, did you see the tail-blade on that thing?” “Whoa,” Catlily gasped reaching towards it. “I wouldn't touch it,” Flare replied as the dragonite waved it away from her. “Contact poison. You’d be out for hours.” “Thanks for the quick warning," she joked. "So what have you been doing?” “I talked to Wavechaser and Berrybreeze, the priest woman, for awhile, then argued with Duce forever, and started to read this book.” “Since when do you read books?” “Since I don’t have to rob anymore buildings.” Catlily laughed with a gleeful smile on her face. “I’m thinking about becoming a scholar. What do you think?” 30 “I think you’re being sarcastic.” “True enough. But it’s nice to know we can become anything we want now. Where did you get those clothes?” he asked, noticing her black leather short-sleeves, matching pants, long gloves that reached to her elbow and high cut boots. Somehow, it fit her much like the woods. “My uncle’s a tailor. Oh, and look at this.” She took a dagger out from her. The exquisite weapon was made of fine silver and a small emerald at the end of the hilt. “Guess what? This is weedcutter.” Flare’s eyebrows slanted. “You’re not serious.” “My uncle saw it for what it was… he polished it and put the emerald in. He’s a blacksmith.” “That’s amazing.” Catlily smile faded into a soft frown. “Flare… you didn’t say anything about Bluewater, have you?” “No… but they’re going to ask eventually… they would be silly not to.” “I’m going to tell grandmother tomorrow,” she muttered. She turned to face him giggling. “What?” “Grandmother, Catlily… grandmother.” The werepanther smiled with a bright twinkle in her eye.