Fire, Ice and Wary Hearts
by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for M/M
R for Violence
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file
The soft chime of the formal request of a Power's messenger to appear drew Castellan Dralthea Thel'Starshar's attention from the court schedule of Queen StarFire of Draconea. When she admitted the messenger, a dragon-kin not much larger than her hand with shimmering scales and butterfly wings awash in a rainbow of colors appeared before her and politely set a scroll down for her to read.
Greetings Lady StarFire, Mother of Dragons.
I am Lady Kyvva, Keeper of the Paths among the Ryoshi-Simyna.
I seek an audience with you to discuss a delicate matter regarding
one of my most valued aids and events in your territory.
I and my messenger await your pleasure in replying.
Lady Kyvva, Keeper of the Paths
*'Majesty, a Power from Ryoshi-Simyna requests an audience with you.'* Dralthea sent deferentially to the Queen of the Dragonlands. *'Lady Kyvva wishes to discuss a 'delicate matter' regarding one of her aides and events in the Dragonlands.'*
*'Lady Kyvva?'* The Golden Dragon's mind-voice came back with a curious tone. *'Ah yes, one of those who find it necessary to shepard fate. Well, at least she's polite enough to ask first. You may tell her that I will grant an audience.'* The Queen of Draconea replied with an amused tone.
*'Yes, Majesty.'* The Castellan replied with a mental bow before turning to the messenger. "You may tell Lady Kyvva that Queen StarFire will grant an audience." She said politely, and then thought about it. "Do you need a response in writing?" She asked, knowing that some Powers liked to have things in writing.
The little butterfly dragon chirped softly as it checked, then shook its delicate head and lifted off to disappear. Moments later the polite knock of a Power asking to enter was heard.
The Castellan deftly adjusted the shields of the Star Palace to admit the visitor, set them to reform once the visitor had arrived. The Castellan was one of the few mortals who was allowed to adjust the shields of the Queen's palace, and only for very specific reasons. The expected arrival of another Power was one of those reasons. When the shimmer of Kyvva's teleport faded, Dralthea was looking at a tall, shining silver bipedal Dragon.
"Lady Kyvva, on behalf of her Majesty Queen StarFire, I welcome you to the Dragonlands and to her home, the Star Palace." The Castellan said with a formality reserved for arriving Powers, and with a polite bow. "If you will follow me, her Majesty awaits you in her audience room." She turned to show the guest into the throne room.
"Of course," Kyvva inclined her head politely and followed with an easy grace.
The audience room was decorated with large fabric hangings that depicted scenes of courtly life from many worlds, very few of which involved dragons. There was no real furniture, instead there were many piles of very comfortable plush pillows. Reclining in a large central pile of pillows was the Golden Queen of Draconea dressed in flowing robes of purple and gold and wearing a single brilliant star ruby set in a platinum necklace. "Welcome to Draconea, Lady Kyvva." She said with warm, welcoming smile. "Please, sit and tell me what brings you so far from your realm." She gestured widely to the piles of pillows.
"Thank you, Lady StarFire." The silver Dragon-morh inclined her head differentially and settled. "I wish to reward one of my best aids, a feline paladin, with break from real duty to me and a chance at a strong lover. His nature makes this very difficult however. I have found a tom he finds interesting, but to allow them to meet requires a cover mission that may make my presence here more active than is reasonable without consulting you and the Felsin Triad before beginning."
"Who is the tom in question?" The Dragon Queen asked curiously. "And what is the cover mission?"
"Arsham Kelspar of Felsinor is the tom." She explained quietly. "The cover mission is much more flexible, though what I thought of was to ensure the fall of the Shadow Government there in the next fifty years and the NightBlades changing sides. From what I see, both events are almost a given at this point, so he would have little to nothing to actually do with it, unless he takes a personal interest beyond his actual mission."
"I'll admit I have no love for Shadow Government." StarFire said easily. "However, since the NightBlades are involved you'll need to speak with the Triad. Though the Triad has little use for prophecy and anything else implying that the future is predictable there are a few that they can't quite ignore. And the NightBlades seem to be falling to the center of one of them."
"I understand," Kyvva nodded easily. "I intended to speak to them once I had your approval for our presence here."
"When it comes to the Felsin, I generally support whatever decisions they reach." StarFire explained. "They're generally reasonable, though a sense of humor is advisable if Caito gets involved in the discussion."
"Such is usually the case with tricksters," she chuckled softly. "They rarely have any love for my outlook, even the ones who accept my right to meddle."
"Just remember, there is no right to meddle if they don't agree." StarFire reminded her gently. "And they are sensitive about other Powers, even I have had to be careful to earn their trust. Its very much like dealing with a child who's been abandoned...they are often leery of all adults afterwards."
"I understand," Kyvva nodded seriously. "I have no interest or intention of stepping on anyone's toes here. This is not my realm, and I do respect that fact."
"I appreciate that." StarFire said easily. "Though I am curious ... how did Arsham Kelspar catch your paladin's eye in the first place? Felsinor is a long way from your realm."
"I've been quietly showing him people I think he would find interesting for two centuries now." She explained softly with a touch of the frustration the process had created for her. "He is simply terrible at seeing that kind of possibility most of the time now." Kyvva shook her head. "After two missions in particularly poor social environments for him, he's all but forgotten fun is possible. I've been checking out feline- inhabited worlds for a good vacation for him and Felsinor and Arsham seemed perfect. When Tyber found Arsham interesting, I contacted you to see about arranging their meeting."
"Hanging out with the NightBlades will certainly reintroduce the idea of fun." The Dragon Queen chuckled. "It will be interesting to see where the relationship goes. Only one of the NightBlades has ever gone beyond 'casual dating' with an outsider, and that's a very recent development."
"So I noticed," Kyvva nodded. "Even just casual dating and a reminder that existence should be fun will be well worth the effort. Tyber has been very faithful and he is a good person, but he is far too wrapped up in his work now."
"And that's a sure formula for burnout, of some sort." StarFire nodded. "And it certainly isn't something you want for someone you care about."
"No, it is not." She admitted quietly. "He would have a fit of sorts if he knew what I was up to." She chuckled lightly. "All this time and it still hasn't occurred to him that he is not just a servant to me. None of my Chosen are, truly."
"Probably because he started of seeing himself as a servant." StarFire suggested. "That can be difficult to get past. And children often do get excitable when you help out." She chuckled softly. "It's why I'm as circumspect with the Dracons as I am."
Kyvva considered that angle for a time and nodded. "Yes, I can see how it would be. It has been ages since I have thought of my Chosen that way, even when they were still mortal, they were each very special."
"Mortals and used-to-be mortals often have issues with seeing themselves as anything but servants of Powers." StarFire said easily. "It's the whole power-level relationship. Keltin even has issues on the subject once in a while, and he hasn't been mortal in almost five millennia."
"And is mated to a Power," she nodded with a fond smile for the story that had reached even her far corner of reality. "That was a truly exceptional event, from what I heard of it. Not many can make the transition so well, much less are deemed worthy of it."
"Mated to two of them." She nodded. "Yes, it was exceptional. And its no easy thing bringing a mortal up to the level of a Power. But he is an exceptional individual, even if he is downright bashful about that fact at times. There aren't many Powers you can actually get to blush."
Kyvva couldn't help but chuckle, though it was a very fond, affectionate sound. "Sometimes I think we'd get along better if we could be that humble about what we are. But just try convincing a God of War of the value of blushing." She rolled her eyes in amusement. "Even if it is fun to try."
"Humility is not something that comes naturally to those of us who have been Powers all along." StarFire nodded. "Though my younger brother did actually blush on occasion. He could be amazingly naive at times." She said wistfully, as one claw tip absently traced the star ruby she wore.
"Not many I know of have lost a relative," she said softly. "I wasn't sure it was even possible until recently."
"We always knew it was possible." StarFire said quietly. "And I know it's not forever, but that makes little difference some days." She shook her head. "But if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be having this talk about your paladin and Arsham." She smiled softly.
"What happened?" Kyvva asked with the innate curiosity of one who was all but bred to stick her nose into everything.
"One of our kind went bad, very bad." She said softly. "Or maybe that was just how he was supposed to be. There aren't many of us elder Dragons, so its difficult to be sure. But he became a ravening force of chaos and destruction, and being a Power the level of destruction was immense. However it started, it started well outside the Dragonlands so we weren't aware of what was happening at first." She said as she remembered the events of a million years before. "But when several stars died before it was their time, we knew something was very wrong. SunFire went to investigate, as I was busy with the True Dragons who were still young then." She paused quietly. "SunFire had taken on the mantle of the Dragon Warlord, because none of the others wanted it and because he had the strongest defender personality aside from myself."
"He fought the Night Dragon across a dozen star systems." She said quietly. "All Dead stars now for that was the Night Dragons powers, the Sunquencher. But his darkness was matched by SunFire's light and his endurance was not as great. Eventually he tried to lose SunFire by diving into the atmosphere of an inhabited world, hoping that SunFire would be drawn into protecting the world from the Chaos the Night Dragon's presence caused. But SunFire caught up with him and they fought, it was a close battle but in the end SunFire defeated him. But there wasn't much of his heartfire left when the battle ended, and he expended what little he had left removing the Night Dragon's corpse from that young world. The corruption that would've spread from the decaying corpse would've consumed the young world in time." She said quietly.
"With his heartfire expended, SunFire became the second of the Elder Dragons to pass from existence." StarFire said softly. "And yet, I know that it is only temporary, though how long I can not be sure. He wasn't slain by another Elder Dragon, but by his own noble sacrifice and that makes all the difference." She smiled distantly. "The world he saved at the end would be, in time, the birthplace of the race of felines who would in time become the Felsin. And in them, I can still feel a trace of his fire, weak but growing."
"Few of any kind are willing to sacrifice so much for a place they have no personal ties to." Kyvva said softly and very respectfully. "It is good to know they are among the older Powers as well."
"It was his way." StarFire smiled. "He believed that 'Life' was worth defending. If he'd been water or earth aspect, he'd have been a great healer but healing is not something that Fire Dragons are well suited to. Instead he became a great defender." She smiled fondly.
"Perhaps he will emerge again soon." Kyvva said softly, offering a general sentiment of hope and support in something that was not her place to manipulate directly. "The universe could do well for another strong defender among it's ranks."
"I hope so." StarFire nodded, with a smile for the offer of support. "But it will happen in its own time. Even by dragon standards such injuries take a long time to heal."
"So I understand," she nodded slightly. "It is amazing he survived at all, but defenders seem to have the will to make the impossible happen when they feel the need to."
"That they do." She smiled softly. "I am looking forward to having him back." She added with a fond smile.
"It will be a cause for celebration, yes?" Kyvva asked curiously.
"A great deal of it." StarFire smiled. "Something I haven't done in a rather long time."
"Something even we need to remember to do on occasion." Kyvva chuckled softly. "It will be good to see the Dragonlands in full celebratory glory."
"If some of the prophecies are accurate, your paladin may end up involved in the rebirth, or at least near to it." StarFire smiled.
She couldn't help but chuckle and shake her head in amusement. "If he follows his usual pattern, he'll be smack in the middle of it. Even when it's not an assignment, he usually managed to get involved in anything big like that happening in the area. It's a large part of why he was drawn to me. Our natures are similar, even if our reasons don't always match. He has an outright gift for getting involved whether anyone wants him to or not."
"Well, he's getting involved with a group that has most of the locals who are interested in the 'pattern of things' gossiping full time." StarFire shook her head. "The NightBlades are unique on more than a few levels, at least partially due to a little kibitzing from Caito. Kibitzing that he totally denies, of course, but it's very much his style. And Arsham is most unique though he doesn't know it yet. He's one of only a handful of Sabertooth bloodlines currently in existence, though I'd rather he figured that out on his own, or at least without any hints from our level of things."
"Tyber will likely find out and tell him, it's simply his nature, but I won't be the one informing him of it." Kyvva promised. "He even knows I don't always answer direct yes/no questions, much to his annoyance on occasion." She chuckled softly.
"My Castellan gets similarly annoyed at times." StarFire chuckled. "But it's better for them to figure some things out on their own."
"Definitely." She smiled softly. "I try to never send any of mine into a situation with insufficient information, but that very rarely means they know everything from me. That and it helps keep me from looking bad." She chuckled. "If I told them everything, sooner or later I'd get a bit of it not quite right and they'd begin to doubt in me without any skills of their own. Not even my know-it-all cousin Pytath knows everything beforehand."
"Nobody knows everything beforehand, or at least nobody I've ever met." She shook her head. "Though I've met a few who certainly acted like they did. The multiverse seems quite determined to keep at least a few secrets to itself."
"I expect it does so to remind us that as powerful as we are, we are not all powerful." Kyvva said thoughtfully. "A fact that many would like to forget along with whatever else does not suit them. I may not like not having an answer easily, but it doesn't seem sane to me to pretend it's not the truth."
"Yes, Dragons can be especially bad about not liking to be reminded about their limitations." StarFire chuckled.
"Really?" She cocked her slender head curiously. "I had not noticed, but then I deal with few dragons that are anywhere near my own power level."
"You must be dealing with a very laid back bunch." StarFire chuckled. "Most have very high opinions of what their power level is." She shook her head. "And they don't like being corrected. Of course, that's usually true of Dragons, not the True Dragons or the Dracons."
Kyvva had to think for a moment to sort out the distinction. "Ah, yes. I'm not sure about laid back, but as a group they've been swatted down enough times by various irate Powers that the local ones know who not to mess with." She chuckled softly. "Though if they don't know you're listening, it can get quite ... inventive ... in their descriptions of their own worth. But I have found them little different from most races with any power to speak of. All like to think they are the best out there."
"Most of the ones around here have figured out just how much misbehavior the True Dragon in their area will tolerate, and they push the limit often." She shook her head. "Well, now that the evil and insane ones have been dealt with. Those Dragons have caused more difficulty in relations with other races than anything else."
"I can easily imagine." Kyvva nodded slightly. "That there are so many races that call themselves dragons does not help any, I expect. Some are very good to other races, but many seem to enjoy inflicting misery, or simply don't see it."
"The ones who enjoy inflicting misery have learned to migrate out of the Dragonlands." StarFire rumbled. "The ones who failed to learn, are no longer inflicting anything on anyone."
"I expect so." She smiled fractionally. "A strong protector is a poor choice of who to look like when you like to cause trouble."
"Especially when she has a fair number of like minded children." StarFire smiled. "It makes it much easier to spot trouble before it gets too badly out of hand. But there are still the ones beyond the Dragonlands, those I can only offer to help with." She said easily. "I respect the domains of others the same way I expect mine to be respected." She said matter-of-factly.
"A fact that had made it all the way out to my realm." Kyvva nodded. "It is, unfortunately, not as common an outlook as it used to be in many places."
"Yes, something that I'm aware of." StarFire nodded. "It seems that the newer Powers don't see a need to respect anyone's domain. They learn to though." She chuckled. "It does require vigilance though."
"Like teenagers of all kinds," she actually chuckled softly. "It takes a while for them to learn that the social rules are there for a reason and it's best to respect them."
"Except these teenagers can do a lot more damage than most." She shook her head. "Though I expect the universe keeps creating new Powers just to keep us old-timers on our toes. The universe seems to hate complacency."
Tyber Windcrest glanced up from the studies he was not really reading at the shimmering silver-blue portal that formed in his living room. While far from unusual, it was not something he expected so close to the beginning of a mission. Few considered it prudent, and he had already celebrated and said his good-byes to everyone.
"The sentinel," he whispered low in his throat as a flash of pain, burst of light, running, running ... determination as grim as any he had felt in his long life burst across the spell watching a very particular male on a world far from the Paladin of Kyvva's native plane. It was all he needed though. The signal he was waiting for in a way. Now his orders and his heart and his nature lined up to bring him to motion and threw the portal his Lady created for him.
The world he stepped out into was in chaos. People running about in wide streets between tall buildings, the commotion of an unorganized chase, the smell of blood thick in the air as his gaze fell on the one he had been watching quietly for so many months.
"Let me aid you." He spoke without thinking, kneeling in the ally's darkness next to the injured White Tiger Felsin who had been a Lion Felsin only moments before.
Ashram focused for a moment on the strangely dressed Panther Warform. He couldn't place the armor, and the perfect Felsin definitely clashed with it. It was a strange pattern that his mind immediately started working on deciphering, though he stopped paying attention when he decided he could trust the stranger, at least for now. "I need to get to 214 Serindal Terrace." He said as he got to his feet, though it was clear that it was only sheer, stubborn willpower that had gotten him to a standing position.
He offered his support and tried again. "Let me heal you."
Ashram looked at the stranger again, not sure what he was offering. He didn't really strike the White Tiger as a Healer, quite the opposite really, and he certainly didn't seem to be carrying a medical kit. "Medical kit at home." He said stubbornly, as he oriented on the safe house and began walking slowly.
Tyber simply nodded, restraining his instincts to simply heal the other warrior by what he knew of the local customs and offered the support he could without injuring Arsham's pride.
The walk took longer than it should have, as Arsham could only walk slowly and was staying to shadows as they moved through the quiet streets. Occasionally a patrol would pass them by and the wounded White Tiger would tense up, until they passed. The address turned out to be the second floor of a townhouse in a residential section of the city. As they entered the modestly furnished apartment, Arsham flipped on a light and grabbed a large white box from the floor of the hall closet. He only managed to get it open and give himself a single injection of something, before exhaustion and blood loss combined to render him unconscious.
With a slight shake of his head for a stubbornness he recognized from himself all too well Tyber settled the badly injured tom on the bed he found in an adjacent room and called on his Lady to grant him the healing gifts that balanced his nature with the bloodshed he delivered.
With easy movements he set his hands on Arsham's chest and let the power flow, healing the badly injured White Tiger in moments.
Arsham woke quickly once his body's energy reserves returned a few hours later. Before he opened his eyes or let on that he was awake, he checked his other senses first. Hearing told him that it wasn't daylight yet, and that there was someone else close enough to hear their breathing. His nose told him that the scent was not a new one, though it wasn't terribly familiar which made him think it was likely to be the Panther he remember helping him to the safe house his nose confirmed that he was in. As he opened his eyes, it hit him that he was in far better shape than he should be. Even an expert Healer in a major hospital would've needed half a day to heal his injuries to the point where they wouldn't bother him. He slowly sat up and looked around, as his mind tried to figure out just what had happened.
"Welcome to the world of the living," the Panther's deep voice rumbled in greeting. "None have followed us."
"Given that I don't smell smoke or other signs of destruction, I'm sure they didn't." Arsham said with a wry chuckle. "Would I be correct to assume that I have you to thank for my miraculous recovery?" He asked simply.
"I healed you, yes." He nodded gravely. "Once you were unconscious, your objections took second place to your health."
"I wasn't objecting." Arsham said quietly. "Just didn't understand what you were getting at. I'm still not sure how you did it, but thank you. I'm not sure if the emergency team would've gotten here in time or not." He added quietly. "Oh, I'm being rude. My name's Arsham." He smiled, offering his hand in what was a pretty universal gesture, in his experience with species with hands.
"Since no one has come at all, likely not." He accepted greeting with a hand encased in a warm metal gauntlet of fine workmanship. "I am Tyber. The healing is called Laying on Hands. It is part of my training and a Gift from my Lady."
"Gift?" Arsham said, as he thought through the various cultural uses of the term. "You're talking about religious magic then?" He asked curiously. Despite his very limited exposure to magic, it still fascinated him.
Tyber paused, making sure the term was accurate before he nodded. "Yes. I am a Paladin of Kyvva. She grants many of my powers and prayers."
The White Tiger paused a moment to go through the cultures he knew about, before accepting that he didn't know exactly who or what Tyber was talking about. "Assuming Kyvva is a Power, I'm afraid I'm not familiar with her. But please pass on my thanks for the healing, since if I understand religious magic correctly, she's at least partially responsible."
"I will," he smiled slightly, taking on a less fierce look for it. "It would be good for you to eat something," he continued in his naturally grave tone that held a bit more distress than one would expect for a near stranger. "Even with my Laying on Hands, you came very close to dieing."
"That was kind of what I was planning." He smiled. "Grab a couple of the replenishment packs from the medical kit, and then head out to breakfast." He said simply. "Care to join me? My treat." He offered with a smile.
"I would be honored." He accepted very seriously with a partial bow. "What are replenishment packs?" He asked curiously, his fitted metal helm obscuring much of his expression now that he was more curious than serious.
"Concentrated nutrition and vitamin supplements." Ashram explained as he got up and headed for where he'd left the kit. "Used strictly for recovering from serious exhaustion or injury. They taste awful, and aren't really meant for long-term use. They do work, however." He shook his head. "Basically, I'm just using them to keep going till we get to breakfast. Fortunately, Caerphilly's is just opening for breakfast now." He smiled. "Caerphilly's is a restaurant, by the way."
Tyber nodded, though it was clear he didn't completely get many of the statement's details. "Do you keep spare clothes here? What you have left on are quite ruined."
"Yes I do." He nodded. "Speaking of clothes, you're going to attract a lot of attention in that armor. Nobody has worn that kind of armor in well over a thousand years, not counting movies and historical reenactments." He said simply, considering Tyber's size and noted he was considerably larger than any of the team's Felsin forms, though not as large as most of the war-forms. "But I should have something here you can use."
"Something like this?" He asked politely as there was a shimmer around his body, leaving him not only in slacks and a simple pullover shirt but looking like a Felsin Panther.
"That'll work." Arsham nodded as he found the replenishment packs. He wolfed one down quickly, making a face as he did so. "One of these days they'll work on the taste of those things." He said as he shoved the medical kit back in the closet. "Though it does discourage overuse to have them taste like a cross between the days laundry and the morning newspaper."
"I believe it is the Healer's way of making one pay for needing their services." Tyber sort of chuckled, a sound his throat was likely unfamiliar with. "I have yet to meet a sane one that liked to be needed that badly."
"Neither have I." Arsham agreed easily as he padded back to the bedroom and began picking out replacement clothing. "And usually when I get that banged up, the doc takes the opportunity to give me a lecture on being more careful." He finished as he found a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt that were acceptable. The athletically built White Tiger quickly shed the mostly destroyed remnants of the previous days clothing and slipped into the set. "Much better." He commented absently with a glance in the mirror. The sweatshirt was gray, with a black logo printed on it of a rugby ball trailing a tail of fire like a comet, with the words 'Outer Belt Comets' underneath.
"I would have to agree," the Panther rumbled in approval and something a little more. "You are a warrior then, as I thought."
"That's a fair description of what I do." He nodded, and then looked at what he was wearing again. "Though this isn't our uniform, it's just civilian wear." He explained, though he thought there were worse things to be mistaken for than a member of his favorite Galactic League rugby team.
"Uniform?" Tyber asked, uncertain of the translation his mind was providing.
"Specific clothing worn by members of a team or unit." Arsham explained easily. "Usually identical except for rank or specialty badges."
"Ah," he nodded easily. "Much like my armor identifies me as a Paladin of Kyvva."
"Yep, that's the idea." Arsham nodded, as he pulled a new pair of sneakers out of the bedroom closet and put them on. He then opened a concealed drawer in the base of the bed and retrieved a new wallet and keys, along with a pistol and two knives that he concealed expertly about his person. "Now we can go." He said easily as he headed for the front door.
"You travel lightly armed," Tyber observed with a touch of curiosity in his tone. "Especially after last night."
"I travel as heavily armed as I can afford to." He answered casually. "Anything heavier and I'd attract attention that I'm really not supposed to. 'Sides, I've got a few tricks up my sleeve." He grinned in a look that was part playful and part predatory.
"I expect so," Tyber smiled faintly in personal knowledge of such tricks from his own collection. "You are used to having companions to help as well, I think."
"Normally." Arsham smiled as they stepped into the street. "I should check in with them tonight, make sure they don't think I need rescued or something."
"Does that happen often?" He raised an eyebrow at the contradictory thought.
"No." Arsham shook his head. "But if I don't check in within forty-eight hours of the mission ending, they'll assume that I can't. Mostly because I always check in, usually early." He explained. "The two most likely reasons for my not being able check in are dead, or captured. Either case would result in the team going in."
"Who were you fighting last night?" Tyber asked quietly, not liking how spotty his understanding of things was already proving to be. It was not like him to be so careless in preparing for a mission.
"Umm, not really fighting." Arsham said quietly, he realized he was treading dangerously close to discussing a mission with an outsider. "Just trying to get some information that someone didn't want us to have. Their security was better than reported, and it turned into a fight."
Tyber nodded, his mind supplying the fact that Arsham often did things that he shouldn't talk about. "Will they be looking for you, or the Lion form you were wearing then?"
"The Lion form." Arsham nodded, as they turned a corner. "That's why I was in that form. Keeps this one clean for civilian use. I don't exactly enjoy the metaform serum."
"It did not seem pleasant," he nodded in agreement and his own thoughts on the matter. "Did you get what you needed?"
"Seemed like it." Arsham said quietly. "But it'll have to go through analysis to be sure."
"At least it was not for nothing, then." Tyber said quietly as they approached a simple two story building with an open dinning area in front. "How long do you have free, until you are called on again?"
"Hard to say." Arsham said as they entered the open, but cozy restaurant. "Depends on when the next thing comes up that needs my skills. A couple days at least, maybe more. I'll have a better idea, once I talk to Ebon."
"Perhaps we can spend some of that time together?" He asked softly as they were shown to a table.
"So I take it, you're in town for awhile then?" He asked curiously, as he thought about what he thought Tyber was getting at. It had been some time since Arsham had dated, mostly 'cause he'd never felt a need to. Casual pickups were fun, and it wasn't like he was going to find anyone closer than the other NightBlades. But Ebon had started dating recently, so maybe there was something to the idea.
"Likely several years," he nodded casually. "My Lady rarely sends me on short missions."
"You're on a mission?" Arsham asked curiously. "I hope helping me out didn't mess up your timetable."
"Not in the least," he smiled and took a sip of the warm drink they were brought. "Mine are the kind that simply come with get it done orders, not a real timetable. She will only be annoyed if it takes more than one lifetime."
"I can see where that would be annoying." Arsham chuckled, as he considered the menu. "Well, getting back to your original question ... I'd be willing." He smiled warmly.
Tyber smiled softly at that, something in his manner a mixture of uncertainty, affection and a desire he was largely unfamiliar with. It gave the battle-hardened warrior something of an odd look for a moment. "I would enjoy that." He almost purred.
"So, where are you staying while you're here?" He asked curiously, as he decided on the breakfast special that had the most protein in it.
"In a pocket dimension at the moment," he chuckled softly. "I arrived only moments before you saw me."
"You should probably get a place." Arsham suggested. "Or you could take advantage of the extra space at my place." The White Tiger offered, still debating the idea of having somebody he'd only just met move in with him. Part of him said it wasn't a great idea, but his instincts said he could trust the Panther.
The offer drew a small smile from Tyber. "Thank you," he accepted with a regal incline of his head. "Perhaps you can also assist in converting my funds to local currency. The economy here is quite different than my usual."
"Not my specialty, but Blitz does that sort of thing almost instinctively." He chuckled. "I take it your economy is still running on something like a hard currency."
"Most, yes." He nodded. "I have been very few places that did not use gold coin and gems as barter. It is a convenient and nearly universal way of paying for things, with or without translating it beforehand."
"That was kind of why we shifted to a single electronic currency for the Alliance." He nodded. "Well, mostly electronic. Cash is still used some, but it's just a physical representation of the electronic currency. But you can go to any planet in the Alliance without having to change currency."
"A useful advance," the Panther nodded as they ordered, selecting a simple meal of meat and bread with scrambled eggs.
"One of the things that makes the Alliance practical." He smiled. "Without it, trade would be horribly complicated. Though the trade-off is that we have a large bureaucracy to maintain the Galactic Banking Network. Keeping it running and secure is a major endeavor."
"I can imagine," Tyber nodded, though he didn't understand the concept all that well. "What do you do between missions?"
"Oh, whatever catches my interest." Ashram chuckled. "Though it's mostly designing and racing motorcycles."
The Panther paused, taking a moment to match the unfamiliar word with it's meaning. "Ah, you like to go fast." He smiled, a look his face was clearly unfamiliar with.
"Too fast usually." Ashram smirked. "Plus I like to work on making them quieter, more fuel efficient and add extra useful features."
"Weapons?" Tyber cocked his head.
"Sometimes, though weapons design is more Mason's area of expertise than mine." He smiled. "We often collaborate on land vehicles."
"Then what kinds of things do you put into them?" Tyber asked with true interest.
"Communications equipment, mapping gear, special compartments to keep food cold until its used, a decent stereo system 'cause very few motorcycles come with a good music system." He chuckled. "Cloaking equipment, and extra sensors sometimes as well."
"Wow," he murmured, only knowing what a bit of those things were. "That is a lot to put in such a small vehicle."
"Well, it's not usually all of them on the same vehicle." Arsham grinned. "Unless I'm doing one of the larger touring bikes, in which case I've got more room to work."
"It sounds like a pastime that requires a fair amount of space." Tyber observed quietly, sniffing the air appreciatively at the smells from the kitchen.
"It does." Arsham nodded and then smiled as he spotted their waitress coming from the kitchen. "Depending on what I'm working on, I either use the big garage at my place, or the one at work."
"Where we were was not your home, then." Tyber guessed as the young Tigress set their plates down and left.
"No, I never go home directly from a mission." He said between bites. "That's one of several places I know of with medical supplies. It was the closest."
He nodded at that, thinking about it a bit as they ate in hungry silence for a while. "Does your place have room for my mount to sleep? He is very well behaved."
"I guess that depends on the size of the mount in question." Arsham said curiously. "It's a pretty good sized garage, as long as he isn't bother to much by the smells of a workshop."
"A large Destrin or so." He said a little uncertainly. "I don't think he would be, but we're sure to hear about it if he does."
"Well, we should be able to set up one section of the garage for him." Arsham said easily. "So, what do you do in your time off?" The White Tiger asked curiously.
"Very little that is so exciting," he chuckled softly. "I play the susasi," he paused, seeking a comparison. "It is like a flute," he elaborated. "Joust in tournaments, study magic, ride Vysha, dance, and write a little poetry."
"Not everyone can be an adrenaline junky." Arsham grinned. "And jousting can be pretty exciting, if its anything like the reenactments they do at the dark ages festivals."
"That I could not comment on until I see one, but it can be, in much the same way battle is."
"Yeah, that was kind of what it felt like." Arsham said with a playful smile. "Right before I fell off the destrin."
Tyber blinked. "Just how did you manage that?"
"I'm still not entirely sure." Arsham shook his head. "But I think I tried to perform one of the martial arts maneuvers I know instinctively without factoring in the fact that my feet were still in the stirrups. Basically, I tripped over the saddle, so to speak."
He couldn't help but snicker. "That had to have been a sight. I've never seen anyone fall out of a jousting saddle."
"Several people said it looked more like I was diving out of it." Arsham shook his head. "The guys teased me about it for weeks. We don't usually do things that clumsy."
"So who won?" He asked, still trying to control his amusement.
"It was close." Arsham grinned. "He damn near fell out of his saddle laughing. He won 'cause he was still on his destrin."
"It could be interesting to see how they handle someone who actually knows what they're doing." Tyber chuckled softly. "I've only been fighting on ekki back for a few centuries."
"A few centuries?" Arsham blinked. "And I thought I'd been in my profession a long time."
"Paladins like me don't really die," he explained quietly. "We are just given new bodies on new worlds, or sometimes simply stopped from aging."
"Interesting." Arsham said curiously. "Well, not aging I kind of understand since there's no sign of any of my team aging in since we hit adulthood." He said easily. "Nobody's quite sure what to make of that."
"It's not time for you to." Tyber said simply. "Everything happens in it's own time."
"Possibly." Arsham said casually. "Sometimes I'm not sure if even Felsira knows what to make of us."
Tyber took a sip of his drink and considered the White Tiger. "Perhaps because you are not Hers."
"Well, I'm Felsin, so being Hers is kind of a given." Arsham shrugged, theology wasn't his strong suit. "Well either her or one of the other two in the Triad. And that's about the extent of what I know about theology." He chuckled softly.
The Paladin smiled with a slight chuckle. "I'm not sure I could separate it out from normal life discussions anymore. She is so much a part of my life now it doesn't seem a relevant division."
"Whereas what I do, I have to be careful to edit out of normal discussions." Arsham said casually. "There's a lot of what I do, that I can't really talk about, to anyone outside the team." He said quietly, almost apologetically.
"I know," he nodded understandingly. "Your team featured rather promontory in my reading on this world. A study I did unusually poorly on, apparently. I am not so out of place most of the time."
"I expect your study missed a great deal about us." Arsham said quietly. "Unless whoever did the study managed to break into some very heavily encrypted files." He added very softly, sincerely hoping that a great deal had been missed.
"Things are usually missed," he inclined his head easily. "My Lady does not believe that knowing everything before arrival is proper."
"It's certainly kind of boring." Arsham smiled. "Just as long as you get enough information to stay out of major trouble."
"That I have never had a problem with." He chuckled softly. "Major trouble usually means She must get involved again much sooner than she wishes. Either directly or to answer far more of my prayers than is normal."
"So it's to her benefit to see you get enough information to avoid major trouble." Arsham nodded. "Helps when your superior sees things that way."
"Very much so," Tyber smiled softly. "Placing a Paladin so far from Her usual territory is not an energy-light task. Avoiding Lady StarFire's wrath is also a worthy endeavor."
"StarFire can be touchy about other Powers in her domain." The Tiger acknowledged. "And the Triad can be somewhat protective too, though none of them have a Dragon's temper."
"Or power," he chuckled softly. "She does not wish to anger them either, but They do not have the power themselves to be a great threat to Her in Her own domain."
"No, and that isn't really their way, as I understand it." He said, after a moment's thought. "They're powerful enough to protect what is theirs, but StarFire apparently handles more extreme problems." He said thoughtful. "Kind of like the difference between the leader of a single planet, and the President of the Alliance, is how I understand it."
"A very accurate statement, given their relative positions locally as well." He smiled softly. "Are the Triad very active to the mortal population here?"
"Sometimes." Arsham said thoughtfully. "Depends on what exactly is going on. I'm told the Felsin Medic Corps sees Felsira fairly often, and Caito talks to whoever he feels like. Though I've never actually seen it, I'm told he even socializes with mortals on a regular basis, though they often don't know who he really is. Kelto is more reserved, but it's said he talks to the Chief Defender regularly."
"They do not have followers like I am to Kyvva, though." He asked, his curiosity peaked beyond his mission.
"Not exactly, I don't think." Arsham said, not entirely sure. "Though I believe the Medics are sworn to Felsira's service, and the Defenders to Kelto's. As for Caito, it's pretty well known that he hates being called a god. He's far too free a spirit to want anything like worship being associated with him. The Felsin military often refers to him as the patron of insubordination." He chuckled lightly and was joined by Tyber.
"They are quite the varied group, to have become a triad." He continued to chuckle softly.
"From the story I heard, I guess Kelto and Caito were mates long before Felsira was around. Supposedly they served the one who created the race who would later become the Felsin. But during the Great Migration, they met Felsira who became Mate to both of them." He said, drawing up what he remembered of the Origin Story that all Felsin had heard at one time or another. "That's why the 'normal' relationship for Felsin is the triad, instead of the couple."
"And you do not have the issues with same-gender pairings some worlds have." His thick black tail twitched in annoyance. "Those are never missions I like."
"Not hardly." Arsham chuckled. "Well, I've heard there's some isolated communities in the hinterlands who have some odd ideas on the subject, but I guess everyone has isolated weirdness. But honestly, a pairing is a pairing, doesn't matter who the two are as long as they're both adults. They've even got the tech working so same gender pairings can have children. Don't ask me how it works, biotech is not my area."
Tyber blinked, surprised beyond his normal composure as it hit him what that meant for him.
Arsham noticed the surprise. "I guess that's something they haven't come up with, where you're from. It's kind of cool, I think. It's the one thing that same-gender pairings could never have before, and a lot of them wanted it."
"I've heard of very powerful life-magics that could, and many Powers could if they wanted, but nothing that was generally available."
"Our magic has always been pretty limited." Arsham said quietly. "Certainly nothing on that level. We're slowly recovering some of it, but it's still not on the level of a lot of races."
"Some kin are just not magically inclined," Tyber said gently. "Not everyone is meant to be a Mage."
"Among Felsin it was almost no one, until about a century ago." Arsham said simply. "Then an archaeological team recovered some artifacts that dated back to a few centuries after Landing, and we started seeing more of that Talent. No one is sure of a connection, but there was supposedly more magic during the first millennium after landing."
"That is ... unusual." The Panther murmured, fascinated. "I have encountered few worlds with such a pattern."
"That's what I thought." Arsham nodded. "Doctor Shadrin's theory is that the key element is the disappearance of the Sabertooths during the Deregin Wars. He believes that the loss of the mystically strong Sabertooths, somehow damaged the Felsin collective soul and that damage manifested itself as the loss of magic."
"Quite possible," he nodded. "The fact that you are regaining magic after loosing it is the truly fascinating part. Such Gifts are rarely returned once lost."
"That's what Doctor Shadrin finds fascinating as well." Arsham nodded. "His theory is that the Sabertooth genetics were buried in the genes of all the other clans, and that as the clans began to interbreed more and more, somewhere a Sabertooth finally came out of the mix. He also thinks that the slow strengthening of the magic is linked to the Sabertooth population slowly growing." Arsham explained, clearly talking on subject he found exciting. "Of course, no one has reported any Sabertooths but it's possible they could be concealing themselves in one of the wilderness regions."
"Very true," Tyber smiled, delighted to have fallen in with someone who shared his love of magic and magical things. "It is also possible that they are simply concealing themselves within the normal population. It would not be the first time a protective parent sought to conceal how their child was different. At least among the saber-toothed races I know of, most do not gain their saber-teeth until they are in adolescence. Until then, they look rather normal."
"That's also a possibility." Arsham nodded. "And assuming that they did begin emerging a century ago, that's only two generations. The population would still be fairly small, and therefore easy to hide."
"And very likely that two have not bred, or that they have formed a community in which being 'different' is acceptable, much less encouraged." Tyber smiled softly. "In time, it will likely come about. Particularly if it becomes a socially desirable thing to be true to that heritage." He took another sip of his drink after the waitress refilled it. "It always helps not to be unique when one is a teenager trying to find acceptance."
"So I've heard." Arsham said quietly. "And I imagine the Felsin government will find some way to encourage it, once it's recognized."
"Most likely," he nodded, though he wasn't as sure as he sounded. "It is a great boon to them, if they do. Magic is quite a useful tool."
"So I've heard." He chuckled lightly. "But they'd do it, just to encourage the recovery of the Sabertooth population. The loss of the Sabertooths is one of those cultural embarrassment things, 'cause at least some of the stories from that period suggest that the loss was deliberate genocide on the part of their enemies."
Tyber winced reflexively. "That is an ... unpleasant ... social mark for anyone to bear." He said quietly.
"Yes, it is." Arsham said quietly. "Technically it was governments that no longer existed over two thousand years ago, but it's still embarrassing. The Felsin don't like thinking they were capable of something like that, so recently."
"I do not know of anyone ... I would call civilized ... that would." He nodded. "Even as a warrior who kills all his enemies, I do not like to think of a situation where genocide against part of my own kind would be palatable."
"Well, it's not something everyone agrees happened." Arsham said quietly. "But enough people think it did to make a difference. It's one of those cases where the inconsistent record keeping of the times make it difficult to be sure what happened."
"It is not something your Triad will give an answer to?" He asked, half curious, half uncertain he wasn't treading dangerous ground.
"According to them, there was something major going on, on the celestial level that kept them away for about a century. Or at least, that's what the records indicate they said when asked." He said simply. "The disappearance happened during that time, and may have been related. "
"The Disappearance?" Tyber prompted.
"That's what the loss of the Sabertooths is commonly called."
"Ah," he nodded and filed that away. "Is this something the truth is truly desired on? I can find out."
"I don't think it really makes a difference now." Arsham said simply. "It was over two thousand years ago."
Tyber nodded and let it go. "Some people find the truth more important that it's usefulness." He said simply, then cocked his head. "Would you be interested in learning how to joust from a master?"
"That would be interesting." Arsham said. "We'll have to get a second mount though. Not the easiest things to come by around here." The White Tiger said as he wondered where one would shop for a destrin.
"Well, if you are not determined to have a destrin, I can handle that part. It won't be the class of warmount-familiar that Vysha is, but a good quality beast."
"Well, I'm not really familiar with any riding beast so I can probably learn on anything." Arsham said easily.
"We will need a field with lots of space," Tyber continued. "Jousting, mounted anything really, is not good in enclosed spaces until you are very good."
"Oh, space is easy." Arsham smiled. "I need lots of space to test out my motorcycles."
"Just as long as it's not around other vehicles." Tyber chuckled. "It can be hard enough to learn to ride without the animal panicking."
"I prefer to keep away from other vehicles, when I'm testing." Arsham nodded. "Just in case."
"Things can get ... unpleasant ... when they go wrong?"
"Well, occasionally I overdo it on the speed." He chuckled. "Or I don't get the calibrations on the steering exactly right."
"And not having anything living to run into is a plus," he half guessed.
"Definitely." Arsham nodded. "And staying on private land avoids the issue of traffic laws as well."
Tyber paused for a moment, then nodded. "Some places object to the way you ride, I take it?"
"Certainly, to the speed I which I ride." He chuckled. "Most people just don't react as quickly as I do, so they need to drive slower."
"Ah, laws to protect the middle ground." He nodded. "I never did understand those limits myself, but it seems a very common occurrence."
"Public safety and all that." Arsham agreed. "Most places have something of that nature."
"Yes, it always seems like it's just hindering the skilled and smart to protect the stupid." He shook his head. "But I'm part of the group that usually gets stopped well short of my ability, so I'm not very fond of them."
"Same here." Arsham agreed. "But those making the laws tend to have more in common with the stupid. There are a few exceptions, but not many."
"Some things are universal," Tyber chuckled softly as they continued to drink well after the meal was finished.
"So would you like to see my actual home?" Arsham offered, wanting to be out of public eye for a while. "Or did you want to look around the city some?"
"You home would be a welcome stop," he smiled and stood. "I would like to get Vysha settled in. He does hate staying in the tent for extended periods."
"I bet he does." Arsham agreed, and stood. He paused to slip a plastic card into a concealed slot in the table, and then pressed his thumb against a blinking red spot next to the slot. After a moment the card came back out of the slot. "Okay, we can leave." He said leading the way out of the restaurant. "Unless you're in a hurry, it's a nice day for a walk." The White Tiger said, as he started walking.
"No hurry at all." He smiled and amicably walked at his side, his eyes and senses taking in everything, especially potential threats. "It is a beautiful day and a pleasant place."
"Not nearly as exciting as the Capital, but it's home." Arsham smiled as they walked. The bulk of the population was Felsin of varying markings and colorations, but there were some Canem, Lupo and Avar mixed in. They been walking for about fifteen minutes when a dark blue Dracon glided by overhead, instantly catching Tyber's reflexes into a combat crouch as magic flared brightly around his hands and he tried to place the motion as threat or not.
"Whoa, Tyber. He's just traveling." Arsham whispered reassuringly. "Dracons tend to like to glide from place to place, where there are currents and wingspace to do it."
The Panther nodded and striated, extinguishing the magical flair as he sought to control his rapid breathing.
"I do not believe I have encounter a friendly flyer." He said quietly as the Dracon continued on his way. "Most things overhead are trying to kill me."
"Not around here, usually." Arsham smiled. "Both the Dracons and the Avars are normally friendly, or at worst indifferent. Hostile flyers are mostly non-sentients and they tend to stay clear of the cities."
"I'll keep that in mind," he nodded and fluffed his fur under the hidden armor. "Centuries of reflexes do not break easily."
"I'll bet they don't." Ashram nodded. "I've only got forty years worth, and they're hard enough to ignore."
"Particularly the ones that have saved your hide a few times," he added with a knowing chuckle.
"Definitely." He agreed easily, as the buildings became more spread out, and green space became more prevalent. "Hope you don't mind, but I'm going to stretch four legs for a bit." He said before shifting into four-legged white tiger, and running ahead for a bit, and then coming back, something he repeated a number of times before shifting back to his normal form with a stretch. "That feels much better."
"Your stripes are very handsome," was the first thing Tyber said.
"Thank you." Arsham said with a warm smile. "I think I'll wait to get home before I stretch out my other form."
"Yes, the one that would frighten many here." He chuckled. "Perhaps we can spar a bit before we find out what kind of riding instincts you have?"
"That could be fun." Arsham grinned. "It is the form I'm used to working out in."
"It will be interesting to have a larger opponent that is not actively trying to kill me as well."
"Oh, I can probably introduce you to a few more of those." Arsham grinned up. "Actually, you'll probably end up meeting them, since you'll be staying with me."
"Your teammates," he nodded with a smile. "They seemed to be an interesting group, even on paper."
"Much more interesting in person." Arsham smiled as they left the main road and headed toward the coast. "It's uncanny, how much you resemble Ebon in appearance."
"I have heard that said about many Panthers and myself," Tyber smiled slightly. "Even when I was fully mortal, I was told I looked like whatever large black feline someone knew."
"Well, you don't look much like Corwin and he's a large black feline." Arsham grinned playfully. "No mane."
"Ah, a Lion." He nodded with a slight chuckle. "I can't say I have ever liked long hair on myself."
"Nah, short hair works better for you." Arsham commented, after comparing mental images for a moment.
"Thank you," he chuckled softly. "Though admittedly there is no hair under the helm, just fur. After my third body I figured out how to adjust a few things to be easier to deal with."
"Third body?" Ashram asked curiously. "So you haven't actually been in the same body for those centuries you were talking about?"
"Yes and no," he said hesitantly, correlating the contradictory facts into something that might make sense. "It is the same body, but each time I am killed or go to a new mission, She must recreate it for me to inhabit. I don't expect that to make a lot of sense unless you've done it."
"You're right, it doesn't make a lot of sense." Arsham said easily. "But there's a lot of things in the universe that don't. That's what keeps it interesting."
"That it is, and does." He chuckled softly as they approached the house. "It never runs out of surprises."
The house was a two level farmhouse with a large three-car garage. There were no houses nearby, and the smell of salt water was carried on breeze from the ocean nearby. The house was obviously well kept, and the gray paint with black trim looked fairly recent.
"Welcome to my little estate." Ashram smiled, as he opened the gate in the wood fence.
"Very nice," Tyber smiled. "Vysha will like it. I definitely do."
"Did you want to get Vysha settled before we go inside?" Arsham asked, as they walked up the white stone walkway. "The garage is over there." He indicated the section of the house with the large doors that took up half of the lower level.
"I'm sure he'd appreciate it," Tyber chuckled softly as he dropped the illusion, leaving his distinctively decorated metal armor visible once more. "He was most annoyed when I did not have him carry you to safety last night." He added, clearly amused by his steed's opinions.
"I appreciate his concern." Arsham smiled as they walked toward the garage. "But a large riding animal would've attracted a lot of attention, unless you could've made him invisible."
"Not without more preparation than I would have had," he shook his head and whispered a few words, drawing power into a shimmering silver-blue portal not far away. Arsham watched quietly, fascinated as he always was on the few occasions he actually got to see real magic. It only took a heartbeat, then the sounds of a predatory whinny and thuds of hard feet could be heard, heralding the arrival of a draconic-looking horse in full plate armor much like his master's.
"Vysha, this is Arsham," Tyber told the beast as it stopped in front of him to be caressed along the few places on it's head that were not covered by metal. "Be nice to him."
"Yes, he definitely would've attracted attention." Arsham said thoughtfully, as he looked over the predatory steed curiously. "Hello, Vysha." He said politely, not sure exactly how intelligent a steed he was dealing with, but not wanting to insult him by assuming he was on the same level as a destrin.
His greeting was returned with an almost hissing whinny and several sharp nods of the beast's head, sending its long black mane into the light breeze.
"He's not as intelligent as we are," Tyber explained without being asked as he scratched his mount's fine dark scales. "But he is well above most animals. Generally they are described as having close to a young child's level, with very strong combat and hunting instincts."
"Well, never hurts to overestimate someone's intelligence." Arsham smiled. "I'm not using the third bay of the garage right now, so we should be able to modify it to be acceptable." He said, leading the to the far door which was sliding upward to reveal a reasonable large enclosed space.
"Given the size of your grounds, he won't need it much," Tyber smiled and made a quick motion that left the beasts' bridle in his hand and caused the rest of the gear to vanish from Vysha's powerful frame. "We are used to living in the field. This is quite a luxury."
"Well, the weather here on the coast can be unpredictable this time of year." Arsham said easily. "Early fall to late winter is the storm season around here." He explained. "But I think I probably should introduce the other resident who's out on the grounds a lot, just so we don't have any misunderstanding." He said simply, as a silvery canine the size of a tiger came padding around the corner. Though the build was reminiscent of a large wolf, the eyes were more intelligent and a bright sapphire blue. "Archeros, this is Tyber and Vysha, and they're welcome here, so play nice." He said, scritching the large canine behind the ears, as Archeros came up next to him.
"Hello Archeros," Tyber removed one metal gauntlet and offered his hand to the canine to sniff.
Archeros looked up at Arsham briefly, before sniffing the hand. After a moment he made a quiet rumbling sound, and padded around to get a closer look at Vysha.
"It seems he approves." Arsham smiled.
"That is good," he nodded as they watched their animals greet each other warily. Two top predators of exceptional intelligence gagging each other on several levels before exchanging a few sounds and agreeing to what their two-legs wanted.
"Apparently, they've decided they can get along." Arsham said, as he observed the exchange. "You just never know how it'll go when you introduce two predators to each other."
"No," he agreed with a wry smile. "Though having two that are inclined to listen to their people does help."
"That's very true." Arsham nodded. "So does Vysha prefer to hunt his own meals? There's game out in the wooded half of the estate, if he does."
"It depends on what the people are offering," Tyber chuckled softly. "He has a taste for our food, but not field rations. Offer him hot juice cider and he'll be your friend for hours."
"Sounds like Archeros, though his big thing is chocolate." Arsham chuckled. "That and chim'ra but chim'ra is a special occasional treat. Funny you should mention cider though, this is the best time of year for maelo fruit cider."
"And he heard that," Tyber laughed at the way his mount was staring at them with glittering black eyes much like a horses. "Now we'll need a few gallons for him to try."
"There's an orchard not far from here, where they press their own cider." Arsham smiled. "I usually stop by a couple times a week, when I'm here."
"I expect it might be more often for awhile." He shook his head in amusement. "Such a sweat tooth for a meat eater. Speaking of which, I do need to know what a destrin looks like. I don't think he can run loose looking like that."
"He'll raise some questions, that's for sure." Arsham nodded. "Which would lead to questions from the Department of Agriculture as to just which spaceport he passed quarantine at." The White Tiger said thoughtfully. "I can pull up some pictures of destrin inside, so you can decide what you want him to look like."
"Excellent," the Panther nodded. "I'm sure it will be simpler than creating the paper trail to some world he could have come from."
"First we'd have to locate a world inside the Alliance that hasn't had a very thorough survey done yet. I don't think I've heard of anything quite like him before." Arsham said simply, as he led the way into the house. The first room of the garages contained a multitude of tools, and several workbenches along with a computer terminal with a large monitor. Currently the monitor was displaying partial schematics for an engine. Arsham sat down at the terminal, and began typing with quick ease. After a brief delay, several pictures of Destrin came up. They were in a broad array of colors from black to white with shades of brown, gray and even a steel blue in between. They were comparable in size to Vysha, though they lacked the predator attributes and had medium length fur, which made them look a little shaggy.
"Excellent," Tyber nodded as he took in all the angles. "A very similar body design, and he won't have to pass any tactile tests." He considered a little, then focused on his open palm.
'*Berti Shalom Quists.'*
His voice echoed softly with power as a blue glow formed in the open palm, coalescing into a very simple lead harness.
"And destrin are fairly common in the farmlands surrounding the city." Arsham said absently as he watched the magic curiously.
"Now as long as no one sees him take down a meal, we'll be fine." He chuckled softly and went out to slip the bitless bridle on his mount, giving Vysha the appearance of a very dark draft-class destrin of indeterminate stock.
"Yeah, Destrin are pretty solidly herbivores." Ashram chuckled easily.
"If all else fails, I can just tell him to hang out in the pocket dimension for awhile." Tyber said quietly. "He may not like it, but it's hard to capture something that doesn't exist in your world anymore."
"Oh, I think we can avoid that." Arsham chuckled. "I'll work on setting up the paper trail, so we can drop the disguise. It'll take time, but its not really a big deal."
Vysha's distinctive hissing whinny greeted that with several sharp nods of his large head.
"He approves, a lot." Tyber chuckled and patted the large beast on the side of his neck. "He's quite proud of his looks."
Arsham smiled as Vysha turned to check out the estate at a full gallop. "Having to wear disguises for work a lot, I understand wanting to get out of them."
"I can imagine," he nodded, watching his mount move off with graceful power not even the illusion could conceal. "It is not something I have had to do much of, honestly."
"Sometimes I need to get in and out of place without drawing attention to the fact that I was there." Arsham said as he watched Archeros head off after Vysha, probably planning to show off the estate. "The direct approach isn't always the best one."
"So I have been told, repeatedly." Tyber chuckled softly. "That is usually when She sends someone else. I am very much the charge in and flatten the place type when I have a target."
"I tend to be more the sneak in and flatten the place type, when flattening is required." Arsham chuckled lightly. "But frontal assaults do have their place."
"If they didn't, I'd never get to have any fun." Tyber laughed playfully. "I do enjoy a good fight. A little too much if you ask most of my partners."
"Sounds like Mason." Arsham chuckled easily. "He specializes in blowing things up, and more than that he really enjoys it."
"It's always an advantage to enjoy what you do." He smiled and relaxed against the wall, completely at home in full plate armor. "I've seen enough of the other side of things to be grateful I'm so lucky."
"Yeah, I'm glad I enjoy what I do." Arsham said easily, as he leaned back in the chair. "Though it's not as if I really ever had much say in it."
"Then you are doubly lucky." Tyber nodded. "Though I am sure you would excel at anything you set your mind to."
"Probably." Ashram grinned. "So, you want to see the rest of the house. This is my workshop, where I design my motorcycles."
"I would be honored," he inclined his head with a small smile and moved to follow the white tiger. "Is this your only home?"
"No, but the other one is part of a military base." Arsham smiled, as he led the way out into the entryway, and across into a large room with several overstuffed chairs and two large sofas. The furniture was arranged around a large entertainment center, and the one wall of the room was dominated by a large picture window that looked out toward the ocean. "Not really suitable for having guests."
"I expect your commanders would object to you bringing strangers there," he nodded easily, taking in the comfortable luxury that was much like his home in intent, though very different in execution.
"My commander probably wouldn't be that upset." Arsham smiled. "His superiors, on the other hand, might be very upset. They can be real sticklers for protocol, and we ignore most of it, as it is."
"That is one advantage to working for someone who is more interested in results than methods." Tyber chuckled. "She rarely cares how I do things, as long as they get done and no one comes looking to kill Her for it."
"The Directors have learned to be more interested in results with us." Arsham chuckled. "'Cause it's all they get with us. We're the best at what we do, and they know it. And more importantly, they know we know they know it." He grinned mischievously.
"And that trying to get you to follow their rules is well beyond pointless." He nodded with an appreciative chuckle.
"Completely beyond." Arsham smirked. "We not only specialize at getting into places we aren't supposed to, but we have a wide portfolio of practical jokes."
"I see." He couldn't contain his amusement completely. "They stopped bothering you for their own safety."
"Exactly." Arsham grinned broadly, as he led the way through the dining room, which contained a large wood dining table and chairs with seating for twelve. "Now they get their missions carried out, and we get to ignore the silly, petty formalities."
"Sounds like it's pretty much a win-win situation." Tyber nodded easily.
"We think so." Arsham smiled, as they entered the clean and modern kitchen. "So, you thirsty?" He asked, as he walked toward the refrigerator. "There's water, milk, juice and soda. If you prefer something alcoholic, I'm afraid all I've got at the moment is beer."
"Milk would be welcome," he smiled warmly. "It is a real luxury when you're in the field all the time."
Arsham pulled a small glass bottle from the fridge, loosened the top and handed it to Tyber, before grabbing a similar one for himself. "Some people actually like it in cans, but I've never cared for the metallic taste myself."
"Canned milk?" He gave the White Tiger a curious look before downing half the bottle with a sound of contented enjoyment. "That's just strange."
"Somebody decided that every other beverage came in cans, why not milk." Arsham shook his head. "And sure enough the strange idea caught on. My understanding is that it's cheaper to produce, and stores better. I still don't think it tastes right."
"I don't expect it would." He nodded a bit. "I have found there is little accounting for the variety of tastes people have, however." He shook his head. "Many have found my eating habits in the field downright revolting." He shrugged. "Though I've thought the same of some things I've seen on the table various places."
"That's true enough." Arsham nodded. "One cultures delicacy is another culture's revolting."
"Or just plain poison." He shook his head with a bit of a chuckle. "One place I was at had this fish they liked to eat raw. Only catch was, the thing could kill me in about five minutes of very unnerving numbness. It had a nerve toxin in its flesh. Perfectly harmless to the locals, a very unsettling several hours for me."
"I've heard of something similar, one of the cultures on Earth." He said thinking through some odd things he gotten in the briefing on that world. "The fish is a delicacy if prepared correctly, and lethal if it isn't. Not exactly my preferred form of gambling." He chuckled.
"Mine either," he agreed strongly and settled in a chair sturdy enough for him and his armor. "If I'm going to die, let it be in battle, not at the hands of a meal already dead."
"Agreed." Arsham smiled. "Well, we've just got the upstairs left to see. That's bathroom, two guest rooms, my office, master bedroom with master bathroom including whirlpool tub." The White Tiger grinned, as he rattled off the upstairs list. "House was built to my specs, since nobody had quite built what I wanted, where I wanted it."
"Quite particular, I see." The Panther chuckled softly and stood to follow. "I'm quite fond of the adaptive home I have now. It changes to suit my mood and needs. That is pure magic, however."
"That would be nice, but it's not really an option around here." Arsham nodded as he led the way upstairs.
Each of the large guest rooms had two sturdy looking bunk beds, but were otherwise fairly unremarkable. The bathroom off the hallway contained a sink, toilet, combination shower/bath and a warm air drying stall. It was done in a kind of neutral white and soft blue that made it seem especially clean.
The office was fairly small and contained a large desk, a filing cabinet and a desktop computer system. It didn't have any windows, and there was a single closed cabinet built into one wall.
"The only room with no windows." Tyber commented curiously as he looked around the space.
"For security purposes." Arsham explained easily.
"Not the kind of security I'm accustomed to, I expect." He chuckled lightly and continued on to the large master bedroom, decorated in very strong blues and reds with a large comfortable looking bed made from a black wood that matched the equally solid looking dresser and end table.
Through a door in the master bedroom was an even larger bathroom than the first with the big difference being that instead of the shower/bath there was a shower stall, and next to it a large tub that could easily fit three or four people Arsham's size. "Nothing quite like a hot whirlpool tub to relax in." He rumbled. "One of Blitz's better discoveries."
"Mmm, that does sound very pleasant." Tyber licked his lips. "Quite effective at getting a mission's stress out of one's fur, I expect."
"Very effective." Arsham nodded. "Good after long trips too, especially right before bed."
"I imagine so," he rumbled softly. "Do you share?"
"The tub? Certainly." Arsham smiled. "It'll actually fit four people comfortably. And that was kind of my way of suggesting you might want to try it tonight." He grinned. "Sometimes I'm just too subtle for my own good."
"Yes, you are." Tyber chuckled lightly. "I did not even come close to catching the offer, which I would be pleased to accept."
"Good." Arsham smiled. "So we know what we're doing later. Which just leaves us with the rest of the day." He grinned. "Oh, I almost forgot to show you the pool around the back of the house. Some people think it strange to build a pool this close to the ocean, but sometimes I just don't feel like dealing with all the extras in the ocean."
"Something I can understand," the Panther nodded easily and followed. "Particularly the hungry ones."
"That and gel floaters." Arsham shook his head, as he led the way back downstairs. "Can't stand the sneaky things."
Tyber wrinkled his long muzzle in distaste. "Yes, those things. No redeeming value at all, as far as I'm concerned. They aren't even edible."
"I've certainly never found any." Arsham shook his head, as they walked out of a back door onto a white concrete patio that surrounded a large pool of clear blue water. At the far end of the pool was a ladder up to a board about fifteen feet above the water.
"Not ... the kind of pool I was expecting," he chuckled deeply. "It looks quite nice to swim in however."
"You were expecting something a bit more natural?" Arsham asked curiously. "And it is."
"That is a natural pool?" He looked at the rectangular pool curiously.
"No." Arsham chuckled. "It is quite nice to swim in." He grinned.
"Ah," he nodded and looked around the more groomed part of the grounds. "I believe it will be most pleasant to stay here while I can."
"And hopefully I won't get dragged off on business too soon." Arsham said casually and received a warm smile for it.
"Something else I can agree with. I like your company."
"And I rather like yours." Arsham smiled back. "That's pretty much the house. The grounds aren't that exciting. The ocean over that way." He nodded toward the cliff where the wind was blowing ocean scents. "And there's woods off that way." He nodded toward the trees rising to the north of the house.
"And the animals are likely all over the place, terrorizing everything smaller than they are." He chuckled softly at the habitual antics of his mount. "There are days I think he enjoys being a bully, then he asks me what he should be doing when something runs from him."
"Archeros usual response is that there isn't anything bigger than him around here to chase." Arsham chuckled. "And he's right, his traditional prey doesn't live on this part of the continent. And to be honest I wouldn't want him chasing a toradon around the estate anyway. Oh, a toradon is a eight ton herd animal with a single curving horn."
A moment of math in his mind and Tyber blinked. "I can see why not. That would be ... destructive."
"Herds of them frequently are." Arsham chuckled. "But Archeros still complains about only having little things to hunt. So once or twice a year I take him toradon hunting, just to quiet the complaints."
"Not a complaint I have to hear, fortunately." Tyber chuckled. "Like the Dragons he shares a heritage with, Vysha doesn't think of hunting bigger things as dinner."
"Well, Archeros' heritage is closer to that of wolves, and like them he's a pack hunter by instinct." Arsham explained. "Fortunately, he's often satisfied to hunt in the kitchen."
"Which, I expect, is quite a relief to the local animal population." He chuckled and relaxed against a nearby wall, enjoying the fresh sea breezes. "I doubt many would stand a chance against him."
"I haven't seen anything, except maybe the elekoi, that might give him any challenge." Arsham nodded. "I was a little worried about neighboring destrin but he informed me that they taste awful."
"Hopefully not something he found out trying one of the neighbor's pets."
"I didn't ask, but I got him while I was traveling on business, so he might have tried a wild one before I got him." Arsham said thoughtfully.
"Or a former owner fed him it's meat," the Panther suggested. "At least on many worlds, that is not uncommon."
"I don't think he had a former owner." Arsham grinned. "I found him in the middle of the Narindal jungle, or should I say he found me."
Tyber raised an eyebrow, making it disappear under the metal helm. "I did not think you were trained."
"I was on a mission in the Jungle." Arsham explained. "And he wandered into my camp one evening. He then proceeded to follow me the entire rest of the mission. By the end, I had no way to get him back to his pack and it would've been cruel to leave him. 'Sides, I'd gotten to like his company."
"I meant as a spell-weaver," the Panther said softly. "That is how familiars come to us."
"Oh." Arsham said, a bit surprised. "No, I'm not trained as spell-weaver. I probably don't even have the talent for it." He said simply. "You mean that familiars just kind of show up, you don't have to do anything deliberate to get them?" He asked curiously.
"Not most of the time." He explained in the same measured tone. "When you reach a certain skill level, one will find you. It is much the same as how Vysha became my mount. He is a similarly special individual of his kind, and he came to me when I had proven myself a warrior of sufficient skill."
"Interesting." Arsham said absently. "That was my first solo mission, that wasn't in the urban terrain I was used to. It was a test, of sorts."
Tyber nodded, fascinated by the idea that a mage might have had their familiar come before training even began. "With most interesting results I doubt they expected."
"Well, they certainly weren't expecting me to come back with a pet." He chuckled. "Certainly not a logrin pup."
"No doubt," he smiled softly. "So you have no magical training at all?"
"Nope, not a bit." Arsham said simply. "Not something Citadel teaches."
"It is a pity," the Panther regarded him curiously. "Particularly given your fascination and ability."
"Ability?" Arsham asked, looking at the Panther curiously. "I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have designed that in. Magic is too uncontrollable."
"Design?" He raised an eyebrow. "I did not think you have such active Gods here."
"Something big I think you're info packet missed." Arsham said quietly. "We've got scientists who design and produce people."
That rattled the Panther visibly, though he took it in in relative silence.
"I ... see." He eventually responded. "They are not as perfect as they would have liked. You have a Talent for magic. A respectably strong one."
That shocked the White Tiger into silence for a while. He'd always been fascinated by magic, but it was always something that other people did. It'd never even crossed his mind that he had that sort of talent. Even if Tyber was right, did it matter? He was pretty sure Citadel was not going to be real happy with the idea.
"You're sure?" He asked very quietly.
"Yes." He nodded without hesitation. "On my honor as a Paladin of Kyvva, you have a magical gift worthy of training in any Hall of Magic."
"Wow." Arsham said quietly, as he sat down by the edge of the pool. Knowing was one thing, but what to do with it was another. Sure there were teachers of magic around, but how could he hope to pull that off without Citadel knowing? He was racking up more questions than answers, and the confusion was definitely showing in his scent and body language.
"A teacher ... would be difficult for you to have, with your commanders?" Tyber sat down next to him, at home in his heavy armor as Arsham was in street clothes.
"Not my commander." Arsham said quietly. "The Directors."
"Those above him?" Tyber asked to make sure.
"Yeah, them." The White Tiger nodded. "Ebon looks out for us."
Tyber regarded him for a long time, then nodded to himself as he made a choice.
"I will teach you, if you wish." He offered solemnly. "It may not be Felinor magic, but it will be magic you can use."
"You can do that?" The White Tiger asked, more than a bit surprised. "That won't interfere with your mission, will it?" He asked, uncertainly. "Wouldn't want to get you in trouble."
"Yes, I can do that." He nodded with calm certainty. "I trained as a spell-weaver and as a ranger before I became a Paladin of Kyvva. I have more than sufficient understanding to guide you through the first few years of the craft." He smiled much more gently. "It will not interfere with my mission, I promise you."
"Thanks, Tyber." Arsham said with warmly grateful smile. "First you put me back together and now this. I seriously owe you." He said sincerely, wondering silently just what the Panther was getting out of all this.
Tyber smiled, though it was tinged with sadness and a little self-annoyance. "I would prefer we did not count those." He said softly. "Both sides will likely get very high before either of us leaves this world. I owe you a great deal as well, opening your home and life to me like this."
"That's okay with me." Arsham said with a quiet smile. "I don't usually keep score with the guys either. Friends don't keep score." He said, before wondering if maybe he was being a little hasty claiming friendship with someone he'd known less than half a day. But then what a half a day it had been.
"Good," he nodded slightly. "I believe you needed to check in with your teammates?"
"Yeah, I'll have to be gone for a couple hours to do that." Arsham said simply. "There's a meeting place, and I got to go alone." He said somewhat apologetically. "Not that I don't trust you, but the guys don't know you yet. Surprises in our business aren't usually a good thing."
"Yes, I expect they usually try to get you killed." He nodded easily. "I can quite easily occupy myself here. There is a fair amount of land to become familiar with."
"When I get back we can decide what to do about dinner." Arsham grinned, as he stood. "Sooner I leave, sooner I get back. I'll be back, soon as I can."
"Not a worry," Tyber smiled and put a metal clad hand on his shoulder. "I'm good at scavenging, both from the land, and a kitchen."
"I don't doubt it." Arsham smiled, as he headed for the garage to get his bike.
Arsham was still considering his meeting with the others and the more private concerns of his commander, when he got home almost three hours after leaving. Their animals were nowhere to be seen, admittedly not unusual for Archeros, but the house was very still and quiet. The quiet was too quiet in Arsham's opinion, and like anything else that was out of the ordinary it immediately put him on guard. Reflexively dropping into the silent movement of a covert ops expert, he moved from shadow to shadow until he reached the back of the house.
A quick check of the estate's security system from the concealed rear panel revealed that there was only one person in the house, and that they were not moving. Still not comfortable with the unnatural stillness he unholstered his sidearm, and slipped silently into the house, and up the stairs to the second floor. Standing at one side of the door to the occupied guest room, he paused silently to listen.
The stillness was a palatable aura from inside, but this close to the source it took on other qualities. Calmness, peace, healing ... even a touch of pleasure swirled around the White Tiger in a magical ocean that wished only to float him away into blissful peace.
He shook his head, wondering what the heck was going on. Something very strange was going on, and strange was rarely good. Though this would be the strangest ambush on record if that was what it was. Slowly, he pushed the door open, careful to stand clear as it swung inward.
Nothing came out. In fact nothing changed beyond the soft golden glow that emanated from the center of the room to flow into the hallway. He cautiously peeked around the door to see just what the source of the light was, since it didn't match any of the lights that he knew where in the guest room. It definitely wasn't either.
Tyber, still in his full plate armor, was kneeling in the center of the room, his back strait, eyes closed and palms together in front of him. The glow, and the unnatural calmness, was clearly centered on him.
As Arsham watched, the light slowly faded until it was just faintly visible under Tyber's sleek black fur. With it the unnatural potency of the calmness receded, though there was no mistaking everywhere it touched.
"Welcome home, Arsham." Tyber opened brilliant golden eyes and smiled slightly as he stood. "I hope my meditations did not disturb you."
"Everything was too quiet." Arsham said casually, as he relaxed against the doorframe. "Wasn't sure what to make of it." He added as he slipped his sidearm back in his waistband.
"I tend to forget not everyone finds it soothing." He stepped closer, suddenly a bit uncertain. "Most ... well, you are not most, by a great deal."
"Anything out of the ordinary tends to draw my attention." Arsham smiled, though he wasn't exactly sure what to make of the Panther's statement. "Present company included." He added softly.
Tyber smiled, though he was beginning to wonder if Kyvva wanted him to desire this male so badly it ached in ways he had forgotten were possible. "Thank you," he inclined his head, even as he stopped himself from reaching out to touch Arsham's face.
"You're welcome." Arsham said quietly. "There's nothing on the schedule for me right now, which means I've probably got at least a week. Unless something urgent comes up, but that's always a possibility." He explained casually. "So, you want to go out for dinner, or shall we stay in and have dinner delivered?" Arsham suggested, since those were his two usual options. Cooking was not a talent that he'd been blessed with, and though he could avoid starving that was about it.
"Mmm, I believe eating in would be my preference." Tyber answered honestly. "You have a beautiful world, but I would rather not share you with it at the moment."
"That works." Arsham said easily, though he was still a little unsure about where things were going. He actually wasn't sure they were going anywhere, but part of him thought they might be. It took a fair amount of effort to stay casual. "Any preferences? I don't expect there's any real crossover, but general preferences like spicy or not spicy sort of things."
"I have yet to encounter a meat dish that did not agree with me," he chuckled slightly. "Traveling excessively will give you that tendency, I understand. I have always been particularly fond of game bird, however."
"You either develop that tendency or you begin to hate traveling." Arsham nodded easily, as he considered the places he usually ordered from when he was actually home. "Bertrand's does a very nice corenoi in a vegetable and mushroom sauce, and they deliver." He suggested. "Corenoi is one of the game birds native to this part of the continent." He explained.
"It sounds excellent," Tyber smiled, then stepped closer to brush metal clad fingers across Arsham's cheek, his eyes dark with desire he was well past being able to conceal.
"I'll order then." The White Tiger murmured, without actually moving. He was pretty sure of what he saw in the Panther's eyes and touch, and he decided that exploring a little mutual desire wasn't too risky. Slowly, he brushed his fingers across the Panther's cheek and felt as much as saw the phantom tremor it caused beneath that solid metal armor.
"You will not be in trouble?" Tyber whispered throatily as he leaned forward to kiss the slightly shorter tom. Despite the power behind them and the desire nearly strong enough to break the Panther's reserve, the restraint was evident in every line of his body.
"In trouble for what?" Arsham asked curiously after a brief kiss.
"For being with me," Tyber explained simply, his body at war with his will. "For taking me in like this."
"Directors don't really care who I'm with, as long as I do my job." Arsham said gently. "And Ebon just thinks I need to be careful, but he's okay with it otherwise."
"Good," Tyber let out a small breath and pulled Arsham close, the sharp contrast between hot flesh and fur where they kissed and the metal that covered the rest of his body making it the most unique kiss the White Tiger could remember. It was not one he was in any hurry to end, as he wrapped his arms around the Panther. The presence of the metal coating made it a very strange sort of embrace indeed.
"Care for me to be out of my armor?" Tyber offered as much as asked, his voice low and throaty in his arousal.
"That'd be nice." Arsham rumbled, his arousal heavy in his scent. "I'm sure you look better out of it."
"So I have been told," he smiled slightly and reached up to slide his helmet off, putting his short, sleek black fur one full display for the first time. It revealed one thing that would likely stop him from ever passing as a Felsin, even more than his lack of hair. A shimmering crescent moon on shone softly in his forehead.
Arsham's eyes were immediately drawn to the moon. He wasn't sure how to express his curiosity without asking some really stupid or offensive question, so he didn't. "Definitely better without the armor." He rumbled appreciatively instead.
"It is my mage-mark," he leaned forward to snatch a kiss before setting the helmet down on an invisible object. "When I passed from apprentice to mage, it was given to me," he removed his gauntlets and set them aside before he brushed his fingers over it with a slight smile. "I could be rid of it, but I prefer to remember where I came from, and that I did not always serve Her."
"So is it a physical mark?" He asked curiously, hoping that being nosy wasn't offensive. He didn't think it looked like a brand or tattoo, but it was possible.
Tyber smiled slightly at him. "It is a magical mark. Half physical, half mystical." Slowly he chuckled. "I do not think I have the temperament to do this the hard way today." He lifted one hand, his fingers curled upwards as if to hold a glass as magical energy swirled around his form.
When it vanished, his armor, all the way down to the fur, was on its invisible stand and the Panther's highly aroused state was clear to anyone who looked at him.
"Much better without the armor." Arsham rumbled appreciatively. "And that's a handy way to put it away." He murmured, as he reached out a hand to brush gently across the Panther's scared chest, before leaning forward to claim another kiss that was greeted with much more fire than before.
Despite everything, Tyber never forgot when he was in armor and so much more dangerous to those around him than when he bore his fur alone. "Now you are wearing too much." He breathed hotly as they parted, his hands moving along Arsham's broad chest with experience that had not been used recently.
"I'm afraid I can't just make it hang itself up in the closet." Arsham grinned playfully, as he slipped the pullover up over his head, and set it down on the nearest bunk. His chest also bore a fair number of scars, from four decades of active duty.
Almost to his surprise, Arsham found each one traced by a light finger, then the rougher tongue so much like his own as Tyber knelt and turned some of his arousal towards pleasuring his new bedmate. He rumbled with excitement, as he reached down to gently stroke his new lover's ears. Part of his mind thought he was letting things progress too quickly, but most of him just wanted to go with what felt good.
He felt large, strong hands slid along his hips, seeking how to remove the last barrier between them while Tyber continued to work lower, exploring every inch of Arsham's white and black striped fur. He deftly undid his pants letting them drop to the floor. The removal of this last barrier revealed that he was just as aroused as his playmate, and it made kind of a thud as the sidearm hit the floor. "Gods, I'm glad Ebon didn't see that." He murmured with wry humor.
"Or hear it," Tyber chuckled deeply and used one hand to move the last garments out of the way. "Do you have a preference?" He managed to ask in throaty hunger as he nuzzled the white tiger's groin.
"Relative to what exactly?" Arsham asked, his brain a little overwhelmed by the unexpected pleasure. He hadn't even thought about this happening, certainly not before dinner at any rate. The returned question earned him a low chuckle as Tyber stood and slipped behind him, his hands running along the powerful body he desired so much.
"Then a little release before we decide." He rumbled against Arsham's neck and nuzzled him. Then a strong hand wrapped around the base of Arsham's cock and began to stroke it while Tyber's other arm wrapped around his chest, holding him back against the larger feline's chest.
"Damn, that feels good." Ashram rumbled, as he leaned back against Tyber. He hadn't realized how much he'd missed the furpiles during his three weeks of solo infiltration. Even a relatively out of practice hand like the one pleasuring him how was a rush across his entire body, drawing his focus to the touch of fur on skin and the strength of the tom stroking him so intently.
"Then relax and let it feel even better," Tyber rumbled softly in his ear and squeeze a bit. "I will catch you when it comes."
Ashram's only response was a rumble deep in his chest as he tried to let himself relax more fully. But some reflexes are too ingrained to let go, and that applied especially to the small part of his mind that kept repeating what Ebon had said. 'What seems too good to be true, usually is.'
It didn't stop his enjoyment of the pleasure that slowly build up from his cock to his balls and then throughout his body as Tyber refreshed old skills on a new lover. Eventually the pleasure built to an irresistible point, and Arsham roared as he sprayed his seed across the room as the powerful spasms shook him to the core.
He was panting when he came to his senses again. Tyber's arm was still around his chest supporting him, the Panther's other hand lazily milking the twitching cock for the last of its seed, and the Panther's arousal hard against the small of his back.
"Damn, that was good." Arsham rumbled, as he slowly turned to face the Panther. He leaned up to claim a kiss as one hand reached down to stroke Tyber's hard cock. The hunger in the rumble and hot flesh his hand wrapped around was undeniable, even if either were so inclined.
"Yesss," Tyber almost hissed, pressing close to Arsham without obstructing the motions that drew him quickly to the edge.
The White Tiger continued to stroke the hard flesh with a firm and powerful grip, intent on pushing the Panther to the edge and over quickly and powerfully. He knew it wouldn't be much longer, and when Tyber's body tightened with a glowing tremble it came as little surprise. Even prepared, Arsham was a bit startled by the window-rattling roar that echoed some of Tyber's power set free by the intensity of his pleasure soaking his white fur.
"Very good." He gasped and gratefully accepted the White Tiger's support until he got his legs under control again. "It has been far too long."
"Longer for you, I think." Arsham said, with a slight smile. "You rattled the windows more." He grinned playfully.
"Years," he nodded as he recovered a little more and claimed a more languid kiss.
"Wow." Arsham rumbled surprised. "And I was finding three weeks a bit frustrating." He chuckled lightly, as the kiss broke and Tyber's hands found his body again, exploring and caressing him to hardness again.
"You don't think about it, when it's been that long." He murmured, his breath hot against Arsham's neck as he kissed his way along. "Until you have a playmate again."
"Guess not." Arsham agreed, having no idea what going without for that length of time would be like. "Then you make up for lost time." He chuckled softly, as his hands began to explore the Panther's muscular body to vocal approval and a fierce kiss.
"That's the fun part." Tyber rumbled as their mouths parted briefly.
"Looks like we got a visitor." Arsham chuckled, as he and Tyber were laying out by the pool, just before a heavily muscled orange and black Tiger wearing jeans and a black t-shirt came into view around the corner of the house. The White Tiger stood and walked over to meet the larger Tiger.
"Heya, Bro." The Tiger grinned, and pulled the slightly smaller male into a friendly, roughhousing embrace.
"Good to see you, Sam." The White Tiger grinned. "Come on, there's someone I want you meet." He said pulling Samson in Tyber's direction. "Samson, this is Tyber. Tyber, this is Samson, one of my teammates and Bros."
*'Okay, Bro. What's the story? I know he's new.'* Samson asked across the shielded bond they shared.
*'He saved my life, after that Intel turned out to be half done.'* Arsham explained. *'He's staying here for a while. I like him.'*
*'So I see.'* Samson grinned across the link, as he extended a hand to the Panther. "Pleased to meet you, Tyber."
"It is good to meet you as well, Samson." He smiled slightly and shook the Tiger's hand with a gauntleted one.
"So, do you wear that armor all the time?" Samson asked curiously. What little he knew of dark ages armor indicated it was only worn in battle or the expectation of it, kind of like modern body armor, but maybe this was something different.
"Unless I have good reason not too," he cracked a grin at Arsham and licked his whiskers. "It is quite comfortable, thanks to its enchantments."
"Enchantment?" Samson looked at the armor curiously, and then at Arsham with a teasing grin. "Taking lessons from Blitz are you?"
"Not hardly." Arsham shook his head, with a slight blush. "So where's your shadow?"
"Mason?" The Tiger said casually. "Oh, Delina Skyholme was holding a reading in Forrestal, and he managed to score a ticket."
"The Delina Skyholme, as in the author of 'Streams in the Nebula', that book he's been going on about for the last three months?" Arsham asked surprised.
"I'll bet he was euphoric, I hear her readings almost impossible to get tickets to." Arsham said with a smile, and then turned to Tyber a bit apologetically. "Sorry, Delina Skyholme is a celebrated Dracon poet, musician and philosopher." He explained.
"And clearly a favorite of your friend." He chuckled low in his throat with an accepting smile. "I don't mind."
"Well, I have to remember that you might not know what we're talking about." Arsham said with a smile. "I'm not sure how thorough that intel of yours is, but intel rarely covers contemporary authors."
"It probably did," he chuckled a bit ruefully. "I did a truly terrible job on my reading this time. Really should see if I can grab that report, since it's still on my desk."
"Or we can just throw the info at you as it comes up." Samson suggested helpfully, with a playful smirk.
"That would work too." Tyber rumbled.
"Contemporary?" Samson chuckled. "Bro, she's been writing poetry for five hundred years."
"But she is still alive, so she's contemporary." Arsham responded easily, obviously reprising an old and familiar argument.
"She's contemporary, though her older work probably isn't." Tyber chuckled, being all too familiar with the concept.
"Though her older work on hyperspatial physics is still required reading." Arsham chuckled. "And she wrote it a thousand years ago."
"Her son is really cute though." Samson grinned, not wanting to discuss hyperspatial physics. Physics of normal space he was comfortable with, but adding in 'other'-space gave him a headache.
"And a member of the Dracon Space Defense Authority." Arsham shook his head. "Not exactly safe dating material."
"A little risk adds excitement though." Samson suggested. "Speaking of risk, I saw something odd as I was driving up. It looked somewhat like a destrin with predatory intentions, and it was in your backyard Bro."
"Don't worry, that's Tyber's familiar." Arsham said casually.
"Vysha," the Panther clarified. "And he must have identified you, if he's acting normally. That illusion came with instructions."
"Illusion?" Samson asked curiously. "You mean like a holographic cloak?"
"Magic, Bro." Arsham said quietly.
"No kidding." Samson said softly. "Better not let Rynard hear about it, you know how he gets about anything he doesn't understand."
"Yeah, he had conniptions over that mission in the Crimson Rock Highlands." Arsham shook his head.
"Yeah, and that was over mentioning a griffon in the report."
"Griffons are not real here?" Tyber asked curiously, sure he remembered something about them.
"They're rare as hell, and supposedly magical." Samson explained. "Rynard doesn't like or trust magic."
"Also depends on whether you're talking the two or four legged kind." Arsham clarified. "We were talking four. Two legged wouldn't have upset him quite as much."
"He's likely to hate me then," he nodded acceptingly. "It is a pity. Small minds really should not be allowed to lead anything."
"Rynard's the Director I was telling you about." Arsham clarified. "He's as close to a boss as Ebon has."
"That's cause the Citadel Commander made him the Director of Covert Operations for some reason." Samson grumbled.
"The Commander's brother is mated to Rynard's younger sister." Arsham said quietly. "Nothing mysterious about why."
Tyber could only roll his eyes and snort in disgust. "Not a good way to choose leaders."
"No, it's not." Samson agreed easily. "We're just lucky that Rynard knows enough to leave details to Ebon. If Rynard was writing mission plans we'd be seriously screwed."
"And not in a good way." Arsham smirked playfully at Tyber.
"I expect he'd be dead." The Panther rumbled somewhere between outraged and protective.
"Maybe." Arsham said uncertainly, as something blocked him from really pursuing the idea. "The Citadel Commander has been known to execute people for screwing up too badly."
"Among other things." Samson agreed. "A company where when they say you're terminated, they really mean it." He snorted in amusement.
"At least not as much as Gods do," Tyber rumbled, still more than a little irate about the situation. "At least he has some sense for getting the job done."
"Rynard may have gotten the job by virtue of who married who, but that won't protect him from the consequences of serious failure." Arsham said simply. "So he let's Ebon do, what Ebon does best."
"While desperately hoping that the Citadel Commander won't decide to promote a Gen 0 above field command." Samson said simply, though there was a small trace of bitterness.
"That simply is not right," Tyber shook his head. "I've seen it so many times I'm sick of it, but to set an accident of birth over skill is inexcusable."
"Accident of birth?" Arsham chuckled slightly. "There were no accidents were we're concerned. Each of us came from a detailed set of blueprints."
"Nah, Rynard was the accident of birth." Samson snickered. "But a lot of folks aren't so sure about Gen 0's."
Tyber paused, thinking of how to rephrase his statement in a way they'd understand.
"But each of you were born, and to an extent it was an accident of birth." He said softly, sure of the reality even if not his wording. "The soul in those constructed bodies was chosen like any other birth was. By random luck."
"Oh, that." Arsham nodded. "Well, that's kind of part of the problem some folks have with Gen 0's. They're not sure if lab creations have souls or not."
"We weren't sure about it the first few years." Samson nodded. "But then we read somewhere that only beings with souls worry about having them."
"That seemed like a pretty clear cut answer to us." Arsham finished.
"That it is," he nodded with a slight smile. "Though there are exceptions, they all tend to be creatures that used to have a soul."
"Oh, you mean like vampires and such?" Arsham said, recalling a reference to vampires as being the 'souless undead'. Of course, he also wondered if such things really existed.
"Vary rarely," he chuckled softly. "Most are mortals turned demons. Undead tend to be souls trapped in mortal remains too long, or bodies animated without one."
"But there really are such things?" Ashram asked curiously. "Undead that is. I mean there are lots of stories, but no real proof."
"Maybe not on this world," he admitted easily, "but they unfortunately common many places I've been. Sometimes it's by the will of the individual, sometimes by magic, sometimes even by technology, or a mix of them, but they are very real. And very dangerous."
"There might be proof in some of those old ruins that have started turning up." Samson said quietly. "Some of those places date back to the Age of Legends."
"Hope not." Arsham said seriously. "That would be really bad for the archaeologists."
"Ghosts would be far more likely than undead." Tyber added seriously. "Not always an improvement, but much more common in old areas and places of trauma."
"Those pyramids in the Zikasian desert are probably full of ghosts." Samson said quietly. "They are supposed to be tombs, after all."
"Surprisingly enough, they tend to have the fewest ghosts." Tyber chuckled a bit. "That's the kind of place you'll find undead though. Ghosts usually don't happen when they've been properly sent off."
"Oh." Arsham said, a bit surprised. "That makes sense. So ghosts are like people loitering after death?"
"Loitering?" Samson chuckled in amusement. "Makes it sound like all you need is a cop to come along and tell them to move along."
"Sometimes, you do." Tyber said in all seriousness. "Most of the ghosts I've come across didn't really know they were dead. They just had to be sent off and they were gone. Not that it works all the time, but a good percentage don't fight it."
"You've still got the counter-eavesdropping stuff on this place, right?" Samson asked, looking at Arsham.
"Good." Samson said quietly. "We really wouldn't want Rynard to find out we'd been having a serious discussion about magic, undead, ghosts and whatnot."
"He'd have kittens."
"Just what the world needs, a bunch of little Rynards." Samson snickered.
"I expect he would have a good deal more than that, given what I've been doing the last few days." Tyber chuckled softly. "This is only talk. I've been doing it."
"Yeah, he would." Arsham nodded. "Much less what you've talked about doing."
*'What's up, Bro?'* Samson asked quietly, the concern obvious in his mental voice.
*'Tyber's going to teach me magic, real magic.'* Arsham replied quietly.
*'What?!'* Samson exclaimed in shock, and more than a little disbelief. *'Do you know what Rynard will do if he finds out?'*
*'No.'* Arsham said quietly. *'And neither do you. But he never ordered me not to.'*
*'No, that's true enough though it's certainly implied.'* Samson said quietly. *'Just be careful.'*
*'I will be, Bro.'* Arsham replied easily.
"Yeah, he'd go into high orbit over that." Samson said out loud to a series of very curious looks from the Panther watching them.
"Would you prefer I step out?" Tyber offered quietly. "So you can talk."
"Sorry, bad habit." Arsham apologized. "We jump between modes of communication without even thinking about it. One of our big social adjustment issues."
"It's especially bad when we've been on assignment for a few months." Samson agreed. "We kind of have to learn what not to do all over again."
"The counselors say it's because we were communicating telepathically, before we learned speech." Arsham explained. "Though not by much."
"Ah," he nodded easily and relaxed. "The few times a partner has talked silently to me, it has been about what could not be said in front of those present. It is quite a different thing from your habit."
"We try to remember to actually step out of the room in that case." Samson said simply. "But in this case he was just telling me about what you'd said you'd teach him, and I was a bit surprised."
"So was he," Tyber chuckled softly.
"Well, we try to remember with people we like. We just don't always succeed, especially first meetings after missions." Arsham clarified. "We silent talk around Rynard all the time."
"Yes, the subtle ways of annoying the superiors who deserve it."
"Especially since he suspects we're doing it, but can't prove it cause he's mind-blind." Samson snickered. "He hates it when subordinates leave him out of conversations when he's in the room."
Tyber grinned broadly. "I'm sure you have some truly fascinating conversations too."
"Sometimes, and sometimes its just silly stuff." Arsham chuckled. "We spent an entire debriefing once, playing a mental game of 'twenty questions'."
"And then there was the tournament version of 'rock-paper-scissors'." Samson laughed deeply. "Totally floored Rynard when Blaze announced 'paper covers rock' during a discussion of the defense response time."
"I'm afraid I don't know that one," Tyber shook his head, laughing at the intent anyway.
"It's a very simple children's game." Arsham explained. "There are three 'objects' that you can declare; 'rock', 'paper' and 'scissors'. 'rock' is superior to 'scissors', 'scissors' to 'paper', and 'paper' to 'rock'. The two people playing count to three and simultaneously declare one of the three, trying to guess what their opponent is going to do." The White Tiger continued. "'Paper covers rock' was Blaze stating that he had played paper against his opponent's rock, thereby winning the hand. He just wasn't supposed to say it out loud."
"Oh my, that must have gotten a strange look." Tyber laughed hard as he tried to reconcile the meeting environment with the game.
"Rynard looked at him like he'd suddenly jumped up and started dancing on the conference table." Ashram laughed equally hard remembering the completely stunned look on the Director's face.
"After a moment, he just looked at Blaze and said 'I'm sure that's relevant somehow.' and continued with the debriefing doing his best to pretend it hadn't happened." Samson chuckled broadly. "But he kept looking around the room as if he expected one of the rest of us to do something equally bizarre."
"Why do I expect most of you were trying very hard not to crack up and give him something more to talk about?" Tyber roared in mirth, small tears forming in the corners of his eyes.
"That and trying very hard to come up with something to top it." Arsham snickered. "It was hard to top something that surreal though."
"The unintentional ones are usually the best." The Panther continued to laugh. "It's hard to top true improve."
"Very true." Samson agreed, still laughing. "It's never as funny when planned."
"At least not to the planners," Tyber chuckled as he calmed down. "Sometimes it's just as good on the outside."
"True, though stand-up comedy isn't really our strong suit." Arsham chuckled.
"Practical jokes, on the other hand, are an entirely different matter." Samson smirked mischievously.
"So I have heard," Tyber's deep golden eyes glittered in amusement and encouragement.
"It's amazing the amount of fun you can have reconfiguring someone's warm air dryer." Arsham snickered. "Like the time we loaded Rynard's with multi-colored glitter."
"It's the brightest he's ever been." Samson roared with laughter. "Or the time Blitz slipped multi-color fur dye into his shampoo."
"Lions aren't supposed to have spots." Arsham chuckled, his eyes briming with laughter. "Certainly not bright blue ones."
Tyber's roar of laughter, actually vibrated the water of the pool, and was enough to earn a curious whinny from his mount.
"Just good stories, Vysha." He waved the animal off, only to have him thump onto the patio to join them.
"Then there was the week we kept leaving stickers around his home and office to indicate that we could have done something." Samson snickered. "He had his people tearing everything apart looking for what we'd done."
"And we hadn't done anything, except leave stickers." Arsham laughed deeply.
"Oh, those are some of the best." Tyber grinned. "Leaves them paranoid for years."
"And Rynard's kind of paranoid to start with." Arsham chuckled. "Though the four inches of snow we put in his office might justify that."
"It's hardly paranoia with the bunch of us around." Samson smirked. "Like the time the twins completely reversed his office, while he was out at a meeting."
"Reversed his office?" Tyber looked at the pair with a raised eyebrow.
"They moved everything so that instead of facing the door, his office was facing the window." Arsham snickered. "This was inconvenient, because that put the bookshelf that had been under the window, in front of the door."
"Something that no doubt frustrated him to no end at first." Tyber chuckled. "He may be a nuisance, but it sounds like he gets payback."
"Oh, that he does." Samson grinned broadly. "Especially after assignments that are either stupid, or that come with inaccurate intel."
"Assuming that they're 'urgent' enough that we don't have time to redo the intel ourselves." Arsham clarified.
"I expect he's in for a very serious of pranks, now." He looked rather pointedly at Arsham.
"We're just waiting for everyone to get home." Arsham grinned mischievously.
"And Rynard probably knows it." Samson smirked. "I'm sure he's heard by now."
"I'll refrain from adding my opinion to things," the Panther said very seriously, his desire to pound the daylights out of Rynard clear in his bright eyes.
"Oh, I think I can guess." Arsham said easily. "And I appreciate the sentiment." He added with a warm smile that was returned in a moment of silence that got them an odd look from Samson. Arsham grinned back at the Tiger, who just chuckled.
"I see the mission blowing up wasn't a complete disaster then." He teased playfully.
"There was an upside." Arsham agreed. "Not that it gets Rynard off the hook for that half-baked intel."
"From anyone," Tyber rumbled softly and obediently scritched his mount's jaw when the large head was pushed into his hand. "I do wish I had arrived a little sooner. A lot of that damage could have been avoided with another sword around."
"I'm grateful you arrived when you did." Arsham said seriously. "That was the point I really needed the help."
"Yeah, thanks for being there." Samson said sincerely, as he absently scritched Archeros who had padded up quietly looking for attention. "It's not too often we need outside backup."
"So I've gathered," Tyber nodded easily, intimately familiar with the concept. "Most of the best are like that." He added easily.
"Yeah, and most don't like to admit it when they do." Arsham agreed. "And we usually don't either."
"The lucky of us simply have someone making sure that help is there, when it's needed." Tyber smiled fondly at memories of fights about teammates and help, and the gratitude he had when various allies simply dropped in at the right time.
"If we weren't spread so thin on 'urgent' missions, somebody would have." Samson grumbled. "But there aren't many outside of the NightBlades qualified to back us up."
"You do have one now," he said simply, a tone that brooked little argument with the reality that he was going to help get them out of trouble when needed.
"Certainly not with the new training program they started." Arsham muttered.
"What is that?" Tyber raised an eyebrow, trying to remember one of significance.
The teammates exchanged a brief glance before Arsham looked a bit sheepish. "It's really top secret, Tyber." He started apologetically. "We shouldn't even have mentioned it." He said softly, and something in his scent said that whatever it was, the White Tiger didn't like it, a lot. "I'm sorry, there's just some stuff at work we can't, we shouldn't, talk about."
"I understand," the Panther said easily, his body telling them he really did. "If it becomes important that I know, I will, without compromising you."
"That much I'm sure of." Arsham smiled, relaxing as the moment of discomfort passed. "So just how'd you get here, Samson? I didn't hear anything fly in."
"Didn't fly, drove." Samson grinned. "Sweet new all terrain SUV I picked up. Great for camping."
"You and your camping." Arsham chuckled. "I'm guessing you're waiting for someone who cooks to go with you."
"You got it." The Tiger grinned broadly. "Figured I'd take the twins." He said easily. Samson had planned on asking Arsham to join them, but he thought the White Tiger looked like he had plans.
"Good choice since they also happen to be a good hunting team." Arsham smiled. "But personally I had enough 'camping' on this last mission to make me grateful for the comforts of civilization."
"And you have company." Samson teased playfully, at which Arsham blushed a little and Tyber grinned and licked his whiskers.
"That he does," he rumbled in satisfaction. "Though I must admit camping sounds rather fun. It seems so much more pleasant than what I usually do."
"Well now." Samson grinned at his teammate. "You two want to come along then?"
Arsham grinned. "Interested Tyber? This is a good time of year for it, as long as it's not work related." He chuckled. "The hunting is good, and its still some months before snowfall."
"I think it would be fun, and I would like to meet the Cheetahs."
"Excellent." Samson grinned. "It'll be two or three days, since we have to wait for them to get back and debrief. But I don't think that'll be a problem."
"Which means Arsham has time to settle down from his mission first," Tyber rumbled softly. "And see how fast he picks up a new language."
Arsham grinned broadly. "Language is something I do easily. They're like codes to me, and cryptography is my specialty."
"That is good, because the first step in learning magic, is to learn the two languages it uses." Tyber chuckled softly. "One for communication, and one for actual spells."
"Interesting division of tasks." Arsham nodded. "Though it makes a certain amount of sense."
"Uh guys, I don't mean to be a wet blanket but talking magic out here in the open is risky." Samson said quietly.
"Don't worry, Bro." Arsham said calmly. "I've got enough counter-surveillance stuff for a military base. I'd know if they were eavesdropping, even if it was from orbit."
"Just be careful." Samson said softly.
Tyber nodded seriously. "We can simply take the discussion, and the lessons, to my tent from inside the house. Nothing will eavesdrop in there, except possibly Lady Kyvva."
"Who's that?" Samson asked curiously.
"An outside Power." Arsham said easily.
"Right." Samson said as he blinked in surprise. "Bro, you do find the most interesting people to bring home." He teased playfully.
"Actually, he found me." Arsham grinned. "And just about had to carry me home from what little I remember."
"Actually, you did manage to walk the entire distance," Tyber shook his head slightly. "I must admit, it was something of a relief when you passed out and I was able to heal you."
"He's stubborn that way." Samson shook his head. "Medical gets extremely frustrated with him."
"Oh, like you're any better." Arsham chuckled. "Like any of us are. We just take cues from Ebon."
"Who's a Healers worst nightmare." Samson snickered. "Prone to sneaking out of sickbay to check and make sure everyone's back safe from missions."
"When they're trying to put him back together from one," Tyber chuckled, knowing the type all too well. "He'll probably be worse with me around. No downtime truly required."
"Probably." Arsham shook his head. "I know I saw wheels turning when I told him how fast you put me back together."
"I'll bet." Samson nodded. "He's probably just trying to figure out how to keep the whole thing from attracting Rynard's attention, among others."
"Would not simply under reporting your injuries be sufficient?"
"For awhile it would work." Arsham nodded. "But given the hazardous nature of what we do, it would become suspect over time. And Ebon always considers the long term consequences of command decisions."
"Ah, that." He nodded easily. "A sudden drop in medical time would lead to questions. As would the reports if I ever end up charging in."
"That would be difficult to keep out of the reports without engaging in some serious creative writing." Samson chuckled. "Panthers in armor riding carnivorous mounts aren't exactly commonplace around here."
"Of course we might get lucky and just draw a reprimand for filing a ludicrous report." Arsham chuckled. "I'm sure Rynard wouldn't want to believe it."
"Don't forget wielding a sword and magic," Tyber snickered. "I think I may just summarize everything he doesn't want to believe in."
"Actually the sword and the armor wouldn't bother him." Arsham said thoughtfully. "He's supposed to be one of the better swordsmen on the planet. It's the magic that gives him fits. Not sure why exactly."
"Oh, I know why." Samson shook his head. "His family is descended from the same line as the old Camistar nobility, including the royal line."
"I don't see the problem." Arsham shook his head.
"Well, if you believe some of the old stories, the last full-blooded Camistar king was responsible, at least in part, for the genocide against the Sabertooths." Samson said quietly.
"How'd you find that out?" Arsham asked curiously.
"I spent the last three weeks in Tak-shi, which was once the Camistar capital. I ran into a couple of old storytellers, who claim to be descended from the Camistar court bards." Samson explained simply.
"How does that fit in with magic?" Tyber asked quietly.
"Remember what I told you about the Sabertooths and how the magic seemed to fade about the same time they disappeared?" Arsham said simply. "There's an old legend that says that the Sabertooths would return one day to settle old scores. I'm not sure how much I believe that, since the Sabertooths were never the sort to pursue vengeance. At least, that's what the old stories say about them."
"So he's worried that any return of powerful magic means someone is after him?"
"That'd be my guess." Samson said simply. "Either that or it might indicate the presence of a Dracon mage, which would be just as bad."
A very puzzled look crossed Tyber's face. "I thought they were allies?" He looked at Arsham. "You stopped me from blasting the one that flew overhead."
"They're allied with the planetary government." Arsham said quietly. "And that probably wasn't a mage anyway, most of them aren't. Certainly, not on the level that Rynard would worry about."
"Oh," Tyber blinked, catching what was unsaid as much as said. "He must have a lot to worry about, some days."
"Most of it he leaves to his superiors to worry about, but some of it is just too personal." Arsham said simply. "But it makes more sense, since magic bothers him way beyond him just not believing in it."
"I wonder if dropping an Intel packet of a Sabertooth would be a decent joke?" He suggested with an uncertain grin for this new concept of thought.
"It would certainly lead to massive paranoia." Arsham snickered.
"Which makes it just about perfect, Tyber." Samson grinned approvingly.
"Would it be good or bad to give me the teeth for the pictures?" The Panther asked, uncertain of the wisdom of it, but finding the idea amusing. "Showing off a little magic even."
"Well, he wouldn't believe it was a Sabertooth if he didn't see the teeth." Arsham said simply. "Not sure how well magic would come across in still pictures though."
"We could include vid clips." Samson suggested. "Maybe use some footage of the capitol as background. That'd really freak him out."
"And I can put on a very showy display, when I care to." Tyber warmed up to this with a grin.
"I bet you can." Arsham grinned. "And I know just how to get it to him too."
"You're gonna plant it where Voland can find it, aren't you?"
"Of course, he'll run it straight to Rynard without doing any serious background checking." Arsham snickered. "He's always so eager to win the Director's praise."
"I think we're going to have some real fun waiting for the twins." Tyber chuckled deeply.
"Sounds like it." Samson smiled, as he absently wondered if the Panther was into threesomes. He decided there was time enough to find out about that, after Arsham had had a bit more solo time. "Good thing you've got that big basement, Bro."
"It comes in handy for a lot of things." Arsham smiled.
"And we can always use my place, if we decide to try something ambitious with this." Tyber offered easily and relaxed back against Vysha's side.
"So just how big is this tent you keep talking about?" Arsham asked curiously.
"As large as it needs to be, really." He answered even as he thought about it. "I can't keep armies in there, but it keeps a hunting unit comfortable. It is really a tiny pocket dimension, but that is so much of a mouthful I just call it my tent, because that is what it usually looks like on the outside."
"Handy sort of thing to have." Samson nodded thoughtfully. "And you can get there from wherever you happen to be?" He asked as he considered the tactical applications.
"It is, and yes." He nodded easily. "Though there are some limitations. Mostly on where I come out again. I can only have a few doorways at any given time."
"That makes a certain amount of sense." Arsham said, though he was mostly just going with the fact that it sounded like it made sense.
"And I generally have to be someplace, before I can open one." He added quietly. "It's not that useful for tactics. Except retreat."
"Sometimes knowing when retreat is necessary, and accepting that fact, can be a very important tactic." Arsham said simply.
"And a very difficult one to learn. No soldier likes to run from a fight." Samson said quietly.
"A fact that my mage-partners often find infuriating to convince me of." Tyber chuckled softly with a shake of his head. "Though if I met the situation more often, it would probably be easier to notice. I'm not very good at stopping once a battle has been joined."
"We have the same problem." Arsham chuckled. "We've had more lectures on the subject of 'Tactical withdrawals and how to know when they're required.' then we care to count."
"Usually by the Medics on duty when we get back from a particularly injury ridden mission." Samson added.
"I can imagine." He chuckled softly. "I don't expect they are fond of seeing any of you around their territory."
"Well, we don't usually stay long." Ashram chuckled.
"Usually not as long as they want." Samson agreed. "And we're certainly not very good at getting plenty of rest."
"Though I doubt you have much problems staying in bed," the Panther purred with an amused look. "Just not resting."
"We don't often stay in bed either." Arsham chuckled playfully. "Start there yea, but not stay there."
"Not enough variety?" He asked with an amused look. "Or just not enough space?"
"That depends on numbers really." Arsham grinned. "The bed just isn't big enough for a full furpile."
"Most rooms wouldn't be," the Panther chuckled after a moment of mental math.
"That's what the living room is for." Arsham smirked.
"And all this lovely land," Tyber motioned to the forested and grassy areas.
"That too." Samson grinned. "There's an especially nice glade about half a mile north, just inside the forest."
"Mmm, someplace Arsham will have to show me," Tyber rumbled softly with his eyes on the White Tiger.
"Maybe after dinner." Arsham suggested. "It's supposed to be clear tonight, and both moons will be full."
"Sounds delightfully romantic," he rumbled and licked his whiskers suggestively. "Perhaps I can introduce you to a delicacy of the Outer Realms. Shahia is a truly marvelous thing under full moonlight."
"Sounds wonderful." Arsham rumbled agreeably.
"Speaking of dinner, any plans?" Samson asked curiously.
"The usual ... deciding whether we're going out or having something delivered." Arsham chuckled.
"We've all agreed our cooking is merely survival level." Tyber chuckled. "Though I could cheat, as long as no one expects it very often." He offered to Arsham with a wicked look.
"No need to cheat unless you want to." Arsham said easily. "We can order in with the best of them."
"Well, yes," he chuckled. "But you can always get a little preview of the more useful aspects of magic. Household help."
"That's worth seeing I think." Arsham smiled. "Especially if I can learn how it's done." He added playfully.
"In time," the Panther chuckled and relaxed back. "That's not a set of spells I picked up until recently. They aren't the simplest ones to get to work."
"I'm not surprised." Arsham nodded. "If they were simple, housekeeping would become a lost art." He added with a grin.
"Only if everyone knew magic." Tyber chuckled with a grin. "I doubt it will ever be truly taken away from the more organized minds."
"Probably true." Arsham nodded. "And some people actually enjoy it."
"As hard as that is to believe," he shook his head. "It not an idea I have ever found appealing."
"Me neither." Arsham grinned. "Housekeeping is one of those necessary tasks, that only gets worse if ignored."
"I've always found help to be the answer," Tyber chuckled softly. "Be it magical or paid in some way."
"Oh, paid help is definitely the way to go." Samson grinned. "Especially when the paid help is really cute."
"Cute is a definite plus," Tyber agreed with a matching grin. "It never hurts to have the addition be pleasant to look at, or play with."
"Not at all." Samson agreed easily. "So Bro, do you still have the cute fox coming by once a week to clean up?" He asked, teasingly.
"Of course." Arsham grinned. "How else do you think I keep the place clean when I'm away for weeks at a time?"
"That one is definitely pleasant to look at, and very willing to play." Samson grinned broadly.
"A Fox?" Tyber cock his head, rolling the idea around his mind a bit and deciding to roll with local customs. "That would be ... different."
"They can be a lot of fun to play with." Samson smiled. "There's a fair number of them on Felsinor these days, probably the most common breed of Lupo to make long term stays."
"Inquisitive lot?" He chuckled softly, remembering the time he had one as a housekeeper and the difficulty keeping her nose out of everything.
"Foxes can be, but it's more that they're really friendly and outgoing." Arsham smiled. "They love meeting new people. But Davos is good about not getting into places he shouldn't."
"Sounds like less trouble than I had with Salla," Tyber chuckled and shook his head. "She got her nose into everything, even after it got singed a few times."
"Davos is very obedient, and when I say something is off-limits he doesn't touch. Sometimes he's almost too obedient." Arsham shook his head.
"I think the term is pet-wannabe." Samson snickered.
"You just lost me," the Panther admitted with an inquiring look for the pair.
"I don't get it entirely either." Samson shook his head. "Some sort of really subservient relationship. A civilian friend of mine told me about it when I described Davos behavior. He said the fox was angling to be Arsham's pet."
"Which has to be about the most bizarre thing I've ever heard." Arsham said quietly.
"I have to agree," Tyber shook his head. "Why anyone would want to be almost a slave is too strange. The way wives are treated by most is bad enough, but to want that?" He rumbled. "Just weird."
"I couldn't agree more." Arsham nodded. "Fortunately, I think he's figured out that I'm just not into that game, so I'm seeing less of the overly obedient routine."
"Oh, that's new." Samson said, surprised. "And an improvement, cute is much better when there's some fire behind it."
"Definitely," Tyber grinned. "A little fire always makes life more enjoyable."
"Yeah, doormats have their place, but that's in front of a door." Arsham chuckled softly.
"Not in one's bed," he nodded decisively.
"Most definitely not." Samson agreed. "Well, at least not on long term basis. Might be okay for a one-time thing, if he was really cute."
"Well, that's just fooling around." Tyber chuckled low in his throat. "Personality isn't quite so big a deal when they won't be there in the morning."
"Very true." Arsham agreed. "Cute will only go so far, but for one night it can be enough."
"Handsome and fiery is worth checking out, though." Tyber rumbled at the White Tiger. "Especially when they're smart and skilled on top of it."
"That's very true." Arsham smiled warmly at Tyber, echoing the rumble. "That's far too rare a combination to not check out."
"Add intriguing on top of it, and you have someone worth pursuing." He licked his whiskers suggestively.
"Intriguing is always a serious plus." Arsham rumbled, with a warm, inviting smile that Tyber shifted to take him up on, before remembering Samson was there. Arsham kind of forgot that his teammate was present, as he moved close enough to claim a playfully, passionate kiss from the Panther that was returned almost without thought.
With only a fractionally hesitation Tyber rumbled and pulled him close, using a flicker of magic to be rid of their clothes and set' his hands to exploring the White Tiger's dense fur.
The exploration was returned eagerly, with Arsham's strong hands luxuriating in the feel of hard muscle under the Panther's dense black fur, unphased by the abrupt disappearance of their clothes as desire took first place in their minds.
Tyber slid one hand down to his lover's sheath and balls first, enticing the hard pink flesh to come out and be pleasured. He flicked one ear sideways at Samson's low rumble, his face abruptly came up as he realized they were definitely in the middle of company. The sudden reaction expanded Arsham's focused back out, and he realized that they were still by the pool, with an audience. "I don't usually forget where I am like that." He whispered so only Tyber could hear him. "You really are too hot for words."
The Panther ducked his head and blushed, whispering a few words in a strange, musical language and brought their clothes back to them.
"I would say it is quite mutual, Arsham." He claimed a lingering kiss. "And I don't think your friend minded."
"Oh, I know he didn't." Arsham chuckled. "He would've watched the whole show if you hadn't noticed him."
"Well, it didn't seem like you guys cared that I was here." Samson grinned teasingly. "And you're definitely worth watching, Tyber." He added with a playful wink and grinned as the Panther ducked his head in embarrassment.
"Weren't we going to do create some video as payback?" Tyber suggested a distraction.
"That we were." Arsham agreed. "So we should go inside and grab the video equipment." He suggested, gently tugging Tyber toward the house. "And no, not that kind of video, Bro." He said over his shoulder at the Tiger.
"I didn't say a thing."
"I know you, Bro." Arsham chuckled.
"You make videos of it?" Tyber looked at the White Tiger curiously. It sounded kind of fun, really.
"We have." Arsham nodded. "It can be fun way to pass time between missions."
"For times when you are alone?" He guessed, finding the idea rather appealing in an odd way.
"Some times." Arsham nodded. "And sometimes it can be a real turn on watching them with the right person." He rumbled playfully.
"Or the right people." Samson chuckled.
"I don't think we need such help." The Panther chuckled and licked Arsham's ear playfully.
"No, we don't." Arsham agreed, as he unlocked the door to the basement.
"Not hardly." Samson agreed. "Just don't do that when you're out in public." He teased playfully. "Except maybe at Warlords."
"The instant-no-cloths bit?" Tyber chuckled even as he asked for clarification.
"That and what followed." Samson grinned playfully. "Sex in public is frowned on, even where it isn't illegal. Except for certain night clubs."
"I'll try to keep that in mind," Tyber rumbled. "He does make it terribly difficult."
"So do you." Arsham chuckled playfully as he opened the door at the foot of the stairs.
"You two are like newlyweds." Samson chuckled, as Arsham led the way into the large chamber which contained several digital video cameras, as well as several computer workstations and a holographic projection system. "You sure there isn't something you forgot to tell me, Bro?"
"No, there isn't." Arsham said, blushing slightly under his white fur as both toms grinned at him.
Tyber leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. "So what do Sabertooths look like? Or are expected to look like at least."
"Like this." Arsham said as he sat down at one of the computer stations and quickly brought an image of the long-toothed tigers. "Though photography hadn't been invented yet, we have some very good paintings of them that have survived to modern day. Some books from the period also have good pictures."
"Okay, so we're looking for a Tiger with saber-fangs," he nodded and studied the various images. "Any indication how big they are, relative to me?"
"Appears they averaged about 8' to 8 and a half feet tall." Arsham said after looking through a few references. "Nine feet wasn't unheard of. Build was much like a Tiger though."
"What are we using for references?" He asked and began constructing the tactile illusion spell.
"Literature of the time primarily. The references I have, generally say that the Sabertooths were a head or two taller than the average noble."
Tyber chuckled softly. "I meant in the recording."
"Use one of these." Arsham suggested as he brought up a full sized hologram of a short-winged shuttle with three landing legs under it. "With the landing gear down, they stand just about nine feet tall." He grinned. "And they're used all over the planet."
"That works," Tyber grinned and focused his will into the magic of his first training. Without a sound his form began to shift, taller and a little heavier, wearing modern clothes and the stripes of a Tiger along with the twelve-inch saber fangs of the long lost race.
"Very nice, Tyber." Arsham said approvingly, as he began setting up the holocams.
"That ought to give Rynard a few nightmares." Samson added as he began programming the holographic projector. "So where do we want to set this?"
"How about Ralvert airfield?" Arsham suggested. "It's near the capitol, and half the mining camps on the continent use it to come in and do claim registration."
"So what do you want me to do, besides look like this?" Tyber asked curiously.
"I don't know." Arsham said thoughtfully as the scenery including the shuttle began to appear. "I think you mentioned something in the flashy magic category."
"Yes, though I'm not sure what it would be that wouldn't be in the news very quickly." He paused, trying to think. "Well, there is always the teleport portal arrival. My best flashy magic is all combat oriented."
"Good point." Arsham said quietly. "Not a lot of flashy non-combat stuff, huh?"
"Would flight be considered flashy?"
"If there was some sort of noticeable effect, and no wings involved." Samson nodded. "Yeah it would be."
"What about just riding Vysha on a path of fire several feet over the ground?" He suggested, trying to come up with something flashy that didn't involve doing damage. "Healing can be rather flashy as well."
"Oh yeah, that's major flashy." Arsham grinned. "But keep the Destrin illusion up, or they'll think that the Sabre is just an alien from offworld."
"No problem," he nodded easily and whistled a sharp, three-note command to bring his mount down. "Do you have any good representations of a major banner or flag the Sabers used? I can play herald."
"Very nice touch." Samson grinned approvingly, as Arsham brough up a flag with an eight pointed gold star behind crossed black swords on a red field. "Oh, that's a good one."
"I thought using one of the few warlike Sabertooth clans banner would be a nice touch."
"Yes, definitely good," he rumbled in real approval and made a flip of his hand, producing a long shaft with the banner waving before it. "What did their armor look like?"
"Hmm." Arsham murmured thoughtfully, as he skimmed the refernces some more. After a few minutes he pulled up an image of a Sabertooth in a full suit of shiny black plate armor, and carrying a double edged sword that had to be a good six feet long. "That's one of the central figures from war. One of the Sabertooth warleaders, Cyrix Darkblade."
"Serious looking fellow," Tyber rumbled in approval and shifted the illusion to match the styal without actually copying it.
"If half the stories are true, he was as much mage as warrior." Arsham said quietly. "You have quite the artistic flair, Tyber." He added with an approving look over the armor.
"Thank you," he rumbled as a clip-clop-click announced Vysha arrival. "He sounds much like a paladin in many ways."
"It's possible." Arsham nodded. "But difficult to be sure, because many of the stories were written by those who survived the war, and the victors. They aren't what I'd call a objective or trustworthy account."
"They rarely are," he inclined his head in acceptance and worked a bit on the destren illusion. "Did they armor their mounts?"
"Good question." Arsham said, and returned to the database. "Yes, in much the same style as the rider." He said displaying a large destrin in full plate.
"This would be quite intimidating, in truth." Tyber reguarded his work with sadistfaction before swinging up with the ease of living in the saddle much of his life.
"Kind of like a main battle tank." Arsham nodded. "Good thing this basement is bigger than the house above it."
Tyber paused to place the referance, then nodded. "Surving much of the same purpose, as well. Now, just where do you want us to run?"
"Let's change the angle of the scenery first." Arsham said, at which Samson reprogrammed the background so it was running the length of the long chamber. "Run the length of the chamber. This way it'll look like you've just come running across the ocean. Destrin running on water, that'll really freak Rynard out." The White Tiger grinned.
"No problem," he grinned and called on a little power to give the Flaming Trail spell life.
"Shie!" He hissed sharply and snapped the reins, sending them into motion with the banner tall and his bearing that of a noble proclaiming his Lord's arrival.
"Oh wow." Arsham said, as he watched Tyber and Vyssha charge across the holographic scenery. The two made a very impressive display, especially with the trail flaming out under and behind them in a ribbon of power that left little doubt this was a mage of some power.
At the far side Tyber grinned and clicked the reins, sending Vysha to his hind legs in a full swivel in less than a body length at full speed and charged back, their armor glowing with power and the crecent moon showing threw his helm in a display of his training.
"Okay, we've got good footage here." Arsham said as he completed the vid clip. "You're gonna give Rynard nightmares for weeks, Tyber." The White Tiger laughed playfully.
"And probably have half of Investigation out looking for a Sabertooth in plate armor." Samson laughed broadly.
"Just watch, they'll actually find one," Tyber grinned in ammusement. "It won't be the first time I did this and it ended up being real."
"That would be something to see." Arsham said thougtfully.
"Hopefully not to the Saber's detrement, though."
"Probably not." Samson said quietly. "I don't think the Citadel Commander would approve going after a non-strategic target that would attract so much attention."
"Not likely, and Rynard's not suicidal enough to do something like that without authorization." Arsham agreed. "He'd just want to make he knew where the Sabre was."
"Never suspecting it is living in an agent's home," Tyber snickered. "When not wearing the stripes, at least." He let the illusion fade so they both looked as they naturally did.
"That's the last place he'd look." Arsham grinned. "Especially since the capitol is a thousand miles south."
"A very good place to avoid detection, if I do say so. And such plasent company," he purred and slipped his arms around Arsham as the White Tiger finished up the recording.
"You certainly are." Arsham rumbled back, as he made the final adjustments before transfering the vid clip to an intel report data cartridge.
"The only disapointment will not being able to see his face when he views this." Tyber murmured softly and nuzzled Arsham's ear.
"Would you settle for a video of the moment?" Arsham asked with a mischievous grin.
"You can arrange that?" He grinned with an approving rumble.
"We usually do." Arsham smirked broadly. "It's what makes it worthwhile."
"I like it," he purred deep in his chest. "Maybe we can watch a few others, while this one gets delivered?"
"Sure." Arsham smiled. "You want to handle the delivery, Bro?" He asked the Tiger.
"Yep, shouldn't take long. I'll just check that we're still getting the signal from Rynard's office." He smiled.
"You do this often enough that it's permanent?" Tyber raised acurious eyebrow. "And he hasn't found it yet?"
"He finds it, and we put a different one back." Arsham grinned. "He's not entirely sure who puts it there, 'cause we're very good at misdirection."
"I have no doubt," Tyber snickered. "At least you have fun with him for his headaches."
"It makes putting him with him tolerable." Samson chuckled, as he packaged the clip for transport. "We turn him into comic relief."
"And a good way to wind down when a mission goes poorly." The Panther added with a smile and nuzzle for Arsham.
"Which doesn't happen too often, fortunately." Arsham smiled. "And after all, if my last mission had gone perfectly, I wouldn't have gotten to meet you." The White Tiger added, giving Tyber a playful kiss that was returned with a deeper one that ended with Tyber straddling him on the chair.
"Very true," he rumbled and gently pressed their bodies together. "And that would have been a true shame."
"Yes, it would have." Arsham agreed, claiming a deeper kiss as Samson left silently unnoticed to deliver the package. "I should've gotten beaten up sooner." He said half-serious.
"Mmm, not too much sooner, or I wouldn't have been watching." He rumbled and slide gauntleted hands down the White Tiger's sides. "And then who would have ridden to your rescue?"
"Probably the guys, like we usually do." Arsham grinned, even if he was a little frustrated by the metal armor. "But you do a very good job of it."
"I do enjoy my work," he rumbled hotly, claiming another searing kiss before he remembered to remove his armor. "Better, handome?"
"Definitely." Arsham rumbled as he ran his hands through the Panther's dense fur. "The armor is pretty enough, but it does get in the way." He said playfully, before claiming a hot, passionate kiss that was returened fully.
"I tend to forget about it," he chuckled a little sheepishly. "I'm so used to wearing it after all this time."
"You did say it had been years, since you'd had someone to play with." Arsham said softly. "No reason to remember."
"And now I do." He smiled and licked the White Tiger's throat before nuzzling him. "And this time Mason has already made himself scarce."
"Max, I think the water is actually beginning to boil." A playful male voice said from the edge of the pool where Arsham and Tyber were engaged in a passionate kiss that blinded them to what was going on around them.
"There certainly is enough steam rising." An identical voice agreed from a different direction as the Panther jerked back, blue power crackling around his fits as he tried to locate the intruders that had his heart thumping even faster than the White Tiger he was stradling the lap of.
It had been centries since he'd been surprised like this.
"Whoa, it's okay, Tyber." Arsham said quickly, unnerved by the presence of crackling energy in close proximity to water. "Its just the twins."
"The ...? Oh, right." He drew several deep breaths and let the energy dissipated harmlessly before embarrassment took over.
"Tyber, this is Maxwell and Anthony. Twins, this is Tyber." The White Tiger said by way of introduction. "But they go by Max and Tony, and don't worry about keeping them straight, they're interchangeable." He added with a teasing smirk.
"We are not." Max objected. "Samson was right, you are handsome." The lanky Cheetah rumbled, giving Tyber a thorough visual once over that Tyber made at least a passing attempt to interfere with by covering himself with his thick tail.
"Do you friends ever knock?" He looked at Arsham with a mixture of distress and irritation.
"There's no door on the pool." Tony observed dryly.
"And no they don't normally." Arsham shook his head. "Its been awhile since I've had anyone here more than overnight. We're used to sharing a barracks together, so there's a certain familiarity."
"Apparently," he shook his head and slid from the water with the grace of complete effortless control, leaving every drop of water behind him and stood in his armor before the Twins got much more than aglance of sleek black fur. "I think next time we will take this to my home." He only half teased.
"Either that or inside." Arsham grinned. "The hot tub would be just as much fun, and they would knock."
"Okay, okay." Max grinned sheepishly. "So we'll be more discrete now that you've got a boyfriend living with you."
"But honestly, we thought Sam was exaggerating when he said you guys started making out at the pool right in front of him." Tony added.
Tyber flushed deeply at that. "Only for a moment."
"If he hadn't rumbled, it might have been more than that." Arsham admitted, with a slight blush of his own. "So knock next time, okay guys?"
"Sure thing, Arsham." The twins said in stereo. "You guys still planning to go camping with us?" Max asked the pair curiously.
"Definitely." Tyber grinned, honestly looking forward to it a great deal. "I haven't gotten to work out nearly as much as usual."
"Which means I need to get dressed." Arsham grinned, as he climbed out of the pool to get dressed. "Supplies already taken care of?"
"Samson's got his SUV loaded." Max grinned. "I think it cost as much as your house."
"That must be an impressive vehicle," Tyber raised an eyebrow, though his eyes never really left the powerful White Tiger he had just been enjoying the company of.
"Max is exaggerating." Arsham said easily, as he quickly dressed. "The SUV may be expensive, however there are no land vehicles on the market that rival this house in price."
"I don't know about that." Max said uncertainly. "I think he got all the extras."
"Well, I doubt it." Arsham chuckled. "I'll just grab my bag from inside."
"Particularly with all the extras you got." Tyber took the opportunity to snatch a brief, if heated kiss, from him.
"Oh there were lots I didn't get." Arsham grinned after the kiss. "I didn't get the movie theater or the bowling alley." He smirked before disappearing into the house.
"I don't even want to know," he shook his head and chuckled, then turned an appraising gaze on the Cheetah twins.
"Two items commonly found in houses of people who have more money than they know what to do with." Max explained, as he flopped down on the warm stone deck to wait for Arsham.
"But who needs a movie theater when you have a cool entertainment center like Arsham." Tony grinned, as he sat down next to his twin as the Panther chuckled with a shake of his head.
"Did Mason warn you about the non-feline party members?" He chuckled low in his throat and relaxed against a piller.
"Oh, we've met Archeros before." Max said easily, as the silver canine came up next to him. "And he did mentionn the large carnivorous Destrin."
"That would be Vysha," he nodded with a smile for the large canine. "My familiar-mount."
"So he can keep up with the SUV?" Max asked curiously. "Or should we get a Destrin trailer?"
"He can keep up," Tyber chuckled softly. "Though I may not care if I can convince Arsham to ride with me, instead of in the SUV." He rumbled softly at the thought.
"I don't think you'll have to work too hard at that." Max grinned.
"Probably not." He rumbled and licked his whiskers, his mind decidedly elsewhere.
"Okay, lets go." Arsham said eagerly, as he out wearing jeans, a dark green sweatshirt and hiking boots. He was carrying a camping backpack in one hand.
"Why don't you follow along with me?" Tyber rumbled and slipped behind his lover even as Arsham realized the Panther was wearing normal clothes instead of his armor. "Vysha is quite fast enough to keep up." He murmured against the White Tiger's neck with a series of kissing licks.
"Sounds good to me." Arsham rumbled back, as he leaned into the contact.
"We'll tell Samson." Max grinned, as he and Tony sprinted off disappearing almost instantly around the corner of the house.
"Do you know where we're headed?" Tyber rumbled in his ear with a playful lick.
"Yeah, our northern camp site." Arsham rumbled softly. "Far off the beaten path with lots of privacy, near a medium size spring-fed lake."
"Sounds wonderful," he continued to kiss down the side of Arsham's neck as his hands on the White Tiger's body made no secret of his desires. "And we can take our time getting there, if you like."
"I don't think there's any hurry." Arsham rumbled, as he turned to claim a fiery kiss from the Panther. "I like the new look." He added, as his hands caressed the muscular body through the new clothing.
"Good," Tyber rumbled and claimed his mouth for a long, heated kiss. "The armor doesn't feel nearly as good when you touch. Though I do feel rather naked without it."
"I'd imagine you would." Arsham nodded, during a brief pause. "Once you get comfortable in body armor, its a good feeling knowing you've got that extra layer of protection."
"Yes," he murmred and claimed another, slow, lingering kiss as he pulled Arsham against his hard body, making it clear he was hard everywhere for the White Tiger.
Arsham was just as hard for the Panther, as his hands slipped under Tyber's shirt, to caress his back, as the kiss heated up.
"Or if we go slow and quiet, we may get a couple good shows in," he suggested with agrin. "That Panther is awefully hot stuff."
"No kidding." Max grinned. "But kind of shy when he realizes there's people around."
"He's just not used to the way we drop in on each other." Tony chuckled.
"I'm sure he'll get used to it." The Tiger snickered. "At least if he sticks around for long."
"I'd be surprised if he doesn't." Max smirked. "The way those two are acting."
"As bad as newlyweds," Samson snickered and glanced towards the back of the house. "So, do we want to catch the show, or leave the lovesick kittens in peace?"
"I think we interrupted them enough today." Max chuckled. "Maybe we should give them a little space, at least till we get to the campsite."
"I'm not even going to ask for a tiebreaker vote." The Tiger laughed and pulled the SUV out. "I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunities."
"The tents aren't soundproofed, after all." Tony snickered.
"I doubt there's enough soundproofing on the planet to keep things quiet when those two get roaring." He shook his head and drove. "I think we'll get some excellent footage soon too, given Tyber's interest in making films when it came up."
"Really?" Tony asked surprised. "That's surprising considering the shyness he showed when we showed up. Of course, that might have been the surprise factor."
"Or he doesn't realize that it won't just be for Arsham's enjoyment."
"That could be." Max nodded. "Though I don't think Arsham would deliberately mislead him about that."
"No, not the way they're together," he chuckled softly. "But Tyber is seriously not local. It may not have come up in a way he thought of it."
"No kidding." Tony chuckled. "That armor of his is seriously elsewhere, as is Vyssha. I don't think I've even seen that species in the zoology records."
"I wouldn't be surprised," he nodded. "And what they can do with magic is just incredible," he breathed softly, remembering the rush he felt watching the display for the recorders. "He says he's in direct service of some not local Power."
"Which means at least some of local Powers know he's here." Max said softly. "Which means we're getting watched, at least occasionally while he's around."
"Big deal." Tony shrugged. "The Triad doesn't do direct intervention in politics. So let 'em watch."
"Yeah, if they were going to make a fuss, they would have by now." Samson agreed. "Besides, I don't thyink we have a hope of prying those two appart anytime soon. I don't think it's a bad thing, either."
"Nah, Ashram looks happier than he's ever been." Max nodded. "And I thought Ebon and his guy were all over each other." He snickered.
"Well, Ebon's Lion hasn't moved in with him either." Tony chuckled. "He is seriously cute though."
"But Cazi has a place to stay on world." Samson reminded them with a chuckle. "And didn't save his life in a serious way as an introduction."
"That is one hell of an introduction." Max nodded.
"Yeah, I seem to recall Ebon mentioning that he met Cazi when they both went after the same plans." Tony chuckled. "So of course they ended up dating."
"But of course. Anyone with that much audacity is bound to catch our leader's attention. Especialy when he's that cute."
"So that's two of us dating outsiders." Max commented. "Wonder who's next?" He wondered mischievously.
"I'd have to guess Cor," Samsom decided after some thought.
"That'd be about right, him being a Lion and all." Tony agreed. "I wouldn't have guessed it would've been Arsham who did it second though."
"Me either, but when you start getting Powers involved, the rules sort of get tossed out."
"Just have to wonder what that Power is up to." Max said quietly. "It's a bit too large a coincidence that he was watching Arsham."
"I know," the Tiger nodded quietly. "I think it concerned Ebon too. But what can we do, except keep an eye on things?"
"Nothing really." Max admitted reluctantly. "I just hope it's nothing, 'cause he's really good for Arsham."
"I just hope he doesn't find out about that new training problem." Samson said quietly. "I'm sure that Paladin will completely snap if he found out. He's got a hell of a protector instinct in there."
"Ebon reacted badly to it." Max pointed out. "If we didn't have orders to stay clear of it, I think some of the staff would be having accidents." He said quietly.
"Just not command staff." Tony said softly. That was one of those none of them could do; cause serious harm to command level people. Serious embarrassment wasn't interdicted, just physical harm.
"He would be an effective way to shut it down." Samson managed to get out, just barely overriding his programming for a moment.
"But you know we can't actually tell him." Tony grumbled in annoyance. "Just have to hope he finds out about it."
"If he's smart and as connected as he seems to be, he may just. Who knows, maybe his Kyvva is a protector of kits."
"Anything's possible." Max allowed. "Felsira is too, but she doesn't intervene directly for the most part. Something about the whole 'free will' thing. Which seems to mean we can screw up down here as long as we don't blow up the planet." He chuckled.
"I think so," Samson chuckled with a nod. "Though I'd say whoever this Kyvva is, she's already in the 'direct intervention' category." He brightened suddenly. "You should see what we dropped on Rynard's desk. It's wild."
"Okay, what were you guys up to?" Tony asked eagerly. "Less than two days after mission, that's pretty good turnaround for a prank."
"Well, Arsham damn near died because of shoddy intel. Plus his boyfriend was in on it, so it's seriously spectacular." He grinned back at them for a moment. "Tyber did this incredible illusion of himself as a Sabertooth warrior; armor, banner, warmount and the whole nine yards. Then we put him in front of a holo of Ralvert airfield. He did this full speed charge along the length and back, riding on this trail of red, blue and white flames a couple feet off the ground. I just dropped if off for the Director to find."
"A Sabre?" Tony blinked. "In full armor? Rynard's gonna have kittens when he sees that." He collapsed laughing, as his twin began roaring with laughter. "That's one for the record books I think."
"Is the recording equipment still running in Rynard's office?" Max asked between peals of laughter.
"But of course," Samson grinned. "It was Tyber's idea too."
"Well, at least he's got a good sense of humor." Max grinned.
"Yeah, and an insatiable appetite for Arsham." The Tiger snickered. "He's getting along pretty well."
"He's gonna need those videos for the next time Arsham gets sent on a mission." Tony smirked. "Or he might go into White Tiger withdrawal."
"Yeah, but if he can get a little relief from another Tiger," he rumbled hungrily, "I don't think I'm going to mind. Though the really hot thought would be to get him and Ebon in a shoot. Talk about the two hottest Panthers in one room."
"That would be something." Max rumbled. "That could be a long video too, if Tyber's endurance is anything like Ebon's."
"I don't know about that, but they don't seem to ever quit," Samson snickered. "And he has the greatest way to get undressed too." He grinned at the twins. "Just snaps his fingers and everything vanishes. Perfect easy access no matter what."
"Handy talent, though that could be bad if he was drunk something." Max giggled. "Snap his figures and an entire room disrobes." He chuckled deeply at the image.
"That's not a bad thing, if its the right room." Tony snickered in amusement. "But could be a really bad thing in the wrong room."
"And some rooms probably wouldn't even notice," he chuckled, thinking of Warlords.
"Well, that depends on how much clothing disappeared." Max smirked. "Some of those places they'd notice if restraints and collars disappeared."
"True," Samson nodded. "And complain quite loudly about it too."
"Though I'm not sure who'd complain louder." Max snickered. "The ones wearing the collars and restraints or the ones who put them there."
"Probably the management, for disrupting the 'quiet' evening."
"Quiet being anything less than the noise of an armored column driving through." Tony smirked.
"Only in moans and screams," he rumbled, getting thoroughly turned on by all the talk.
"And other such noises." Max nodded.
Arsham was busy nibbling at Tyber's neck when Vysha's smooth gate brought them into the already set up camp. It was a shift neither seemed to care about as Tyber moaned and slipped on hand back to squeeze the White Tiger's ass.
"I think we're here." Arsham rumbled, as he shifted to lick the Panther's ear playfully.
"Mmm, and all set up, I see." Hedrew a deep breath to steady himself and trid not to see how the other three were watching them intently.
What this Tiger did to his body was impossible.
"They've probably been here awhile." Arsham rumbled softly, causing him to shiver in desires that their previous stops had not done enough to quench. "And they even set up two tents instead of just using the big one we usually do." He chuckled.
"Very nice of them," he rumbled and twisted in the saddle to bring his lover's mouth against his own. "Make use of it?"
"Definitely." Arsham agreed before claiming a hotly passionate kiss.
Vysha just snickered in a whinny and walked the last few yards to their tent, stopping just in front so the disatracted lovers had to do little more than roll off and into it.
Arsham closed the tent with one hand, while the other slipped under Tyber's shirt to run through the dense fur and quickly found both their clothes in a pile on the floor as his mouth was claimed by the most intense kiss they hadshared yet.
"I want you." Tyber managed to rumbled, his body so keyed up it was hard to think.
"And I want you." Arsham rumbled back, the blood racing through his body like he hadn't felt it years. His hands explored every part of the Panther's muscular body, as their mouths met in another intensely passionate kiss.
It was Tyber's touch that signaled his interest in more than the fooling around they'd been enjoying for the past two days when his fingers slipped under the White Tiger's thick tail and between his ass cheeks.
Arsham rumbled with excitement, as the thick tail reflexively flicked out of the way allowing the Panther easy access. With a hungry, excited rumble Tyber broke their kiss and shifted to put Arsham under him with his hips in the air.
The White Tiger rumbled with aroused excitement, as he flipped his thick tail playfully at the Panther until it was capture and held in place by a strong hand.
Arsham moaned in pleasure with the first touch of a light tongue on the furless pucker under his tail. He managed to relax, despite shivering in excited anticipation of what was coming. The White Tiger's hard shaft and swollen sheath, however, throbbed with excited arousal.
Slowly, very slowly, his tongue circled the entrace to Arsham's body, wetting it, pleasuring it, preparing it to be pressed open from outside.
Arsham continued to moan with excitement, as his hard shaft dripped in anticipation. The White Tiger had had many partners before, but none quite so patient or skilled in what the Panther was doing.
Even with the intensity he could taste in the air around them, Tyber still took his time, his folded tongue slipping in and out of the opening, until Arsham was almost ready to demand more.
Then the powerful Panther was against his back, his cock a hard length against Arsham's balls and sheith.
"Have you taken a male before, love?" He whispered hotly in the White Tiger's ear.
"Taken and been taken by, love." Arsham rumbled in heated excitement. "And I enjoy it both ways."
"Good," the Panther shifted, his jaws closing around Arsham's scruff and the tip of his cock slid upwards to press against the well prepared opening.
Arsham shivered with excitement, as he pushed out to make the entry easier. He moaned with pleasure as he pushed his ass back to meet the Panther's hard cock.
"Sweet Sashari," Tyber moaned as he sank in, his voice muffled by the thick white fur in his mouth.
Arsham moaned in a kind of unison with the Panther topping him, as he tightened his muscles around the cock inside him, holding and gripping it, once it was deep inside.
He felt as much as heard the starled cry of raw pleasure that shot through Tyber's body and broke what little restrait the big tom had in him.
He tightened his jaws and wrapped an arm around Arsham's chest, holding the White Tiger against him with his full strength. His hips had a life of their own, the slow, smooth strokes gaining power and speed as Tyber quickly neared his point of no return.
Arsham's moans and groans of pleasure became louder and more intense as the pounding the Panther was giving him, excited every fiber of his being. It was like the times he'd been with Ebon in warform, but more so because he knew the Panther wanted just him, and there was something so intensely erotic about that, that just blissed the Tiger out and pushed him to edge of his limit.
Their roars echoed in near tandom, shattering the peace of the forest and shaking the walls of the tent as Tyber emptied himself into his lover and Arsham soaked the blanket under them.
"Oh, you are good." Arsham rumbled deep in his chest, once he'd recovered enoug for words. "Incredible in fact." He said, still breathing a bit hard.
"Thank you," Tyber's voice was deep and intence, full of the passion that had driven them to distraction for two days now.
He also wasn't done.
"I would like to see you face, when I am so deep inside you." The Panther breathed hotly against Arsham's neck.
"My favorite position." Arsham rumbled hotly, ready for more. It never took him long to recover, but then again it never took any NightBlade long.
It was a trait that Tyber clearly shared as he pulled out, stil rock hard and helped his lover roll over so they could kiss while joined and easily sank back into Arsham's body with a moan that disappeared into the White Tiger's mouth.
As they shared a intensely passionate kiss, Arsham again clenched his muscles to grip and hold the Panther deep inside him. The moans and groans of his pleasure lost in the equally intense kiss.
This time Tyber was ready, at least a little, for the added tightness and pleasure. Still it was an incredibly intence sensation to feel a lover tighten their body around his shaft as he thrust in and out. He trembled and gave himself fully to the pleasures of the flesh that were so much more when he was with Arsham.
The Panther closed his eyes, focusing his awareness on touch, smell, hearing and taste as he drank in the very essesnce of his lover.
Arsham for his part was riding a wave of pleasure that seemed go on for ever, which radiated from his lover's cock deep within him. A few days before the casual pleasure of one-night lovers had been enough, but now they seemed like pale imitations of the ecstasy he experience with Tyber.
Both lovers knew in the same moment they would come together again, the rumbling power that increased in Tyber's thrusts and the pulse of Arsham's cock against his belly. Still they did not break their kiss until they could hold it no longer and threw their heads back with a earth-shaking roar of two bodies and one experiance.
"Don't those two ever tire out?" Max moaned and flopped back, utterly exhausted by attempting to keep up with the pair in the other tent.
"I don't think so." Tony shook his head, from where he was lying on his side. "But there's gotta be a limit somewhere."
"Yeah, but what a background to play with." Samson chuckled. "At this rate, we'll be getting a good show before the trip's over."
"It's just a good thing we camp in the middle of nowhere." Tony snickered. "Or they'd have a major audience."
"No kidding." Samson agreed with a chuckle. "They are so newlyweds. Now I know why they all get sent on honeymoons. It's for public safty."
"So whad'ya do with the ones who act like that without getting married?" Tony smirked. "I'm not convinced even a month of camping will change anything. Assuming the powers-that-be give us that much time off."
"I'd be worried if I was a power-that-be and I intrupted that pair." Samson shook his head. "It'll be intresting to see how Tyber handles Arsham's next mission. It might not be pretty."
"Any idea if he knows what we really do?" Tony asked quietly. "He doesn't strike me as the sort that would be really happy with most of it." The Cheetah added, though it was clear that he wasn't bothered by it.
"I doubt he does, or has more than an inckling of it." Samson shook his head. "I can't see Arsham telling him yet, and if his Power told him, he's hiding it well."
"That can't be easy for Arsham, not being able to talk about what he does for a living, without lieing." Tony said quietly. "And trying to say that he's leaving for a mission, without giving any explanation won't be any easier." He added sympathetically.
"I doubt it," Samson nodded quietly. "Reminds me why I don't 'date' outside the SG."
"Though there aren't many inside the SG, as attractive as Tyber. Excluding teammates, of course." Tony grinned.
"Aren't many outside that are." Max shot back with a grin. "That is one handsom Panther, even if that thing on his forehead is a bit weird."
"Yeah, that's got to be the oddest tattoo I ever saw." Tony nodded." and it glows. I never saw a tattoo do that."
"I never saw a Panther ride on a trail of fire, until he did it in Arsham's basement." Samson chuckled softly. "I kind of expect he'll redefine 'secret weapon' if he ever decides to get active in things. He is seriously full of surprises."
"Yeah, but secret weapon for who?" Tony asked quietly. "I don't see him taking orders from Rynard, or the Citadel Commander." He added, fairly certain on both counts.
Samson glanced towards the other tent, even though he couldn't see it threw their own, his face thoughtful. "If we're very lucky, for us."
"We just gotta keep it secret that he's connected to us." Tony said quietly. "You know that Command would have a collective fit."
"Given how good he can do disguises, that might not be too difficult." He considered the unseen but easily heard pair. "I just hope things go okay when he does figure what we do out. It could be really bad, especially for Arsham."
"Yeah, I think there's a lot more going on there then mutual lust." Tony said quietly, a bit fascinated. Emotional involvement outside the NightBlades wasn't something that any of them had much, if any experience with. The lanky Cheetah found it kind of reassuring to see that it could happen though.
"Definitely," Samson smiled a bit. "At least on Arsham's part. I've never seen him blush before." He chuckled.
"Rather noticeable under the white fur." Tony grinned. "And kind of cute." He shook his head. "Not a word usually associated with Arsham."
"Definitely not," Samson snickered. "He is though, when he does that. Of course, so's his boyfriend when he does that bashful reutine. They're really quite a pair."
"Hot, and yet cute." Tony smirked. "And loud." He added, with another snicker as another set of roars echoed through the forest. "Probably scare all the game away for five miles."
"Somehow, I expect those two pets of theirs will still find something." Samson added with a shake of his head. "That is their weirdest destrin I've ever come across."
"Looks like a Destrin with Dracon lineage." Tony shook his head. "And Archeros isn't exactly your standard domestic canine either." He chuckled.
"Acts like one too." Samson shook his head. "It was a weird sight to see him hunting when I pulled up to the house. Not something you expect of a riding animal."
"Well, not the commonplace ones but some of the legends." Tony said thoughtfully. "Supposedly, the Sabers rode Griffons, and those hunted."
"Never knew that," he chuckled softly. "Maybe the next vid will be a Griff mount instead of a destrin."
"It's in some of the stories." Tony said quietly. "Though maybe that's just something the authors are adding to get them published now."
"Maybe," he nodded easily. "Though given Rynard's reaction to that Griff in a report, it's a good addition."
"Yeah, he freaked on that one." Tony snickered. "I think he's still got people looking for Griffs."
"Hay, maybe they found one." Samson snickered. "But now have to catch it cause he won't believe them."
"If they don't parade it into his office, he probably won't believe it." Tony shook his head. "He's seriously in denial on some subjects."
"Still probably think it was some kind of trick," he shook his head. "It's amazing what he doesn't get some days."
"Given some of the pranks we pull on him, it surprising he believes anything some days." Tony snickered. "At some point we ought to turn his office upside down." He chuckled. "Nail his desk to the ceiling, that sort of thing."
"Bets he'd be calling for help before he realized the furniture was still in the room." Max snickered back.
"Some days I'm amazed he hasn't asked for a transfer away from us." Samson rumbled in amusement. "Or maybe no one else is willing to cope with it."
"Or maybe he pulled too many strings to get what was supposed to be a high prestige assignment." Tony smirked. "And now he'd be hard-pressed explain why he doesn't want it."
"Even more likely," Samson agreed with an amused rumble.
Tyber's head snapped up before Vysha's warning winy settled. His armor was on and he was on his feet even as Arsham grabbed his hand in confusion.
"Trouble's coming." The Panther hissed sharply, extending his full senses to find what was troubling his mount. "Undead trouble."
"Here?" Arsham said, as he snapped to full awareness. "We've camped here dozens of times and not seen anything." He said, as he checked the link to find the other three waking as well even as a roar out in the darkness of something large and malevolent shook the night.
"Yes, here." Tyber rumbled and clicked into full combat mode, making it onto Vysha's back and armoring his mount in the same breath.
By the time the four NightBlades had dressed and rushed out, they could see the flash of Vysha's hooves in the darkness as magic fires swirled around paladin and mount to protect them and turn their enemies to ash.
What came out of the darkness to greet them was the stuff of nightmares. A wingless dragon formed from the darkness itself and infused with chaos from the edge of existence. It shouldn't exist, and yet it did. Its touch corrupted the ground it touched and the air that surrounded it.
Almost more terrifying was the sight that challenged it. The Panther and his dragonic horse mount, sword drawn and shield at the ready, wreathed in blue-white flames and clearly having seen and defeated worse in his life.
Power unknown to mortals crackled in the air all around from monster and knight, a contest of wills as much as weapons and armor.
The monster recognized its opponent as representing a kind of order that it rejected and denied. The beast opened its mouth and a gout of black flame erupted toward the glowing knight.
It was met and deflected by shield and will, even as the blue-white flames of Tyber's aura lashed out to engulf his enemy before blade met flesh.
The flame drew an outraged roar from the monster, but the blade deflected off the metallic scales of its hide. The monster slashed out with one massive paw, wicked claws shining like polished onyx that met a similar fate as Tyber's blow.
Vysha instantly wheeled to put a little distance, knowing this was down to a battle of magic even before his rider began summoning up the full power of his three-score training in the arcane arts.
The dragon appeared to have reached a similar conclusion, as it dug a furrow in the ground with one of its huge claws. There was a rush of death energy as a skeletal Sabertooth warrior emerged from the violated ground.
It collapsed to dust almost as quickly, victim to the holy aura that bathed them all in iridescent flames that made the dragon's scales smolder even though the four NightBlades and logrin watching in various states of shock and horror were left unharmed.
There was an eruption of darkness, as the dragon's aura claimed the space around it, extinguishing the flames that scorched its hide even as Tyber called forth bolts of pure light designed to kill such as the dragon.
The NightBlades shock lasted only a moment, as they shifted to warform and began to move to encircle the enemy. An enemy was an enemy no matter how strange, and that brought a focus to the NightBlades that submerged horror.
"Stay back!" Tyber roared, his focus split for a fraction of a second, but still long enough to get caught by a bolt of darkness and thrown from his mount. Trees older than the world government snapped like twigs as the armored Panther crashed backwards.
Moving with a speed that belied his size, Arsham rushed in to catch Tyber before he hit ground. A second blast from the dragon drove the burdened White Tiger backwards, not quite knocking him off his feet. A slight tracing of silver light marked the ground where his claws dug in against the blast.
Everything suddenly froze with a roar of outrage from Tyber as he rushed back into the fray, his entire form a creature of pure light that sprang into the air to descend on his quarry a feline dragon enraged beyond any reason or holding back desire to obliterate the other completely.
The shadow dragon reared back to engage the feline dragon in a ferocious claw-to-claw combat that shattered trees older than the Felsin occupation of the world as the two opponents collided and rolled.
Arsham watched, his attention fixed on Tyber's new form, as he noticed his teammates weapons failing in the surging, disruptive magic field. The White Tiger desperately wanted to help, but this was a fight his training just didn't apply to, and yet he felt there was something nearby he could use to help. Something that was close enough to feel, but not quite close enough to grab.
Cat-dragon and shadow-dragon ripped into each other, their physical footing now at par and their auras in a contest to kill as much as they were.
The auras were on nearly as even a footing as their physical abilities were, and they slashed and singed each other with a ferocity that even the NightBlades found intimidating. Slowly, it became apparent that Tyber had the edge, but the dragon was not inclined or even capable of yielding.
As the two combatants weakened from injuries both physical and magical, Arsham had a sudden spark of revelation about the dragon. He wasn't quite sure what to do with it though until another spark told him.
"De hører ikke til her, De aldri gjorde." Arsham said in firm voice, though he only vaguely knew what he was saying.
The shadow dragon, however, appeared to recognize the language and its attention shiftily briefly from the fight to the White Tiger standing by himself. It was enough for Tyber to land his jaws fully around the back of his opponent's neck, closing them with a strength that pulverized bone even in his weakened and battered state.
The shadow dragon made a brief, frenzied attempt to claw at feline dragon, but it was futile, as bone shattered and the dragon's black blood splashed to the ground below as the dark aura flickered, sputtered and went out.
Moments after the combat ended, Arsham was at Tyber's side, worry plain in his face and body language as the exhausted and battered cat-dragon sank to his knees and into his natural form. As Arsham's hands touched his lover, the paladin could feel a strange healing warmth coming through them and into him.
A small corner of Tyber's mind that was not consumed by controlling his battle lust and trying to remain conscious recognized the magic at work. He thanked the Fate that had granted his lover a little something to ease the nearly blinding pain and prayed silently for the strength to survive until he could heal himself fully.
The last thought Tyber before he submitted to the cooling darkness was a vague amusement at the reversal of places from only a few nights before.
Arsham tried to draw more of what ever had flowed through him, to heal more of the damage that Tyber had suffered. But he couldn't find it, but he didn't know he'd found it the first time. Frustrated he careful picked the wounded Panther up and took him back to their tent. The other three NightBlades remained in warform and flanked them on the way back, keeping alert for new threats.
Once in the tent, Arsham lay the wounded paladin down and began applying first aid as best he knew how, cleaning the many wounds, and hoping they weren't poisoned. The medscanner said they weren't but the dragon wasn't exactly in the realm of science.
*'No its not.'* A calm, reassuring voice replied in his head, causing the White Tiger to look up, and notice the tall robed figure who hadn't been there a moment before. 'One of the ancient terrors, from long ago. Your chosen is remarkable to have defeated one in single combat.'*
*'Yes, he is.'* Arsham said softly. 'Who are you?'* He asked, hovering protectively over the still unconscious paladin.
*'A child of Kel, like you.'* The wise voice replied softly, as it knelt down and pushed back the hood of the robe to reveal a wizened Sabertooth, his fur white with many winters. 'Loros Ar'shen'Kelspar.'*
*'A Sabertooth.'* He said in a shocked whisper. 'But...'*
*'We disappeared.'* The wizened mage finished for him, as a warm golden light flowed from his hand to bathe the injured Panther. 'That is a long story, and not one it is time for yet. Your journey is just beginning Arsham Ar'Kelspar, we will meet again, in time.'* He said, as he faded from view.
Arsham was distracted by a soft moan from his lover as Tyber's eyes opened slowly, confusion etched in these bright golden orbs. Despite this, his mind focused on what needed to be done now and Tyber called on the same power he had to heal Arsham, only turned it on himself with a relieved sigh.
"I need rest," he whispered to the White Tiger before closing his eyes slowly, "but I will be fine."
"I will watch, while you rest." Arsham said quietly, placing a hand gently on the Panther's shoulder.
'*Are you alright?'* Ebon's strong and calm voice came over their link.
'*I'm fine, Ebon.'* Arsham said quietly, still distracted by the Sabertooth's words, and presence.
'*How's your friend?'* He asked gently, knowing that there was something developing between the two. He might have doubts about Tyber's motives, but he did want his teammate to be happy.
'*Resting. He'll be fine.'* Arsham said easily.
'*Samson said he was pretty badly mauled.'*
'*He was, but he has healing magic.'* Arsham reminded his leader. '*And we had help.'*
'*From who?'* Ebon asked, concerned about another stranger being involved.
'*A Sabertooth.'* Arsham said quietly, not entirely sure that he believed what he'd seen.
'*Are you sure?'*
'*I know what I saw.'* Arsham said firmly. '*But there's enough magic around here to make it uncertain why I saw him.'*
'*Just be careful.'* Ebon said firmly. *'We know less about the Sabre than we do about Tyber.'*
'*I know.'* Arsham said quietly. *'Ebon, I think I love him.'* He admitted softly, with a hint of confused uncertainty.
'*And you're not sure where that goes.'* Ebon finished softly. '*I know the feeling. Just take it one day at a time.'* He added reassuringly. '*That's what I'm doing.'*
'*But you understand who your boyfriend works for.'* Arsham said softly. '*Mine works for a Power.'*
'*And we work for the SG.'* Ebon said gently. '*We don't get many shots at love, Bro. Don't let work get in the way, at least not this way.'*
'*Thanks, Ebon.'* Arsham said quietly. '*You really should meet him.'*
'*I will, when you get back from camping.'* The Panther said gently. '*Just take it easy.'*
'*Will do.'* Arsham chuckled, as he felt the communication fade to the background 'hum' it was most of the time.
Tyber felt the soreness all the way down to his bones. Whatever that beast had been, it had been powerful. A creature of his equal, as long as that had actually been. Something beyond just undead, something from the very pits of the Laza Hells.
He shuddered despite himself and realized that the soreness was memory, not reality. Somehow, he'd been healed, and by magic no less.
"Arsham?" he rumbled weakly and reached to pull the White Tiger close against his bare form. He didn't question why that was the most important thing in the world right now.
"Yes, Tyber?" Arsham said quietly, as he lay down next the Panther and put an arm around him and felt the big tom relax and nuzzle him.
"Just making sure you're okay." He mumbled and breathed deeply of the White Tiger's scent. "The others?"
"You were really the only one hurt, love." Arsham said quietly. "I got singed a little, but nothing that really matters."
"Let me see," the Panther lifted himself from the bedding with more difficulty than he thought he should have. He must have been truely close to being obliterated, not just killed, to have such lingering effects after a Laying on Hands and whatever his lover had managed in the battle that was slowly coming back to him.
As Ashram said, there was singed fur, but there was a a fair amount of it, as if the Tiger had taken a blast from the front but that most of the energy had been deflected.
"I'll be fine, love." Ashram said, trying to keep the Panther from overexerting himself. "It was far more interested in you."
"Noticeably," he smiled slightly and shifted abused muscles before calling the soft blue glow to brush the singed fur away with new growth. "That was the fight of my life." He murmured and pulled Arsham close, claiming a fierce kiss that was far more about affirming life than physical desires he was still a bit too sore for.
"And you won, love." Arsham said, seriously impressed. "I think you're the most powerful person I've ever known."
"You give me too much credit," the Panther ducked his head a bit. "I am only a Paladin of Kyvva. There are many more powerful than I."
"Well, I haven't met them." Arsham smiled warmly. "I can't make comparisons to people I don't know."
"True," he acknowledged and pulled Arsham close against him, soaking in the White Tiger's presence as much as his body had soaked in the healing magic before. "I believe you cast your first spell today."
"I did?" Arsham blinked in surprise. "You mean that energy after the battle? I felt more like the wires between the battery and the bulb in a flashlight."
"That is frequently how it works." Tyber chuckled kissed him gently. "Some magics are drawn from your own power, some from the outside. It's quite amazing, really."
"Is it still a spell, if you didn't do it deliberately?" Arsham asked curiously, after a brief kiss.
Tyber had to think about that as they bathed in the welcome presence of the other. "Unless it was a Gift of some kind, yes." He said thoughtfully. "Sometimes the universe acts through you without exactly asking first."
"Could be." Arsham said quietly. "I couldn't make it happen a second time, after the first time didn't do much more than stabilize you." He said, with a hint of the frustration he'd felt at the time.
"Shuu, love," he murmured and wrapped his arms around his lover soothingly. "You will understand in time. Magic takes years to master."
"I bet." Arsham said quietly. "But so do most skills really worth learning."
"Very true," Tyber let out a soft, relived and relaxing breath. "I don't know what I would have done if you had been seriously injured." He admitted with great difficulty.
"I know how you feel." Arsham said quietly. "I didn't know what I was going to do when I got you back here. You were well beyond my limited knowledge of medicine." He said quietly. "I wasn't even sure modern medicine would help, given what inflicted the wounds."
"Oh Arsham, but I would have been sent back." He whispered with a tight throat and pulled the White Tiger close against him, privately terrified at what he was feeling. "You ... you wouldn't have come back."
"That's easier to hear than to believe, love." Arsham said quietly. "And I'm not all too sure about me right now." He said softly, still trying to decide what to make of the encounter with the Sabertooth.
"Few mortals return after death sane," he whispered with the certainty of long and painful experience. "Better to stay dead, than become one of the cursed."
"Not exactly what I meant." Arsham sighed. "Had a somewhat disconcerting encounter after I got you back here."
"Oh?" Tyber looked at him curiously, then focused all his senses and experience on really looking the area over.
"A Sabertooth appeared in here, out of thin air." Arsham said quietly. "He's the one who healed you."
Tyber blinked once, then nodded. "The board is beginning to set." He said softly, comforted by the utter normality of the feeling in this place that turned everything else upside down. "Soon, the game will begin in earnest."
"Huh?" Arsham blinked. "You mean his appearing and disappearing makes sense to you." He asked quietly.
"In a way," he nodded. "Such unusual happenings and gatherings of power are typically the board getting set up for whatever game I am to be part of in a mission." He brushed gentle fingers along Arsham's cheek. "My Lady Kyvva's sphere of influence is what you call Fate. I am sent to ensure major events go as they should, in the big picture. This world is preparing for such an event."
"Oh." Arsham said curiously. "Something else the Sabre said kind of had me wondering. When I asked who he was, his reply was 'A child of Kel, same as you'. I've never even heard of Kel, who or whatever that is. And I'm no one's kit, that much I do know."
"There are three ways to be someone's child." Tyber murmured softly, wrapping his lover in his very essence. "By blood, by spirit, and by training." He tipped the White Tiger's chin up a bit. "You may not be the child of anyone by blood, so much as everyone."
"Maybe, but I still think I need to find out who this Kel is." Arsham said quietly, as he nuzzled Tyber. "He said it like it was important. And he said that the disappearance of the Sabertooths was a long story, but that it wasn't time for it yet."
"Not surprising," he smiled and licked his lover's jaw gently. "All things happen in their own time. Sometimes these games take centuries to play out."
"What was really weird is that he had the same last name as me." Arsham said quietly. "well, kind of the same...his was longer, like it titles or something stuck in front of it."
Tyber paused for a moment, then chuckled softly as he remembered something so old he's long ago forgotten about it. "I don't suppose you know the translation of you last name?"
"No, never thought about it." Arsham shook his head. "Supposedly it was just something picked at random by the lab techs. Kelspar."
"Random choices have a way of being Fate-picked ones," he chuckled softly. "But you might want to have a linguist friend dig it up. I wouldn't be surprised if 'par' or 'spar' means 'child of' or something similar."
"I'll ask Blitz when he gets back." Arsham nodded. "I'm decent at languages, but he's phenomenal."
"Point him towards the Sabertooth tongues, since who spoke of it was one." He nuzzled his lover affectionately, finally really starting to relax and feel better.
"Probably turn out whoever spliced me together, stuck in Sabertooth and didn't even realize it." Arsham chuckled weakly, as he snuggled against Tyber.
"Given I do not believe your world knows they still exist in a way, it is not surprising." He murmured and kissed him gently, his strong hands running through thick white fur. "It is difficult to avoid something you are not aware of even being there, after all."
"And genetics didn't even exist as a science when the Sabertooths were still around." Arsham said quietly, running a finger along Tyber's jawline. "So they wouldn't no what Sabre genetic code looks like. Might explain the magic Talent you see in me, though." He added thoughtfully.
"I would not be surprised," he murmured and leaned into the intimate touch with a slight shiver. "If it suited Fate to make sure both were in you, it would have been very easy to arrange."
"A little nudge on one genetic scientist is about all it would take." Arsham said thoughtfully, though his thoughts were soon interrupted by a passionate kiss hungry for life and the most intimate of contact with it's mate.
A passion that was met eagerly in an intense kiss, while Arsham's hands explored and caressed the Panther's muscular body that was so recently critically wounded, now only bore a few new scars as reminders of the battle hard fought and barely won.
Ebon SwiftClaw walked into Arsham's home as he usually did and was drawn by the sound of pleasure in the kitchen. Silently he made his way around to see just what was going on. He wasn't usually a voyeur, but curiosity got the better of him with Arsham having this new boyfriend that did such extraordinary things.
As he peaked around the corner, he got a good eyeful of the White Tiger bent over the kitchen counter with a midnight black Panther warform a bit smaller than Ebon's taking his ass hard with all the playful savagery of two NightBlades. It took all of his self control to stay silent, so as to not interrupt the two lovers, as the strong muscles of Arsham's ass milked Tyber's cock for all it was worth.
It wasn't easy with the rich musk of male sex thick in the air and such a hot scene in front of him, but somehow Ebon managed to control his body and breathing while the pair quickly pushed themselves to their very limits and shook the walls when they came in near-unison.
"And I thought Cazi and I were loud." Ebon muttered under his breath, a touch louder than intended.
Both NightBlades jumped slightly as Tyber pulled himself free and spun around toward the noise, his body wreathed in his armor. His magic was a palatable, audible, visible display around him as the fires of his aura began to lap outwards, seeking the intruder.
"Whoa, Tyber." Arsham said putting his hands on his lover to calm him. "It's just Ebon." He added rolling his eyes at his leader's unexpected appearance.
"And I thought the twins were exaggerating." Ebon chuckled softly as the magical flames died away and the lovers' clothes abruptly reappeared on their bodies.
"Maybe, just maybe, if I live long enough, I'll actually convince all your bothers to knock before walking in." The large Panther rumbled with his cheeks burning and his face buried against Arsham's shoulder.
"Oh, that shouldn't take more than one or two encounters per NightBlade." Arsham murmured. "They're usually very fast learners." He added, with more than a bit of a blush himself, much more visible due to his white fur.
"Sorry, Arsham, Tyber." Ebon apologized, though it was clear that he was apologizing for upsetting them. "But after the stories from Samson and the Twins, I decided it was high time I met the new Panther in town."
"Yeah, it is time really." Arsham admitted. "Tyber, this Ebon, leader of the NightBlades. Ebon, this is Tyber, a paladin of Kyvva."
"Pleased to meet you, Tyber." Ebon said politely, extending a hand, as he looked over the other Panther appraisingly and recognized being on the receiving end of one as well as Tyber accepted his handshake firmly.
"It is good to finally meet the one Arsham has spoken so well of." Tyber grinned a bit. "To earn such loyalty is worthy of note."
"I try to earn it." Ebon said sincerely. "Winning his heart is no less of an accomplishment."
Tyber looked at his lover and chuckled softly. "I think it was more a case of mutually stumbling into each others." He said softly, nuzzling the White Tiger with obvious affection as he wrapped his arms around the smaller tom from behind and set his muzzle against Arsham's neck. "Win implies I tried to, and that he has less of a claim on mine."
Ebon smiled. "I suppose it does at that." He nodded, with a truly understanding smile.
"So how are you and the Lion getting on?" Arsham asked, snuggling into his Panther's embrace.
"Oh, Cazi and I are just as insatiable as you two." He chuckled. "He would've come, but he had a meeting of some sort. Patent board I believe he said. Corporate world is not my strong suit. But actually, I came over 'cause Blitz finished that linguistic analysis you asked for." Ebon explained. "Would've delivered it himself, but he had a hot date with a pair of Ferrin." He smirked.
"And?" Arsham asked a bit impatiently.
"Turns out that Kelspar is from one of the old Dialects of Sabertooth." He started. "Kel was one of the big Sabertooth cities, not big by modern standards but big for the times, and for the Sabertooths who weren't big city builders. It was most notable for being home to one of their magic Academies. Kel was also one of the minor Powers the Sabertooths paid some attention to. Seems he was the patron of magic, warfare and healing." He said working from memory. "At any rate -par, is an honorific that means 'chosen of'. Therefore Kelspar quite literally translates to 'chosen of Kel', it was a title. Somewhere between a priest, a mage and one of the warrior elite."
"Which goes a long way towards explaining what happened in the attack," Tyber murmured and licked Arsham's ear. "Both when the blow was deflected, and when you healed me. Fate strikes again." He chuckled in honest amusement.
"She seems to be very busy around here lately." Arsham chuckled quietly, not quite sure what to make of it all.
"After the last prank someone pulled on Rynard, I'd keep it very quiet about the Saber connection." Ebon said seriously.
Tyber nodded just as seriously. "It would not do to have his fear directed at us."
"Exactly, his paranoia is running a bit rampant at the moment without a target." Ebon said simply. "However, it was a very well done prank." He added with an approving smile.
"It was Tyber's idea, and special effects." Arsham smiled, as he nuzzled his Panther.
"I can see why you're fitting in so well." Ebon grinned.
"The film of him seeing it is quite priceless." Tyber smirked slightly. "Though admittedly I like the one where his fur turned into an iridescent rainbow a little better. And the prank that didn't happen."
"Which one?" Ebon chuckled. "We've had a few of those."
"Where you kept leaving notes in his house about what you could have done, but never did anything." Tyber snickered. "That is a truly delightful joke."
"Oh yes." Ebon laughed deeply. "That one was fun. Especially the one note about 'If we replaced this toilet seat with one made from plastic explosive ... how big an explosion would it be?'"
Tyber buried his face against Arsham's shoulder, trying desperately not to fall down as he roarded, loving every moment of torture-Rynard thoughts that came up. Very shortly he was joined by the two NightBlades roaring just as loud, with Ebon leaning against the wall.
"I like you, Tyber." Ebon said once he caught his breath. "You've got one hell of a sense of humor, and the right appreciation for Rynard."
"He's a great deal of fun to play with." The larger Panther grinned. "And next time, we thought to have me ride a griff. Pity there wasn't any film of that fight. For a guy scared of magic, that would have been a hell of a show."
"Oh, that would be good." Ebon agreed eagerly. "Pretty soon Rynard will be seeing armored Sabers behind every rock and tree."
"Never realizing that one of his operatives is," Tyber rumbled and nuzzled his lover, his hands growing bold as they ran down Arsham's sides.
"Something he really doesn't need to realize." Arsham said softly, as he leaned into the nuzzle.
"He's not going to." Ebon said firmly. "And it looks like somebody wants to play some more." The smaller Panther grinned teasingly.
"Nothing new about that." Arsham grinned playfully, as he turned to claim a passionate kiss from Tyber that wiped out the Panther's awareness to everything but the male in his arms and the hunger their souls had for each other's bodies and passion.
It was quite enough to get Ebon to go instantly still and silent, not wanting to disturb the lovers as they decided it was okay to put on a show. As hot and relaxed as he was now, Tyber was a bit on the jumpy side with his powers when startled.
Arsham slipped his hands up under the Panther's shirt to caress the muscular body, as the passionate kiss continued with an intensity that narrowed the world to just the two of them and the fire that all but consumed them.
He felt the shiver of a light touch of power slide across his body in the now familiar sensation of Tyber getting them undressed. The tightly controlled power in the Panther sent a way of pleasure threw Arsham's body as their naked forms were pulled tightly together and Tyber's mouth began to move down his neck with an intimacy that went far beyond physical pleasures.
Ebon found the display erotic on a level far deeper than anything he'd seen before as he watched Arsham reach down to caress and fondle his lover with a passionate tenderness he'd had never seen in his teammate before. It left no real doubt as to the seriousness of the emotional connection between the two lovers, and made it very difficult to stay silent.
It was even more difficult when Tyber shifted back a couple steps and lifted Arsham up, sinking his cock into the White Tiger's body as they embraced and kissed with only his own strength to support them. Arsham was startled for a moment by the new position, but quickly adapted, and resumed kissing and nuzzling the Panther, as his muscles gripped the hard cock inside him as his lover's strength provided the only support and movement they had.
Even with the restricted movement, it didn't take long for Tyber to near his peak. The large Panther warform trembled slightly in the effort needed to keep his lover in place as his orgasm crashed threw him, drawing a deep chested roar that all but loosened the plaster which was further loosened as the roar of Arsham's orgasm shook the house as he sprayed his seed over the two of them.
"Damn, you two are hot." Ebon rumbled, his arousal very plain in his scent, and the bulge in his jeans. He exchanged a brief glance with his teammate, before considering Tyber with a look that was not all subtle. "Have you two ever consider threesomes?" He asked, with a deep rumble.
"I know I have." Arsham rumbled back, as he nuzzled Tyber playfully and the Panther buried his face against white fur, his cheeks burning.
"I don't believe I forgot he was there." Tyber murmured in embarrassment.
"I do." Arsham said softly. "You're hardly the first person to forget he's around, and most people usually do that without being distracted." The White Tiger said softly, not embarrassed this time. as he was gently lowered to the ground with another kiss that nearly swept Tyber's thoughts from the question Ebon had asked of him.
Slowly, he shifted to look at the other Panther from over Arsham's shoulder, considering him in more than combat terms this time. "Honestly, no." He admitted.
"I can't say I'm surprised." The Panther grinned. "You looked pretty well absorbed with just one, but threesomes can be really intense with the right people." He suggested casually, not really pushing.
"We do get pretty swept up." Arsham said, giving Tyber a playful kiss. "At least, I know I do."
"I have never forgotten someone was watching me before, outside of your presence." Tyber murmured softly in admittance with a lingering kiss. "How would a threesome work?" He asked of them both, willing to entertain it if Arsham found it desirable.
"Lots of ways it can work." Arsham said easily, after another playful kiss. "Different arrangements of who's taking who." He explained. "One very intense way would be to have Ebon in you, while you're in me." Arsham rumbled, finding the image very hot even as he felt a sharp tension snake threw Tyber's body. "But there are other ways as well."
"I ... would rather have you in me." Tyber whispered softly to his mate, willing despite it being clear that the idea was not an easy one for him.
"We can do it that way too." Arsham said gently. "You're not accustomed to having someone in you, are you?" He asked so quietly, that Ebon almost missed it.
A slight shake of his head came in answer, then a nearly tentative kiss compared to the fire they usually shared. "It's been longer than I care to remember."
"Maybe we should try that by ourselves first then." Arsham suggested gently. "Leave the threesome for some other time, there will be plenty of opportunities." He offered easily, understanding that some things need to be worked up to.
"Or just put you in the middle." He rumbled softly. "I do think Ebon needs a little relief thanks to us."
"We could do that too." Arsham said easily. "And you're probably right." He added with a teasing grin for his leader.
"Then he does need to be shy a few clothes." Tyber grinned and sent a tendril of magic to make the offending garments disapear. This made the evidence of his needing relief spring into clear view.
"Yep, definitely needs relief." Arsham teased, as Ebon walked over.
"Very handy trick." Ebon chuckled. "But you'd better see to your boyfriend first." He teased back playfully.
"Oh, I intend to." Arsham grinned back, as he slid behind Tyber, nuzzling the Panther, before he began slowly kissing his way down his lover's back.
Tyber shivered slightly and moaned, the intimacy of the touch all the stronger for how long it had been since he allowed another that trust of being behind him naked and unchallenged.
Arsham kiss and nuzzled his way down to the Panther's ass, where he paused to lick and kiss it sensually before gently part the globes of the warrior's ass. Gently but sensually, the White Tiger licked the furless pucker of his mate's ass and felt the aroused tremble in the body above him.
Tyber moaned, his tail twitching as the rush of new sensations roused him to full hardness quickly. His breath came fast as Arsham continued to work his way towards the center of that pucker of sensitive skin Tyber never thought about this way. Slowly, Arsham licked around the edge of the sensitive skin, and then moving slowly inward until his tongue was playing at the center. Gently, he applied a little pressure against the pucker with his tongue, as he continued carefully preparing his mate much as the Panther had prepared him that night in the tent.
By the time Arsham had slipped his tongue fully into Tyber's body the Panther was trembling, his breath sharp and fast and his cock was dribbling pre-come between his closed-eye moans of raw pleasure. Arsham smiled, pleased as he slowly inserted one finger to stretch the Panther's passageway. Continuing to lick and kiss the Panther's ass, he slid the one finger in and out to get the passageway accustomed to an intruder.
Ebon watched in aroused silence as the White Tiger made careful preparations of his lover. After a moment, he decided to play and moved around in front of Tyber, kneeling down to lick at the Panther's straining cock, before taking it in his mouth and savoring the pre-come that dribbled onto his attentive tongue.
Tyber moaned and arched slightly, his body drawing close to it's limits despite having just come and the little time that had been spent on him. But he slid his hands down to caress Ebon's ears and he shuddered in excitement so intense he could think of nothing else, and didn't care. Ebon rumbled in approval, as he swirled his tongue around the Panther's hard, dripping cock.
The White Tiger slowly slid a second finger in with the first and began gently stretching the opening in preparation for his hard shaft of flesh. But despite his arousal and anticipation, he was determined to do this right for Tyber. The first time was never easy, and after as long as Tyber said it had been, it would be very close to being a first time. Once satisfied that his mate was sufficiently stretched, Arsham slowly slid his cock into the Panther's body, savoring the wet , warmth of the passageway.
Arsham felt the thrill a little more as his lover moaned, accepting the intrusion with a willingness that belied his inexperience. His breath quickening, Tyber tried to hold still, to take the fullness in his ass he'd not had in so long and not thrust into Ebon's mouth too hard. His heated state swirled around the three in a potent musk that was part physical, part mental and partly magical.
Arsham rumbled in arousal, as he placed his jaws against the Panther's scruff and began to make slow, deep thrusts into his lovers body. Ebon continued licking and sucking hard cock, as he reached up to fondle the other Panther's furry balls with one large hand. Spurred on by the potent musk he sucked hungrily seeking to bring his new playmate to climax.
All three could tell it wouldn't take much more. Tyber's body trembled and he moaned, submitting to the two toms in a way he doubted he'd ever permitted himself before. As Arsham thrust in and Ebon closed his throat around Tyber's shaft, it was too much for the paladin and he roared, his body stiffening and thrusting of it's own accord to pump thick hot seed into Ebon's mouth and pull his mate's seed from him.
Arsham was close but not quite over his limit, as Ebon finished licking the last of Tyber's seed from his cock. The White Tiger moaned in pleasure as he felt his leader come up behind him and slid his cock into the entrance to his body that Tyber had filled only a little while before. Slowly, Ebon began to thrust into Arsham causing the White Tiger to thrust deeper into his mate. They began to thrust in a kind of coordinated rhythm, but it didn't last long as Arsham roared his orgasm, blasting his seed deep into Tyber. This was followed closely by Ebon's even louder roar as he add his seed to Tyber's inside the White Tiger.
They stood there, panting for a long moment as Tyber leaned back against his mate, rumbling his pleasure and remembering how to breathe.
"Intense is right." He managed after a while.
"I thought you'd like it." Arsham rumbled pleased, with his arms around Tyber.
"That was probably the most intense threesome I've had." Ebon rumbled approvingly.
"Oh, I think we could do better for him." Tyber grinned back. "A little panther sandwich."
That caused Arsham to rumble in lust and amusement. "I like the sound of that."
"So you want to move to the back, huh?" Ebon rumbled teasingly, but clearly turned on by the idea.
"Mmm, yeah." Tyber rumbled, though it was quite obvious he appreciated the benefits of being where he was. "Let's see if you have our endurance." He grinned and shifted forward so slip his lover's cock from his body.
That caused both Arsham and Ebon to chuckle. "I set the standards for endurance on this team." Ebon rumbled, with just a hint of challenge, as his cock began to harden again inside Arsham.
"Now you've gone and done it." Arsham chuckled at the exchange, and then rumbled in arousal at the feeling of the growing hardness inside him and the thought of just what an 'endurance challenge' between the two Panthers was going to be like to be in the middle of.
"Good," Tyber grinned and slipped a firm hand under Ebon's tail, squeezing his rump, and getting a playfully swat from the Panther's thick tail.
Arsham and Tyber had settled into some quiet cuddling on the couch after dinner, when the phone rang. This was unusual, since the phone hadn't rung in the weeks since Tyber had arrived. With a slightly annoyed sigh, the White Tiger reluctantly disentangled himself from his mate and went over to the phone.
"Yes?" He said simply, when he picked it up.
"Of course, I understand." He nodded, clearly less than thrilled. "See you shortly." He said before hanging up the phone.
"I have to go in to work, love." Arsham said apologetically as he walked back into the living room. "Hopefully, I'll be back in a few hours."
"And in better shape than the last time." Tyber's tension was hard to miss as he stood and pulled his lover close. "I'll be ready for you." He promised softly.
"This is just a briefing, love." Arsham said reassuringly. "I've never gotten hurt at a briefing." He added, claiming a gentle kiss.
"All right," Tyber murmured, not all that much reassured though he tried to be. "It's what comes after I don't like."
"I know, love." Arsham said quietly. "But it's what I do." He added apologetically, as he hugged the Panther briefly before heading out to his motorcycle.
When he returned over three hours later, he could feel the same palatable calmness that had saturated the place the last time he had left, only this time was not nearly so stable.
As he moved into the home, flickers of fear, concern, even desperation flashed threw his body from the outside source he knew must be Tyber. Quickly, he moved into the house looking for his lover. Arsham knew what was likely bothering the Panther, which made it no easier to deal with the flickers of feelings.
He barely made it to the foot of the stairs when Tyber appeared, his trademark armor vanishing into civilian clothes and the aura relinquishing it's hold on the real world. He rushed down to pull Arsham into a tight embrace and a kiss that conveyed just how upset the Panther was, and how glad he was to have him home
Arsham got his arms around his lover and held him close quietly for a moment. "Are you alright, Tyber?" He asked softly, worried about the Panther. The White Tiger had never seen anyone this upset over him being away for just a few hours, and it didn't make what he had to say any easier at all.
"Yes," he whispered back, his throat tight and his muzzle buried against Arsham's neck. "I started thinking too much of the future, and where you are going now."
"I'm not going anywhere till tomorrow night." Arsham said quietly, holding the Panther close, and nuzzling him softly. "And I will be back." He said confidently.
"Yes, you will be." He rumbled with a warning for anything that dared to try to stop it.
"Love, I'm one of the best at what I do." Arsham said gently, trying to be reassuring. "Once in a while things go wrong, but its very unusual."
"I still worry," he whispered, almost ashamed of it. "It has been so long since anyone made me feel as good as you do."
"I know, and I'm don't want to make you worry." Arsham replied softly. "No one's ever made me feel as good as you do." He said warmly and was pulled even tighter into the embrace. "I didn't know I could feel so good."
"Neither did I." Tyber let out a long breath and breathed deeply of Arsham's scent. "Do something for me, please?"
"If I can." Arsham said sincerely.
"Wear this," he brought a small silver pendant out on a braided silver chain. "It will protect you, while I can not." He explained as Arsham felt the potent magic residing in the simple double heart design.
"That I can do." Arsham smiled softly, as he accepted the pendant, and put it on. "This mission could last a week or two." He said softly. "Are you going to be okay?" He asked, still a little disturbed and worried over how upset the Panther had gotten over a few hours.
"I will be, love." He murmured and kissed him gently. "I am not used to feeling so ... helpless ... to protect one I care for."
"I understand, love." Arsham rumbled gently. "When I have to stay behind and do analysis while others are in the field, I worry too." He said softly, nuzzling the Panther tenderly.
"I think that is simply the fate of caring for one in a dangerous profession." He tried to chuckle, though it was a bit forced. "I could not ask you to give up something that gives you purpose like this."
"For that I'm grateful." Arsham admitted, more relieved that he could express. "It's not a decision I think I could make." He said softly, still not sure what would happen if it came to that. His heart said one thing, but he knew how strong the programming could be.
"To ask you to choose between yourself and me ... it would simply be wrong in so many ways." Tyber murmured gently. "I am unwilling to ask anything of another I could not do myself." He added with a gentle kiss. "I can not even think of what it would be like if you asked me to choose between you and Kyvva. I do not know if I even could make such a choice." He admitted softly.
"That's exactly my problem." Arsham nodded. "I'm glad you understand. Some people think it's just a job, and I can just pick another one like most people do." He said quietly, though most people had little idea what he really did.
"Few people understand the ... power ... of a true calling." Tyber smiled softly and kissed him again; a soft, tender contact that desired nothing more. "How it is as much a part of you as your true name."
"Not many people have them." Arsham nodded, as kissed the Panther back gently. "And I don't think you could understand it, without experiencing it."
"Probably not," he smiled gently and held his lover close.
"Just pay attention to Archeros, love." Arsham said softly. "If he's acting normally, there's nothing to worry about. He seems to know."
"And so will I, as long as you wear this." He brushed a finger over the pendant. "I may not be able to come with you, but I know myself well enough to know I would do something foolish if I did not know you were safe."
"I expect so, love." Arsham smiled. "And as talented as you are, you're just a little flashy for what we do." He said with a gentle smile.
"Very true," he chuckled softly and nuzzled him. "Subtle is not my way when I can help it."
"And subtle is my stock in trade." Arsham chuckled back. "Even if white is not the most subtle color in the book." He grinned, and nuzzled his lover back.
"No, but I believe that florescent purple has it beat." Tyber snickered softly.
"That it does." Arsham grinned broadly. "The radio-frequency sensitive day-glo orange was good too. It was invisible unless exposed to certain radio waves, which caused it to flash orange. Those frequencies happen to correspond to his beeper and cell phone."
Tyber all but broke down laughing, the tension of the past three hours finding a welcome release in the mental image of the disliked Lion visibly responding by flashing with his summons.
"Took about a week for R&D to come with a dye remover that was safe for skin contact." He grinned. "Otherwise he would've had to wait for his fur to grow it out."
"Just who on the team manages to make such wonderful tortures into reality?" Tyber asked as he regained his breath.
"Oh, the day-glo dye is actually used for something else." He said thinking. "I forget what, but it does have a 'normal' application. The twins came up with the idea of using on the director."
"The nine of you must be a real terror when you are all together to thing of these things." Tyber snickered.
"Depends on how recently Rynard has ticked us off, and how badly." Arsham chuckled. "Though sometimes it's things like the pranks that never happened. Which, despite his acting like he couldn't remember, was Ebon's idea."
"Oh, I like him more all the time." Tyber flashed a grin. "I did think of something to give Rynard real nightmares though, even if it will take some planning to pull off."
"Something else?" Arsham grinned back. "Something to top the Sabertooth?"
"I think so." He rumbled and pulled him close, nuzzling his neck. "Give him a real sense of paranoia, by doing absolutely nothing." He grinned toothily. "A little illusion, so he keeps meeting various NightBlades in the halls, a little too often."
"We'll need to be careful with that one, love." Arsham said quietly. "Reynard may be a raving paranoia about magic, but there are those above him who aren't." He said quietly, trying to fight the compulsion to not mention the overlords.
"Perhaps by technology then?" He suggested more quietly. "Slip something on him that triggers at somewhat random intervals?"
"Now that's possible." Arsham nodded. "A micro-holoprojector." He said thoughtfully. "Have to see how small those come. That would drive him nuts though." He grinned approvingly.
"I believe that was the point." He rumbled softly. "Perhaps even add a few of his superiors to the mix as well."
"Depending on the quality of the circuitry, it could even pick up and replay people he encounters while wearing it." Arsham said thoughtfully, getting into the idea.
"Is he ever out in public?" Tyber suddenly asked, both from his own curiosity and a rather vicious idea that was forming.
"Outside of Citadel?" Arsham asked thoughtfully. "Occasionally, though I think he usually uses morph-serum when he does."
"That doesn't matter." The Panther grinned. "He'll still record the people out there, to play back in the halls of Citadel."
"Oh that is good." Arsham laughed deeply. "It'll drive security crazy as well, since occasionally those unauthorized people will get caught on security video."
"And when they go looking, no one will be there, and when they find them, if they find them, on the outside, it'll be pretty obvious they weren't there."
"And until they find them, it'll raise hell in security for letting someone that deep inside without clearance." He chuckled and thought of something. "Maybe we should add your 'Sabertooth' to the mix, just to give Rynard something to think about." He added mischievously.
"I like that." He purred. "And even better, have it display random people, not real ones, when it does a civilian. No one on the outside would be at risk."
"That shouldn't be difficult, just grab the character banks from a bunch of video games." Arsham snickered. "Including a few of the more 'adult' ones."
"Which should really get attention." He laughed and shook his head. "He is so going to regret the mission that brought us together."
"Even though he'll never realize the connection." Arsham laughed easily. "Maybe add some sounds just for added effect."
"Oh, definitely. Interactive illusions are always the most believable after all."
"But keep the images at a distance where he can't touch them." Arsham agreed. "Solid holography requires extra equipment that won't fit in something we can slip on him."
"Easy enough," he rumbled softly and nuzzled the White Tiger. "It just means that any he approaches play coy and runs away."
"That could be fun if we have one of the 'adult' images play 'hard-to-get'." He chuckled. "And unless he's changed lately, I even know which program is his favorite."
"Excellent," Tyber rumbled, his hands growing bold in their explorations of the hard body against his own. "How long until you must leave?"
"After dinner tomorrow." He rumbled, as he caressed the Panther's back through his shirt. "But I'm free till then."
"And in my arms," he rumbled with a passionate kiss that swept the rest of universe away for both of them.
The Twins arrived for a visit with Tyber, half expecting another round of 'what can we do to Rynold' when the feel of the place rattled both their nerves to the core. One time they had felt the power of Tyber's aura when he prayed, but that was a calming, soothing power.
Right now, the Panther was clearly in a state of extreme distress and radiating it at the same power grade. The two were at his side with a speed only an excited Cheetah can manage.
"What's wrong, Tyber?" Tony asked, concerned as his twin examined the room for any sign of an external cause.
He actually jumped slightly, he'd been so caught up in his own thoughts he had completely ignored the outside.
"I ... how much do you know about me?" He started uneasily and motioned them to follow him downstairs.
"Only what you've told Arsham." Tony said, as the two followed him downstairs. "Which amounts to you being a paladin for an outside Power named Kyvva. Why?"
Tyber nodded and opened a door the pair did not remember being there before. "I followed you yesterday." He admitted simply.
"No way." Tony shook his head. "You couldn't have got past even half the security."
"And where the heck did that door come from?" Max asked as the stopped just short of it. "Arsham's house doesn't, I mean didn't, have a door there."
"No, it did not. This is the door to my home." He explained simply. "A safer place to explain what I did, from the mages you serve."
"Mages we serve." Max blinked. "Oh shit. We didn't mention the..." He faltered. "Did we?" He asked looking at his twin.
"No, I know we didn't. We can't." He said simply. "But you're probably right." He said looking at Tyber, before stepping through the door into a place that was right out of a fairy tale of knights and castles and wizards towers.
"Please, make yourselves comfortable," the Panther, wearing his traditional armor again, motioned them to the soft pillows strewn about the floor of the stone room that radiated power even more than it's owner.
"Wild place you've got, Tyber." Tony said as he sat down, followed by his twin. "Though it kind of fits with the armor."
"It is a home of magic," he smiled and relaxed into the pillows as a petit mouse fem with nothing covering her light brown fur and chestnut hair but a few trinkets walked in with a tray. She handed each a large mug, starting with the Cheetahs and finally her Lord, then left without a sound. "As true a reflection of it's master and his desires as any building can be."
"You like mice, huh?" Tony asked, trying to make a wisecrack, and having it go kind of flat. "But that's certainly a handy kind of house."
"I like soft things," he smiled slightly, "to offset my combat edge. But here it is also safe, for to reach here, anyone must pass threw not only my protections, but to the very heart of Lady Kyvva's home."
"Kind of like Star Palace on Draconea." Max nodded.
"Similar, yes." He nodded easily. "But to why I am so ... disturbed." He quieted a moment. "One thing Arsham never asked me was just what my mission was."
"Probably figured you'd tell him, if he really needed to know." Max shrugged. "You don't really ask what his missions are either." He observed.
"I know he is not allowed to speak of them," he smiled faintly as a thick book appeared between the twins. "That is the ... briefing ... I received on my mission. I am here to see the Shadow Government destroyed."
"Yeah, I can see why you might not mention that." Max nodded. "Umm...so why are you telling us?" He asked curiously. "An outside Power sent you to meddle in Politics? Must be one really bored Power."
"She is very busy," he chuckled softly. "My Lady Kyvva is responsible for Fate. For ensuring that things happen as they should, and in proper sequence. My duty is not to destroy the SG, but to make sure it happens within the allotted time frame."
"Fate?" Tony blinked. "Things happened or they don't. Nothing is necessarily supposed to happen. In one universe it happens and in another it doesn't." He shrugged.
"Those are splinter realities." Tyber said simply. "In Prime plane, there is an order and pattern to how things happen. I am part of the order that makes sure it does."
"I guess." Tony said, clearly not buying it, but not seeing a point to arguing it either. "So if it's going to happen anyway, why does it need help?" He asked, really confused as to why anyone believing in such a predestined universe would bother doing anything, since what was going to happen, would anyway.
Tyber chuckled softly. "Because sometimes it tries not to and like most things with a vested interest in keeping things in a semi balance of order, some Powers find that investing in watchers to keep an eye on important events and help them along if necessary is a worthy expense. You are right, the future is not set in immovable stone, but it has a path that is generally agreed upon by the Powers involved."
"I can't imagine Lord Chaos and Lady StarFire agreeing on anything." Tony shook his head.
"I can't imagine them remaining civil long enough to discuss it." Max chuckled. "And I wouldn't want to be the person trying to referee it."
"Not a job I would want either." Tyber chuckled and shook his head. "The politics at that level are not something I have had a lot of privy to the exact nature of. Powers are Powers, and mortals, even favored ones, only get so far before it's simply too strange to follow."
"That's true enough." Tony nodded. "So I take there's some concern about the SG not falling apart on schedule?"
"Something like that," he nodded slightly. "As why I am telling you, I wish answers that She will not give me so directly."
"Oh, can't always get the answers you want from the boss." Tony nodded understandingly. "We know how that works, or more accurately Ebon does."
"No," he smiled faintly. "Sometimes I understand why, sometimes it seems She is fickle, but She has never stopped me from seeking other sources for what I want to know."
"Around here Fate is always referred to as fickle." Tony nodded. "So what did you need to know? Assuming we can actually tell you, sometimes we can't." He said apologetically.
"So I understand," he nodded slightly. "Though you should try, if you wish. There are enchantments in place that should hinder those blocks."
"Well, I guess you should ask." Max said easily. "Cause just randomly going through the stuff we shouldn't talk about could take a long time."
"Yeah, it's a pretty long list." Tony added.
"I can imagine." He nodded simply. "Why is Ebon so upset with the Kitten Commando program?"
"'Cause it's wrong to teach kits to do things like that." Tony said quietly. "Kits got no place in war."
"And it's wrong to take 'em from their families just 'cause you spot that their talented." Max added angrily.
"They are not there willingly?" The Panther's ears flattened slightly.
"Nah, no one asked them." Max said, as if that should've been obvious. "That's what really has Ebon upset. It's really a form of slavery, even if they aren't calling it that."
That settled Tyber back, his rage cooling into a kind of plotting mode the twins knew well from their leader.
"Why call them 'kitten commandos' he asked quietly, trying to figure out what was so odd about the age they were being indoctrinated at.
"Cause that's what they are." Tony said simply. "Nobody inducts soldiers that young, not in centuries. Most armed forces won't even take you before sixteen now, and even then you've got to be exceptional."
Tyber was quiet a long moment, absorbing the various facts. "They are intended for the field, soon."
"Probably a couple of years." Tony said, "Just based on the training regimens they use."
"That will be seen to," the Panther rumbled, hatred flaring hot behind the cool mask. "Even if not by me."
"Hey, the kits aren't responsible for what's happening." Tony said defensively, startling Tyber from his rage. "They're just victims."
"I did not mean they would be killed." He corrected the Cheetah a bit sharply. "Sneaking into a place and getting several young ones out and untangling their minds is not my place in things. I break down walls and shatter bodies."
"Sorry, we're used to a different style of 'fixing' problems." Tony said quietly. "We'd do something, but fixing minds isn't what we do either."
"And getting them to help that can and can keep them safe is beyond your resources right now as well." He half guessed.
"We don't have anyone to get them to." Max said softly. "And I'm not sure we could do it. Outside of here, we can't hardly talk about it." He said angrily.
"Something a skilled mind-healer could change for you, permanently." Tyber said gently, offering out of desire to help those he had come to care about rather than his mission to see them turned from the SG.
"That's occurred to us." Max said quietly. "It's a very painful thought, and we've all got high pain thresholds."
"Not in here, it isn't." He reminded them quietly.
"Well that doesn't help much." Tony shrugged. "None of the three of us is a mind-healer. Nor are any of the rest of the guys."
"But I have access to them." Tyber said simply, letting it sink in of it's own accord.
"Oh, I see." Tony nodded. "You'd need to get the guys in here to discuss it. And then there's the problem of us getting back in ... I'm not sure how much resistance the programming is gone generate to us trying to return."
"Do you wish to?" He asked honestly. "Unconsciousness removes a great deal of resistance to moment when required."
"Well, we really need to talk it over with the guys." Tony said seriously. "We're a team, we stay together."
"I meant if your programming stops you from entering my home again, do you wish to be brought in?" He rephrased it. "In here is the only place you likely can discuss this openly, even with each other."
"Yes, we have to." Max said stubbornly. "I'd like to be in charge of my own mind for a change."
"Me too." Tony agreed.
"Then I will ensure you do," Tyber agreed solemnly. "Should I begin hunting down a Felsin mind-healer for this, or would you prefer one who does not potentially fear your reputations already?"
"A real Healer wouldn't worry about reputations." Max said quietly. "Not one who really takes the oaths seriously."
"Felsin would be better." Tony agreed.
"I will see what I can turn up," he nodded seriously. "Since I am the one who can actually talk with her in her office."
"Thanks, Tyber." Tony said seriously.
"You are my mate's brothers." He smiled more softly than usual. "That makes you family, and I take care of my family." He rumbled softly. "And I like you on your own too." He added a bit more teasingly.
"We like you too, Tyber." The twins said in the unison they often managed.
"Especially for how good Arsham feels when he's with you." Tony added on his own. "It's like watching Ebon and Cazi."
"Yes, the one I keep hearing about and haven't managed to meet yet." He smiled softly, warmed as he always was by the thought of his mate. "He sounds to be a very interesting individual."
"Oh, he is." Tony grinned. "And the smallest Lion I ever met."
"But the loudest I think." Max snickered. "I'm sure Ebon will introduce him, maybe after this mission is over."
"I hope so," Tyber rumbled softly and stretched out, allowing his armor to vanish, leaving only black fur visible. "But as you are here, please feel free to explore and enjoy my hospitality."
"Thanks, Tyber." Tony smiled. "You do look better without the armor." He grinned playfully.
"So I keep getting told." He laughed and shook his head. "Particularly by that sexy White Tiger that keeps managing to get me to forget I don't have it on."
"Especially in places where people can walk in on you." Max teased playfully. "I never would have thought blushing would be noticeable on a Panther."
"It is so much more noticeable on him though," Tyber rumbled, aroused by the thought of his mate and what drew that flush to his face.
"Well yeah, white fur will do that to you." Tony smirked. "Might as well send up a flare."
"Ebon was surprised." Max grinned. "He didn't figure that anything would make Arsham blush."
"Much less something like getting caught with his pants down in the kitchen." Tyber chuckled deep in his chest. "Gods, that was intense."
"Threesomes with Ebon always are." Max grinned.
"And delightfully long." He rumbled hotly.
"That's certainly true." Tony nodded. "That tom just don't tire out." He snickered.
"Oh, he does eventually," Tyber licked his whiskers. "But it takes a lot of doing to get him to admit he's beat."
"I hear you're just as stubborn." Max grinned.
"If not more so." he rumbled softly, looking at the smaller males with a decidedly sexual air.
"That's a serious claim." Max rumbled back. "More stubborn than Ebon."
"Though you did keep Arsham going most of the time on that camping trip." Tony rumbled as he flopped down near the Panther and found himself pinned by the heavier male.
"And in here, I can make time stand still." Tyber rumbled with a grin.
"That's a good one." Tony rumbled up at the Panther on top of him. "We don't have to worry about anyone noticing if we're gone."
"Which is really handy," Max agreed, as he dropped down next to them and nuzzled Tyber's neck playfully.
"Cause we may be in here for some time." He licked his whiskers and dropped his muzzle to claim a fierce kiss from the Cheetah under him. It was met an equally fierce lusty passion while Tony's hands began to explore the Panther's dense black fur and the combat hardened muscle underneath.
"So did your mission go well?" Tyber nuzzled his lover after they had both calmed down from their greetings enough to think beyond their hunger for each other.
"Uneventful." Arsham smiled and kissed his lover gently on the cheek. "It was complicated but not particularly difficult. Of course we did our own intel work this time, so we didn't have any major omissions to deal with." He added with a smirk. "I missed you." He finished tenderly.
Tyber nodded and kissed him softly. "It was the longest week I can remember, especially the last few days."
"Just what happened in the last few days?" Arsham asked quietly. "The twins kind of hinted that something was up, especially with wanting to get everyone together here."
"Yes, that." The big Panther nodded and pulled Arsham close. "I followed them to work, and saw a lot more than I was really expecting. More than I'm willing to just sit back and watch happen while things run their course."
"You got a look at the new training program, didn't you?" Arsham asked softly, as he nuzzled his lover, but it was as much statement as question.
"Among other things, such as the true masters in there." He nodded with a rumble of pure hatred.
"The overlords?" He said softly. "You actually saw them?" He asked in surprise, since no one ever saw them other than the Commander.
"Saw, no." He shook his head slightly and sighed. "It wasn't time for a confrontation and if I got that close, they would have seen me as well. Soon, though."
"Just be careful." Arsham said quietly, as he pulled his lover a little closer. "They're very powerful and dangerous." He added, with a touch of worry. "And there's never just one of them, at least that's what I've heard."
"I will not be alone when I face them," he murmured softly and nuzzled a reassurance. "I am not alone in service to Kyvva."
"Good." Arsham nodded relieved. "'Cause I'm not sure there's anything I can do to help." He admitted with considerable embarrassment. It wasn't that he didn't want to help, he just knew the programming wouldn't let him go against the overlords so directly.
"That was something else ... the actual reason for the big meeting." Tyber rumbled and kissed him lightly. "An offer to have all the programming undone, and a place to discuss it safely and openly."
Arsham blinked in surprise. "Must be a very special place, if we can actually discuss it." He said, as the programming began to rumble.
"My home," he nodded simply and tried to sooth out the stress building in his lover. "The twins found it very ... interesting."
"I thought they seemed excited about something." Arsham chuckled. "Glad to see you kept entertained while I was away." He grinned playfully.
"Oh, they did." He rumbled back with a chuckle. "Quite the energetic pair, those two are. They were particularly fond of the fact that I can stop time relative to the outside world in my home."
"Oh that does sound like fun." Arsham grinned broadly.
"Oh, it is. We can fool around for as long as we want, and no one is the wiser." He grinned back and claimed a heated kiss. "I had to prove to them I could outlast Ebon, after all."
"Only 'cause Ebon doesn't fool around in war-form." Arsham chuckled teasingly. "That's where his real endurance is."
"Oh really?" Tyber's golden eyes glittered with the challenge. "Perhaps it's time to find out."
"Just secure all the breakables." Arsham snickered. "You haven't heard roaring till you hear a war-form roar."
"Mmmm, except maybe an entire pride of them." He grinned suggestively.
"You really do want to test how solidly built your tent is." Arsham smirked playfully. "Of course, Ebon's not the loudest. Everyone knows that you get the loudest roars from Tigers." He grinned, nuzzling Tyber playfully.
"And lucky me, I have one right here to demonstrate." He rumbled and claimed a fierce kiss. "And his brother who will no doubt enjoy it if we invite him to join us, instead of putting our clothes back on."
"He'd probably be suspicious if we suddenly put our clothes back on." Arsham rumbled, once the passionate kiss broke. "After last time."
"Mmm, yes, that was quite fun." Tyber consented with a chuckle. "I had forgotten how enjoyable some aspects of life could be."
"That happens when you work too much with taking time to play." Arsham teased gently.
"It's what happens when you spend a lifetime stuck in a place that believes sex and pleasure are for procreation only and anyone associated with the gods shouldn't have it at all." He huffed and rolled his eyes. "Seriously not a fun place to be a Paladin of Kyvva. Not even the hookers were game."
"Procreation only?" Arsham blinked in disbelief. "So just what did you do to get stuck there for a lifetime?" He asked, thinking it sounded like what the humans referred to as 'hell'.
"My job," he shrugged. "A certain princess had to marry this particular prince, before her Vassar could make her marry him. One of the more unlikely pairings you could think of too. Took the better part of a century to get it all sorted out right and the first kit raised right."
"Talk about unpleasant assignments." He shook his head. "Fortunately, there are no such hang-ups about sex and pleasure here." He added as he claimed a playful kiss that was returned with extra heat.
"Yes, very thankfully." Tyber rumbled and ran his hands down his lover's powerful body.
Arsham chuckled for no apparent reason as the he and Tyber lay on the couch wrapped in each other's arms and nothing else after another passionate round of pleasure. "Ebon said he and Cazi will be here in about fifteen minutes." He murmured softly.
"Figured startling the other Panther not a good thing this time?" He rumbled in amusement and nuzzled his lover. "I'm sure that will be long enough to clean up, if we manage to behave."
"He likes you enough to remember that you startle easy." Arsham teased playfully. "And least under certain circumstances." The White Tiger smirked, and nuzzled the Panther back. "Fairly common circumstances it seems." He added with a wink.
"Only around you." He rumbled and stole a quick kiss that ended up not being so quick as he pulled Arsham to his feet. "And it's good he likes me."
"I was sure he would." Arsham rumbled. "If there'd been some reason not to, I would've spotted it." He smiled, and hugged his lover tightly. "Or at least I'd like to think I would've." He grinned.
"I like to believe I'm quite likable." Tyber chuckled and all but pulled the White Tiger into the nearest bathroom to get the worst of the soiling from their fur before Ebon and Cazi arrived.
"Oh, very likable." Arsham rumbled playfully, giving the Panther a quick kiss as they got under the hot water. "Especially out of your armor." He teased playfully, as he grabbed shampoo to scrub the Panther's back.
"That's only because you're hooked on what it covers up." Tyber chuckled and pressed into the contact with a pleasured moan.
"You got that right." Arsham rumbled, as he worked his way down the Panther's back. "Though it's more who it covers up." He added playfully, though he was serious. "Attractive Panthers aren't that uncommon, but ones who can keep my attention are."
"Mmmm, much the same can be said for anyone capable of keeping my attention on them." He let out of a soft breath and turned to give Arsham's thick white fur a good cleaning. "It's still hard to believe sometimes, just how quickly I fell for you." He murmured with a light kiss.
"I'm still rather amazed myself." Arsham agreed, as he leaned into the Panther's touch. "I wouldn't have thought I'd fall for anyone so quickly." He said fondly. "If at all, since I never really expected to care so much for someone outside the team."
"I doubt anyone expects to fall in love." He rumbled softly, his fingers lingering on the powerful chest he was washing as he leaned close to kiss his lover. "I know I never did."
"Oh, there are still a few romantics out there." Arsham rumbled back, as he claimed a more passionate kiss. "Not in my line of work though, usually." He chuckled softly, as he ran his fingers through the thick fur of the Panther's chest as he worked the soap out and Tyber worked it into his.
"You are so terribly, terribly tempting to forget we have company coming." Tyber shuddered in a hunger he barely understood and pulled Arsham against him under the hot water. "Sometimes I never want to let you go." He whispered throatily against the thick white and black stripped fur. "Even knowing I must."
"The feeling is very mutual, love." Arsham said softly, nuzzling the Panther. "But do we really want to put on a show for Ebon's boyfriend?" He teased playfully. "Though it makes one hell of a first impression."
"Yes," he murmured, clearly sorely tempted despite his modesty. "It does, but we shouldn't." He caught Arsham's mouth in a kiss that stole their breath before releasing him to finish cleaning their fur.
"We've made enough of those impressions already." He chuckled softly, as they finished rinsing off. "Even if it has been just my Bros."
"And enough stories that I will never hear the end of it from mine." Tyber chuckled tolerantly and turned the water off and the air on. "I'm sure everyone has heard by now that I have a boyfriend I can't keep my hands off."
"Mine are having a great deal of fun with it." Arsham chuckled, as they dried off. "Of course, Ebon's getting it too since he's just as bad with his boyfriend."
"I would be willing to bet that the others are just waiting for the four of us to get distracted to come watch." He shook his head in amusement. "Then get involved."
"I wouldn't be the least bit surprised." Arsham admitted with a grin. "It's not like we don't play that way without boyfriends involved." He smirked playfully and caught another kiss before the air turned off.
"But I am sure it is so much more fun when we forget they are there."
"It is." Arsham agreed. "People who forget they're being watched are a lot more fun to watch."
"And they are here." Tyber said quietly and made a simple hand motion to dress them before stepping into the hall.
"Ebon's rarely wrong when he gives a time estimate." Arsham chuckled as they walked toward the entryway. The door chime rang just as the White Tiger was opening the door. "Hi, Ebon, Cazi, come on in." He said, waving the Panther and his short, muscular Lion boyfriend in.
"Hello, Tyber." Ebon said with a warm smile. "This is my boyfriend, Cazi. Cazi, this is Tyber, Arsham's boyfriend."
"Pleased to meet you." Cazi said with an easy smile, as he stepped forward to offer a friendly hand as he sized up the new Panther on multiple levels, including the magical which left him seriously impressed, though he didn't show it.
"It is a pleasure," he shook Cazi's hand firmly as he returned the sizing up. It left him more than a touch curious just what this creature was and did to have such a complex aura. "You are a most unusual individual, Cazi."
"I hear that a lot." The Lion grinned. "Though around here, you have to be unusual just to keep up." He smirked playfully. "Of course, unusual coming from someone with a carnivorous mount is saying something."
"Having it be an unusual concept is still taking some getting used to." Tyber chuckled in admission as they settled in the living room. "Not many worlds I have visited used plant eaters for anything other than meat."
"Most of the ones around here use plant eaters as steeds." Cazi grinned. "Well, at least recently, historically griffins used to be used on Felsinor but that's ancient history. And there's the Doradi out on the rim, now they have some interesting mounts."
"Oh?" He perked up at the concept as the two resident familiars nosed their way into the house. "I don't remember getting to them in my reading."
"Wouldn't surprise me, they're a secretive bunch." Cazi said easily. "And they live up in the mountains of their world, so they get missed a lot. The Doradi are feline morphs, like the Felsin only there's only three clans as far as I could tell; Lynx, Mountain Lion and Caracal." He explained. "But the mounts are winged big cats; Panthers and Lions mostly though I did see a couple of Tigers."
"Quite effective in close combat, I would expect." Tyber nodded thoughtfully.
"Seemed to be." Cazi nodded. "And the Doradi are lethal with both javelin and bows while airborne."
"Always something to be good at, and good at avoiding." Tyber chuckled softly. "Ranged combat can completely change the odds in battle."
"It's also quite useful for hunting." Cazi nodded.
"True," he nodded. "Not something I use often, but it can be."
"The flying mounts come in handy for the Windriders, that's the Doradi who actually ride them, unusual approach to getting mates." He chuckled. "Well, maybe not that unusual, but it wasn't something I'd seen in some time."
"Snatch and grab?" He guessed.
"Yeah, mate-raiding." He nodded. "Which I know is practiced in some cultures but it's not something you see much now."
"They must get experienced quickly on how to tell who won't tear their throat out at night for it." Tyber chuckled with a shake of his head. "Some people are just not a bright idea to snatch."
"Well, as I understand it, it's supposedly some sort of honor to be chosen by the Windriders." He shook his head. "Though the first few nights are kind of dicey from what I saw."
"I can imagine," he shook his head and relaxed back. "Anyone with much fire in them would not take it kindly, honor or not."
"Well, cultural baggage can change a lot of things." Cazi shook his head. "And it was better than some of the arranged marriages."
"True," the big Panther shuddered at a few he's had to deal with from both sides of the line.
"Especially since the arranged marriages ignored things like the fact that some people prefer their own gender and not the opposite one." He chuckled. "The Windriders have almost the opposite view. For them 'normal' was that the opposite gender was for producing kittens but one should stick to ones own gender for pleasure." Cazi smirked.
"Reasonable enough," he nodded. "And not that different from the culture I grew up in. It's a good idea when birth control is a dicey thing at best. Not that everyone took to it, but it worked well, especially for the noble class where you don't want as many kits as possible."
"Yeah, I could see that." Cazi nodded. "Though around here we've got the Triad as the example of what relationships 'should' look like, though couples have always enjoyed a certain popularity. But for the most part nobody really cares what genders make up a given pairing. There are some exceptions to that, of course."
"There always are."
"True." Cazi chuckled, though it seemed a little more than the statement warranted. "I'm just hoping the Windriders don't reach space travel anytime soon."
"Oh, why's that?" Ebon asked curiously.
"Well, I'm not sure that Caracal really accepted my repeated 'no' on the subject of marrying him." Cazi shook his head. "Persistent is an extreme understatement."
"You just have that effect on people, Caz." Ebon teased playfully, and pulled the smaller Lion into a brief but intense kiss.
"Well, that's a good thing in certain cases." He grinned at his Panther. "A trifle annoying in others."
"So just when was this little escapade?" Ebon asked curiously. "You never mentioned it before."
"Before we met, love." Cazi grinned. "About a decade ago, give or take. And he was attractive enough, but I just couldn't handle how hierarchical their relationships are. You know how well I take orders."
"I wasn't aware that you did." Ebon grinned back. "But I can see how that wouldn't have worked well. So how'd you end up there in the first place?"
"A mentor of mine had this thing for assigning really weird tasks." Cazi shook his head. "And that time it was task that involved finding the feather of a cat. Took me months just to find out that silly little planet existed. It's on the restricted list due to developing culture."
"Did you ever find out what the purpose of that mission was?" Tyber broke in.
"He was looking for an old colleague of his, and a Seer friend of his told him to look for the feather of a cat." Cazi chuckled. "Turned out that said friend had decided that it was a good place to retire to. Mind you it took me six months to find out just who he was, not that was going anywhere after one of the Thunderbirds took a dislike to my shuttle during my descent from orbit."
"So how'd you get off that world?" Tyber flicked his ears forward, sure he was speaking to a mage but confused that he needed the craft.
"My mentor finally got back from conference and noticed the message I sent him." Cazi shook his head. "He says it was a conference, but I don't think even his conferences last for a year. At any rate, once he got the message, he translocated me back. He's very good at that particular kind of magic."
"That is not very long to be stranded in a reasonably fun place," Tyber commented softly. "It's good to be rescued though."
"It was aggravating more than anything." Cazi shook his head. "If I'd been planning to be stranded in a low tech zone it might even have been fun. But I really didn't have the family business set up to run properly in my absence yet, and it took another year to straighten things out."
"That would be aggravating," he nodded easily, thinking more of noble families than business he had little true understanding of.
"It was after that that I really got into the business, making sure that things could run the way I wanted them to for a decade or so, if I disappeared." Cazi chuckled. "So it did serve a purpose, and learning a little air magic didn't hurt." He grinned.
"At least there's that," Tyber nodded quietly.
"I was just glad they weren't water magic specialists." Cazi chuckled. "I have no head for water magic at all."
"With your fiery disposition, that's no big surprise." Ebon teased playfully.
"Oh, I am not going through that again." Tyber groaned as he finished healing himself from the pounding he'd taken subduing the entire team with Cazi's help.
"Just what prompted that outburst?" Cazi asked curiously, as he finished checking the guys over for injuries, while Tyber'd been healing himself. "I've never seen them react like that to anything, well except the time I put in the wrong porn tape and Ebon kind of freaked."
"The programming has a built in safeguard against being disabled." He stretched abused muscles that still felt the phantom pain of absent injuries. "And in here, it's completely disabled."
"And they know that ... I see." Cazi nodded. "So what's up that made it necessary to get them back in here?" He asked curiously.
"They want to leave the SG." He said simply as Ebon began to come around. "This is the only place to figure out how."
"How is going to involve finding away to break the programming out there." Cazi said quietly, as he helped Ebon to a sitting position. "I may have overdone the stunning spell a bit. But I wasn't sure how resistant the guys would be to it."
"A good mind healer can do it," Tyber said quietly as he knelt next to Arsham and held him until he came too. "I'm still working on who to approach. But until then, they may just have to stay put."
"Uh, somebody is gonna notice if they just sit in here until you find a good healer." Cazi shook his head. "Well, unless you can play with the time flow between this pocket dimension and our world." He added thoughtfully.
"Can and have," he nodded and urged Arsham to consciousness. "I can stop it completely."
"Hey, Cazi." Ebon said as he woke. "How'd you end up here?" He shook his head to clear it.
"Oh, a little winged jaguar told me things were getting a bit out of control." He grinned. "So he dropped me off to help."
"A little winged jaguar?" Ebon blinked. "I think Tyber hit me harder than I thought."
"Hah." Cazi snorted. "He didn't knock you out, I did. He had his hands full with others."
"So any major injuries?" Ebon asked looking around.
"Eight on one and we still managed to lose." Arsham shook his head. "Boy, I'm glad no one's ever gonna find out about that."
"I had help," Tyber chuckled and kissed his lover. "But I have to tell you, I never want to have to try that again. You guys beat the tar out of me."
"I should hope so." Ebon chuckled, as he turned to claim a kiss from Cazi.
"Sorry about that, love." Arsham said gently, as he returned the kiss. "And thanks for the assist, Cazi." He added smiling over at the muscular Lion, still in Lion war-form.
"Hey, I look after my friends." Cazi said easily. "Especially when winged jaguars go out of their way to tell me there's trouble." He shook his head.
"Powers are never good to ignore," Tyber chuckled. "But this does mean you guys really can't leave until the deprogramming is well underway."
"Okay, I know you can mess with how time flows." Arsham said easily. "But I hope this place has some outdoors space if we're gonna hang out here for awhile." He said hopefully, not having really gotten much exploring done.
"It can," he nodded and hugged him close. "It'll take a little time to arrange, but it's not hard."
"Thanks, we get a little stir crazy if we're cooped up indoors too long." He chuckled, as he watched the rest of the team begin to stir.
"Since I don't have the programming issues, I can give you a hand locating a suitable mind-healer." Cazi volunteered.
"It would be welcome," Tyber inclined his head. "This just went from a background project to top priority. I wasn't expecting quite so much resistance, honestly."
"Never underestimate the strength of genetic level programming." Cazi shook his head. "There's a reason the SG uses it, and that's cause it rarely ever breaks. Bends and twists a bit, but the core doesn't usually give."
"Well that's just too bad for it." The big Panther snorted. "Because this time it is going to loose on a grand scale." He growled softly. "Whether it likes the idea or not."
"Oh, I'm not disagreeing." Cazi grinned. "Just pointing out that it's not surprising the level of reaction you got. It's also going to require one hell of a talented mind-healer. There probably aren't one in five hundred who're qualified, and then you've got to figure out which ones to trust."
"And by request, it will be a Felsin healer." Tyber added quietly. "That makes it much harder."
"Well, not on Felsinor it doesn't." Cazi grinned. "I was actually working on the assumption we'd use a Felsin Healer. For work of this detail level, you try to stay within the same species, if you can."
"While most of the ones I know I can trust are definitely not Felsin, but they are also very accustomed to working with other races." He shook his head. "But most are servants of Kyvva or Myti."
"If we're gonna go that route, I'd talk to the jaguar and see if his mate's available." Cazi shook his head. "But I think the guys will be more comfortable with someone who's just a Felsin Healer. They don't like Healers much to start with."
"And we already agreed that it would be Felsin." Tyber said quietly. "Do you have someone in mind?"
"A possibility." He nodded. "But it wouldn't hurt for you to double check. I don't make a habit of doing background checks on people I'm sleeping with." He chuckled. "Too much danger of missing something due to personal bias."
"Of course," he chuckled softly. "It's not like I'd trust Arsham's mind to someone I am not personally sure of anyway."
"I'm not going to be any less careful with Ebon." Cazi said matter-of-factly.
"You know guys, we're still here." Ebon said in mock indignation as mock cuffed Cazi upside the head.
"We know that." Cazi objected. "Just deciding if Nareena's up to rewiring you guys or not."
"Rewiring?" Arsham shook his head. "Well, as long as you're not trying to hotwire us."
"You guys are hot enough as it is, without any help from me." Cazi smirked playfully.
"Any hotter and you'd melt the planet," Tyber chuckled and kissed his lover fiercely. "But seriously, your minds are in our judgment, and we're just being careful."
"Good to hear that." Ebon chuckled, as he broke from a fierce kiss/wrestling match with Cazi. "We've been mind-fucked once already."
"Between the two of you, we should be safe." Arsham said seriously, as he claimed an intensely passionate kiss from Tyber that rapidly deteriorated into a scramble of removing clothes and oblivion to the rest of the world.
"Thank you for seeing me so quickly, Healer Moonstone." Tyber greeted the regal Tigress in her office with honest warmth and a critical mind and eye.
"Well, Cazimir said it was important." She smiled warmly, as she gestured for him to be seated. "And since he takes little seriously, it got my attention." She finished as she sat behind the large wooden desk in her office.
"It is true," the big Panther chuckled softly. "The situation is most delicate, and very important to both of us. Even if he had not known you, you are one of very few even qualified to handle it."
"Most situations involving his boyfriend and his boyfriend's family are delicate." She smiled softly. "But I take it there is a health issue, that either their employer can not handle, or does not want handled."
"Would likely have a collective psychotic episode if it was even brought up." He nodded cautiously. "And has already done a great deal to keep from even being thought of." He paused and regarded her seriously, running both his own magic, gut instincts and what he knew of her threw his mind. He knew he liked her, and her morals checked out flawlessly as did her skills.
"How much do you know about Ebon and company?" He asked quietly.
"More than their employer would like, I'm sure." She said quietly. "Cazi has told me quite a bit, and I have some access to classified data through the Health Ministry. The Generation Zero project created quite a stir, and a even bigger one when its creator took a position with Ebon's employer."
"Then you are likely aware of just how ... explosive ... a situation it is when I tell you that they wish to retire." Tyber said softly.
"Their employer doesn't have a retirement plan, last I checked." She said softly. "Though it's equally surprising that they want to."
"Their employer's latest training program has them all quite upset." He nodded fractionally. "Add to that their boss and they are more than a little interested in getting out. I gave them the ability to think about it, but it is well beyond my ability to undo the damage out here in the real world."
"The programming will be tricky to undo." She nodded. "And by no means quick to fix, though it may not be that difficult to tone the response mechanism down, so the long term work isn't quite so hazardous." She said thoughtfully, thinking aloud. "Have they agreed to having this done?" She asked simply, though it was clear that the question was important.
"Yes," he nodded easily. "You may ask them yourself in the sanctuary I created. Without the interference, they are quite agreeable to it."
"I'm sure the interference makes sure they're anything but." She nodded. "I'm surprised you were able to get them into the sanctuary."
"Well, the first time they didn't really understand what it did until they were inside. The second time ..." he rubbed his shoulder in memory. "Required a fair amount of healing afterwards. Easily subdued is not a phrase I would apply to any of them."
"So that's what Cazi was talking about." She shook her head. "And no, easily subdued would not be a good term for them. Even with magic, it would be very difficult." She said, as she looked at him with a trained Healer's eyes looking for any injury that might have escaped healing, and was pleased to find none.
"It was." He nodded and smiled fractionally to see the flair of magic in her tools. "The eventual two on nine odds didn't help any either. I was very grateful for the sleeping spell when Cazi arrived. It was a decidedly unpleasant situation to be in."
"I can imagine it would be." Nareena nodded. "Ebon and his brothers have a reputation that is not exaggerated." She smiled.
"No, though it did help that they weren't trying to kill me." He chuckled ruefully. "Just escape. Of course, it didn't help me any either that I was only trying to knock them out. It is not one of my better combat styles."
"Very few warriors specialize in knocking people out." Nareena chuckled. "If they did, more weapons would be blunt and made of rubber or foam."
"And the Healer's job ever so much easier." He added with an amused rumbled.
"True, but I can't see warriors being happy with that arrangement for long." She shook her head. "Especially the ones who like to shoot things."
"They'd just load more powder and make them lethal anyway." He shook his head. "Enough force and even air can be fatal."
"Or as my older brother likes to point out, in the right hands a drinking straw is a lethal weapon." She shook her head. "Of course, he never says that where father can hear it."
"I don't expect so," Tyber chuckled softly. "And he is quite right, of course. And that is before you get into Psi and Magic of any kind."
"Most of the practitioner of Psi or Magic around here wouldn't even call themselves warriors, preferring more refined words for it." Nareena nodded. "But what really differs is the choice of weapons, mind instead of muscle."
"True," he nodded. "And some who confuse the issue by choosing both."
"Some warriors just like to learn every weapon that comes their way. Mind or muscle, as long as it's useful." She chuckled.
"And some simply enjoy being confusing." He chuckled deep in his chest. "Cazi, for example."
"You think he's confusing?" Nareena chuckled. "A brief look at his medical profile is even more confusing." She shook her head fondly.
"Comes with a background and Gifts such as his." Tyber grinned a bit. "Never mind the interest of a trickster Power."
"Yes, Caito is rather fond of him." Nareena smiled. "But then shapeshifting was Caito's gift to the Felsin in the beginning."
"And what trickster would not approve of such a versatile one with a sense of humor?" Tyber chuckled. "What has Cazi told you of me?"
"That you're a paladin from a part of reality quite distant from our own, sent on a mission from the Power you serve. Since you're here that means that the Triad approved your being here." She said easily. "Oh, and he might have mentioned something about you being unable to keep your hands off Arsham for more than about five minutes." She added with a playfully teasing smile.
"I think we managed seven once." He replied with a mock insulted tone and great dignity, though the humor was easily evident in his golden eyes. "He makes it extremely difficult to keep my mind on business."
"They are an attractive bunch." Nareena smiled. "Their designer may have been lacking in morals, but he certainly wasn't lacking in good taste."
"Definitely," Tyber rumbled in fond memories. "And sharp, interesting minds to go with those good looks too. It is quite amazing sometimes to think that be so loyal to each other and have such a sense of payback, yet have so very few morals to speak of. I am sure they were intended to have far fewer than they do. Much less what they are developing."
"I'm sure you're right." Nareena agreed. "But it's very difficult to create life in these parts without it getting some morals, especially if you make it fundamentally Felsin. Felsira is not fond of those who create life simply to be weapons, and it wouldn't surprise me if either she or Caito made some small 'adjustments' to the designs."
He couldn't help but laugh. "That may explain my love's most unique heritage, and the magic he shouldn't have." He shook his head in amusement. "Did you know they managed to create a near-Sabertooth in that project?"
"Really?" Nareena asked in surprise. "That has to be some divine tinkering, since the Sabertooths disappeared before we even discovered the science of genetics." She said, almost saying something but stopping herself.
"Divine, or spirit." He said more quietly. "He is enough Saber to have a powerful Saber mage's spirit speak to him. And one that cares enough about him to save my life after a fight I only sort of won." Tyber shook his head. "They have returned."
"I know." Nareena said quietly. "However, Arsham's employer is not aware of that fact."
"And needs to remain ignorant for as long as possible." He nodded with a low voice. "Just as they must remain ignorant of the fact I am teaching him magic and he already has a strong familiar. I would not rush them, but I must admit that the end of their employment can not come soon enough for me, as long as they live through it."
"Well, I don't think they'd know a familiar if they saw it. With a few exceptions." She shook her head. "But there'd be collective fits if they knew about you teaching him magic. There'd be high ranking fits if they knew who you work for."
"And a lot higher ranking ones if they knew exactly why I am here." He said softly, the tone of extreme confidentiality. "I seriously doubt they would handle knowing they ticked off a foreign Power enough to have Her send someone in to see them destroyed and their best weapon turned on them. I wasn't expecting things to move so quickly, but I am not sorry for it now that I understand just how far they would go." His eyes hardened slightly, though not towards her. "Your assistance would also be most welcome in deprogramming the Kitten Commandos we rescued."
"Out of curiosity, how did they manage to tick off a foreign Power?" She asked curiously. "So you were behind that raid on Citadel." She added with an approving smile. "Of course, I'll help."
"Honestly, I have no idea." Tyber shook his head. "But my Lady Kyvva has gone to unusual lengths to send me here and I am glad She did."
"As am I, honestly." She smiled. "Between you, me and Cazi we should be able to get Ebon and the guys out. But honestly, I don't see them actually retiring." She chuckled. "Changing targets yes, but not retiring."
"Oh, I am sure of it." He chuckled dangerously. "You don't retire from a calling, and it is for them as much as for either of us. Though it will be good to finally get to go on missions with them. Staying behind is unpleasant, even with distractions."
"For a warrior I imagine it is." Nareena smiled. "For a Healer, its time to prepare for fixing what happens during the mission."
Tyber leaned back and thought about that for a bit before he nodded. "True, though for me it's more that I can't be there with Arsham, even if nothing goes wrong." He admitted quietly. "I miss him, even when I know he can handle things."
"Cazi says the same thing about Ebon." She smiled. "And I admit, I'm finding I miss Cazi when he's not around." She added with a fond smile. "But I know I'm not qualified to work in that world. Not that that makes it easier, but it allows me to accept it."
"While I am very qualified," Tyber sighed softly. "It makes it that much harder, knowing I would be of use there."
"Something you'll be able to do, once they break away." She said gently. "Which will happen in time."
"And until then, we all have our work cut out for us." Hr sighed. "I never expected to get this ... personally ... involved."
"Falling in love is rarely expected." She smiled warmly. "I certainly didn't expect it."
"No, it is not." He closed his eyes fractionally, trying not to think about the true future of his time with Arsham. That it was destined to end, and end far too soon. Arsham to his afterlife, and himself to his next mission.
"And yet it bothers you." She said gently. "Because you're here on a mission which may not last as long as you'd like, now that things have changed."
"Because I am immortal and he is not." He said very quietly.
"What he is, is unknown like the others." She said quietly. "No sign of aging since he reached physical maturity, same as the others. And if he's that close to pure Saber then he'd be long-lived anyway."
"It is a comfort," Tyber nodded in acceptance. "I try to think of that and not what comes later. Sometimes it helps."
"Love and loss." She said quietly. "They always seem to move in pairs, though separated by time. But to forgo love to avoid the loss, would be a truly hollow life."
"If I was going to go that route, I would never have touched him." Tyber sighed softly. "I always assumed if I felt this way, it would be for another Servant. Someone that was part of my world. It has been a very interesting lesson in my own game." He chuckled ruefully.
"Your own game?" She asked curiously. "I'm not sure I follow you."
"Kyvva is a Power of Fate, and I am Her Servant, Her messenger and will in the mortal realm." He closed his eyes. "I have arranged more love affairs than I can remember, changed the course of history, built and destroyed worlds in Her name. I had forgotten that I am just as much a subject of Fate and emotions as any other."
"She chose an interesting part of reality to send you to then." Nareena chuckled, though it was kindly. "Even the Powers around here don't believe in Fate or anything else that implies the future is knowable. Which would explain the extreme shortage of prophets in these parts ... well, except for Earth, where I swear they have a prophet on every corner." She shook her head.
"Earth ... yes, that world." Her shook his head in bemusement. "If there was ever a planet to exemplify contradiction, that is it."
"That's putting it mildly." She chuckled. "I'm so glad they don't schedule the galactic medical conferences there very often. The planet gives me a headache."
"You and probably everyone else who can hear with more than their ears." He chuckled. "I'm quite sure I do not even want to find out what it looks like to True Sight."
"Probably a big sign that says 'Don't look behind the sign." Nareena chuckled.
"Which, of course, is the first thing anyone does." He chuckled at his own tendencies.
"Of course, that's why the sign is there." She grinned. "To get everyone's attention. The universe has a very strange sense of humor."
"Among other things," he shook his head with a chuckle. "When will you be available to see the guys?"
"As much as I'd like to say right away, I'll have to wait for the weekend to get away from the office. A sudden disappearance would raise too many questions." She easily. "It's only three days, the situation should be stable that long. Hopefully the weekend will be enough time to get them so they don't run for the hills when the subject of deprogramming comes up."
Tyber regarded her quietly. "I see Cazi did not explain everything about what has happened. They are in my home, a pocket dimension under my control. No time will pass between this world and it until I choose it too. Whenever you enter, you will emerge only a few minutes later, according to is place."
"And the suppression of the programming, is that an effect of the pocket dimension, or a separate magic?" She asked carefully.
"Separate. Both are effects I put there, but they are not linked."
"That's good, because in order to cure the effect I have to be able to see it active." She said simply. "Especially since it will work a little bit differently in each of them."
"If they are in separate rooms, I can even keep it suppressed for all but the one you are working with."
"That would probably be best, since we don't need another panic session. That would be counterproductive." She said with a wry smile.
"Never mind painful," he chuckled softly. "I do not want to go through that again."
"And I don't want to go through it a first time." She shook her head. "One combative patient is usually quite enough, at least without additional staff."
"Oh, they aren't very combative until you corner them." He shook his head. "It's a flight response at first, much like the response to females."
"Cazi told me about that one." Nareena shook her head. "One of the more interesting programming I've heard of."
"I have to admit it's one I find the most offensive, given the Felsin culture about sex." He said quietly. "The obedience, as annoying as I find it, at least makes sense. That one ... is just cruel."
"I have an idea what the 'thought process' behind it was." Nareena said quietly. "The creators weren't sure what would happen if a Generation Zero bred with a normal Felsin, and they weren't interested in finding out. And sterile males are often less aggressive, not something wanted in commandos."
"And far from the worst thing they've done." He muttered.
"Not even close to the worst." Nareena agreed easily. "But the government continues to play tit for tat games with them, instead of finishing the game."
"It will happen, in time." He said with quiet certainty. "One way or another."
"Oh, I'm sure of that." Nareena said easily. "Just a question of how many people get hurt before then."
"As few as possible," he growled softly. "For now I simply have to content myself with hunting their Kitten Commando 'recruiters' and watching you work."
"The more of them you can catch the better." Nareena said approvingly. "And the less kittens who'll need deprogrammed before they can be returned home."
"And now that they know how we operate a little bit, it's a lot harder to pull them out of the complex." He muttered in irritation. "They've got a Power backing them quite directly."
"I know." Nareena sighed. "The Overlords are priests among other things. But the more power they have to commit to security and defense the less they have to use elsewhere."
"And with the NightBlades out of their control, they have to commit that much more." He grinned dangerously. "Would you come with me today? To at least begin to sort thing out."
"Yes, you're the last appointment on my schedule. So no one's expecting me back until tomorrow morning." She said easily. "We'll see what can be done. I'd like to at least get the programming's self-defense mechanism disable, so we don't have to worry about them flipping out."
"That would be very welcome," he smiled and stood easily. "Knocking Arsham out was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do." He said quietly. "I will be very glad when it is no longer a threat."
"Hurting someone we care about is always hard, even when we know it's for their own good." Nareena said softly, as she stood and collected the few things she would need.
"My vehicle, or yours?" He asked politely.
"I should drop mine off at home, since I'm leaving for the day." She said easily. "But we can go in yours from there. The fewer strange vehicles seen coming and going at Arsham's the better, I expect."
"No doubt," he nodded. "Just seeing you, if they can ID you, will cause some concern. Not that it matters anymore, but it might be useful for them to be able to get back in after their heads are unscrambled."
"Useful, but risky." Nareena cautioned. "An unfortunate meeting with one of the telepaths there could blow things sky high."
"I know, but I can't discount it any more than Ebon could." He said quietly. "They could do an incredible amount of damage before they are uncovered and I have to pull them out."
"Could, and probably will." Nareena chuckled softly. "Just from Cazi tells me, I'm pretty sure that at least one executive will have a very bad day."
"Yes, he's going to find out what happens when they are no longer restricted to harmless ranks." Tyber nodded grimly. "And anything associated with the training program too."
"That will probably be the difficult one for Ebon and company. Rescues aren't something they have a lot of experience with." She said quietly.
"That's where my friends come in." He nodded before they parted to their separate vehicles. "It's a specialty."
"A useful alliance of talents." She nodded.
Tyber pulled Arsham into his arms for a heated kiss of greeting before he even introduced the elegant Tigress only a few steps behind him.
"Going to introduce your friend, Tyber?" Ebon asked with a teasing smile, just before Cazi pulled him into a passionate kiss to stop further questions.
"Mm, guys, this is Nareena Moonstone." Tyber grinned at the other Panther. "She's who's going to set your heads right." He hugged Arsham a little closer and nuzzled him, unaccountably nervous.
"Hello." Nareena said with a warm smile. "Hello, Cazi."
"Hi, 'Reena." Cazi grinned. "Gonna straighten these guys out huh?"
"Well, just get some unwanted interlopers out." She smiled back. "The other is just more than I'm qualified to do."
"Pleased to meet you, Nareena." Ebon said, as he walked over with Cazi alongside. "Cazi's had a lot to say about you."
"Oh dear." She blushed lightly. "Did he really?"
"I was good." The small Lion protested.
"I'm sure you were." She grinned back, indicating she'd been teasing him.
"I like her already." Arsham whispered softly to Tyber.
"She is something special." He murmured and nuzzled him again. "The best this world has to offer."
"The first thing is to fix things so you can actually cooperate in your treatment without the special support provide in here." Nareena said easily. "Everyone is in agreement with getting the programming removed, is that correct?" She asked simply.
"Yes, ma'am." Ebon said politely, and was supported by a chorus of affirmatives from the others.
"Nareena will do fine, Ebon." She said with a smile for the Panther. "I'm not an officer of any kind."
"Sorry, Nareena." He smiled. "I want you to start with me."
"Are you sure?" She asked gently.
"Yes, I don't ask the others to do anything I'm not willing to do." He said firmly. "But can Cazi come with me, wherever you're going to do this?"
"Of course." She nodded, and then turned to Tyber. "You said it was possible to get some privacy."
"Of course," he nodded easily. "Would a library, office, bedroom, garden or wilderness setting suit you best?"
"Perhaps a garden." Nareena said after some thought. "A bedroom just suggests all the wrong things."
"I'm sure," he chuckled and kissed Arsham's neck. "Come, I'll show you out and set things up. You wanted all the blocks I put on the programming removed in that area, correct?"
"Yes." She nodded. "I need to see what the programming looks like when it's functioning correctly."
"Which is why I'm coming." Cazi said quietly. "For when all hell breaks lose."
"It might not." Ebon said quietly.
"It will." Cazi said, nuzzling his Panther playfully. "Nothing ever goes quietly around you guys."
"Would you like a little backup?" Tyber offered quietly.
"Might not be a bad idea, if its okay." Cazi asked looking at Ebon and Nareena.
"Up to you, Ebon." Nareena said easily.
"Best to be prepared." Ebon nodded. "Thank you again, Tyber." He smiled warmly at the other Panther.
"You are welcome," he smiled back and hugged his lover close. "Sorry love, but this is where we must part until Ebon is done."
"Just be careful, love." Arsham rumbled as he pulled the Panther close and kissed him soundly. "Take care of him." He whispered gently.
"As I will take care of you." Tyber kissed him back and reluctantly let the White Tiger go.
"Till later, love." Arsham said with a gentle and watched as the four continued outside into the incredible formal gardens of Tyber's pocket dimension estate.
"Very nice, Tyber." Nareena said as she looked around. "Much like the gardens of my father's estate."
"Thank you, Nareena." He smiled at her and showed the way deep into them to a water garden of shimmering waterfalls and sparkling pools among the greens under a soft blue sky. "I enjoy having the mix of the tamed wild. It's much like myself and those I care about."
"This is nice, Tyber." Cazi said approvingly. "The waterfall reminds me of some property I was surveying a couple of months ago. Smaller of course, but the colors are very similar."
"There is something very soothing about them." Tyber smiled and guided the odd foursome to sit around the largest pool was, cooled by the falling water and trees all around.
"This is a good place." Nareena nodded. "The next step would be to remove the restraints on the programming."
Tyber took a deep breath and look at Ebon and Cazi. "Are you two ready?" He asked quietly.
"I'm not sure how to be ready for this." Ebon said quietly. "And that's something I don't think I've ever said."
"Don't worry, love." Cazi said softly. "We can handle this. And once everybody's programming is turned down a notch, you, me and Nareena are going out for a night. I'd invite Tyber, but I expect he's going to be with a certain White Tiger." He teased the paladin playfully.
"You better believe it, as good as the offer sounds."
"You are presuming a lot aren't you?" Nareena shook her head at Cazi in amusement.
"Oh, you know you like the idea." Cazi smirked.
"Incorrigible isn't he?" Ebon smiled at the Tigress.
"Usually." Nareena nodded. "I think everyone is as ready as they're going to be."
"Okay, here it goes." Tyber concentrated a moment and created a bubble of normal reactions within the calming effects of his home.
Ebon's reaction was to tense as his conscious mind got into a full out brawl with the instinctive reactions of the programming. Each minor victory for the programming cause him to move a little, but the incredible will of the Panther was holding for now.
Nareena moved swiftly, slipping the healing strands of her powerful, yet gentle, telepathy in and amongst the knots of the programming. It was laborious and delicate work loosening the threads of the programming without damaging the mind it was wound tightly to.
Suddenly, the programming snapped into control and Ebon bolted only to be caught by Cazi, suddenly morphed into a nine foot tall red-gold Dracon. "I could use some assistance here." Cazi said, as he wrestled with the powerfully built Panther. The shifter knew of several spells that would be wonderfully helpful, but he wasn't skilled enough to cast them while wrestling.
He'd barley gotten the words out when the paladin was there with powerful arms around Ebon's, pulling the other Panther back and worked to pin him against a large tree.
"Rego Corporem." Cazi intoned, once Tyber had Ebon contained for a few moments. Suddenly the Panther stiffened and was still though it was clear that he was still conscious and struggling. "Don't know how long that body binding will hold though." He said winded. "I forget just how strong he is."
"His mind is equally strong." Nareena said softly as she continued working, moving carefully around the innate shields that Ebon seemed to have floating in odd places in his mind.
"And they're all going to be this strong." Tyber grumbled, feeling the power Cazi's magic was only mostly contacting, even with the reinforcement Tyber could offer.
"Not quite as strong." Nareena said softly, as she worked. "Quick scan showed stronger programming on Ebon."
"Makes sense." Cazi said quietly. "As the leader, they'd want to make sure he stayed controlled more than the others."
"True," Tyber tightened his grip and reinforced the magic locking Ebon's body in place.
After almost an hour, the tension in Ebon's frame slowly relaxed until he was no longer fighting the magic.
"He'll be fine now." Nareena said quietly, as she calmed herself from the exertion. "If you've got a hot tub or spring in here, he should soak in it for awhile. Static resistance like he was doing, will make even his muscles sore."
"Perdo Vim." Cazi said quietly, dispelling the binding enchantment he had cast on his lover, leaving only Tyber's magic in place, which faded a moment later, though the larger Panther was cautious as he let his grip on Ebon go.
"There's a hot spring a little ways away." He offered quietly. "Leave the interference down?"
"Yes, though it will make no difference for Ebon now, as far as discussing treatment goes." She said, as Cazi supported a slightly dazed Ebon.
"Which way to the spring, Tyber?" Cazi asked politely, still in Dracon form. The big Panther just nodded and helped them get Ebon the couple hundred yards it was to a very natural looking hot spring turned into a bubbling garden feature.
"Off with the clothes?" Tyber asked quietly as they got to the steaming water's edge.
"Absolutely." Ebon mumbled tiredly and began taking them off with two sets of helpful hands that weren't entirely keeping to themselves.
He groaned softly as the water soaked into his fur and soothed his abused muscles with a silky warmth that wasn't completely natural.
"Oh, that feels good." Ebon groaned softly. "I'm guessing the process worked. Or did you have to put the suppression back up, Tyber?" He asked curiously.
"No, the suppression is still off." He smiled slightly and rubbed Ebon's bare shoulders. "This is just you."
"That's good." Ebon said, watching as Cazi returned to Lion form. "Then it should work on the guys as well." He added. "Which means you better stay dressed Cazi, otherwise we'll be making the guys wait."
"Nareena needs to rest, love." Cazi smiled as he slipped out of clothes and into the spring with Ebon. "'Sides I just want to relax here with you." He rumbled, as he relaxed against his Panther in the hot water as he hands gently massaged his lover's chest.
"What can I do for you?" Tyber turned his attention to the Tigress with an open offer to anything he could provide.
"A meditation room with soft pillows, a pot of hot water and the bag I left in the entry room to this place." She said softly, taking him up on the offer of anything. "That programming is some of the most convoluted damage I've ever seen in one mind."
"I do not doubt it." He nodded and offered his arm to her. "The room will be ready when we get there."
"Thank you, Tyber." She said, as she stood and took his arm. "Once we get this basic repair done on them all, they'll need to be back in the 'real' world for a while to let it settle." She explained as they walked. "This isn't going to be quick or easy."
"They can not settle here, even without the shields in place?" He asked quietly, not liking the idea of them leaving half healed.
"As wonderful as this place is, Tyber." She started gently. "The mind knows it's not the 'real' world. And their minds need to process their new patterns in the context of the 'real' world. Especially since they know that the programming can be suppressed here." She said quietly. "They need to believe that the repairs work in the 'real' world."
"I understand," he nodded, clearly very unhappy but accepting the Healer's words as true. "I can not say I will like it, but I understand."
"I'm not happy about it either, Tyber." She said gently. "I'd much rather keep them in here until the healing was complete. But sometimes you can't keep the patient in the hospital as long as you'd like."
"No, I suppose not." He accepted it quietly. "Hopefully their calls to duty will be few until then." He shook his head. "At least they are all adept at covering their tracks and intent."
"Hopefully so, seeing as they just returned from a mission, according to Cazi." She nodded. "At least you get to stay here with them. I have to return to the city between treatments."
"And be very careful you are not seen." He looked at her worriedly as he stopped them at a door. "If you will not allow me to arrange it, at least."
"Well, if you can create a shortcut between here and my apartment, I'll take it." She said easily. "It'll raise way too many questions if I'm seen coming and going from Arsham's regularly.
"Easily done, though I will have to open it each time." He told her softly and opened the door to exactly the medication room she had had in mind. "It amounts to having you walk into this home from your apartment and walk out in his home."
"That will be much better, thank you." She smiled. "If you're willing I'd like to do the future treatments here as well. The fact that you can alter time flow means that we don't have to worry about anyone noticing any of us missing for a couple days at a time."
"I assumed they would be," he chuckled slightly. "My home is at your disposal, Nareena."
"I would never make such an assumption about someone else's home." Nareena smiled gently. "But thank you, Tyber. You're probably the best thing that's ever happened to this team, even if they don't realize it yet."
He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. "You are most welcome, Nareena." He smiled honestly. "You are healing a great hurt in the one I love more than my own existence. There is nothing I would not do for him."
"They do have a way of finding their way inside your heart, don't they?" Nareena smiled softly.
"They are very good at it." He chuckled to cover his reaction. "I will leave you to your meditations now."
"If the others should ask, I'll be ready for the next one in two hours." She said as she began retrieving things she needed for meditation from the bag she'd brought.
"I understand," he inclined his head and closed the door to give her her privacy.
"Ready, love?" Tyber nuzzled his mate and pulled him close, as nervous as any of them for what was coming.
"Ready as I'll ever be." Arsham rumbled quietly, and claimed an intense kiss.
"Afterwards, guys." Cazi teased softly, as he shifted to Dracon form , knowing that it would be needed.
"Whenever you're ready, Nareena." Arsham added after the kiss broke.
"Are you ready, Tyber?" Nareena asked the Panther gently.
"As I'll ever be." He nodded and steeled himself internally for what was to come. He shifted and put his mate into a nearly helpless position, his arousal kept down by what was coming. Only then did he drop the interference to the programming.
Arsham's reaction was nearly as violent as Ebon's had been, though the fact that he was restrained before it started helped a great deal. The two previous adjustments had shown Nareena a great deal about how the programming worked, so it was a little easier each time. Easier was, however, a very relative term since the programming squirm and clawed to protect itself against the intruder.
Unexpectedly, there was a surge of undirected magical energy as the programming tried to protect itself by hiding in a largely undeveloped part of Arsham's mind. For a moment the Tiger's natural ability to break patterns shattered the magical bonds holding him, though this was mostly due to the counter-magic being entirely unexpected.
"Oh shit!" Cazi growled, as he worked to rebuild the bonds that hand been holding Arsham, while Ebon and Tyber restrained the struggling White Tiger by brute force without actually hurting him.
"Still, love." Tyber rumbled, desperate not to have to hurt him and cursing himself silently for not thinking of this as Arsham's magical gifts abruptly stopped working.
"Okay, binding back in place." Cazi murmured. "Should have considered the effect of untrained ability." He muttered, as he watched Nareena work.
Nareena was having a much more difficult time with Arsham than she expected as the programming took advantage of the White Tiger's natural ability to hide, conceal and encrypt things. Even with her completely overwhelming advantage in psi-strength and experience it was difficult for her to get her 'hands' on the programming to pin it down. Nareena had no intention of stopping until she finished however.
"Is there a problem?" Cazi asked quietly, about an hour into the procedure.
"His mind is more adept at hiding things than the others." Nareena said softly, as she pinned down a particularly slippery portion of the programming. "Ebon was stronger, but Arsham is more agile and his natural attunement to patterns doesn't make things easy."
"Anything we can help with?" Tyber asked worriedly.
"Just do what you can to keep him calm." Nareena said quietly, most of her attention in the psi-realm. "Actually, if the temperature of this pool could be brought up I'd suggest a warm water soak."
"You mean a hot tub." Cazi said easily, as he considered the waterfall fed pool. "Any objection to me warming it up temporarily?" He asked Tyber, as he put the restraint spell into a holding slot while he prepared a second spell.
"Already warming." The paladin responded quickly, his grip tightening slightly as he felt Arsham twitch. "Help me get him in it."
"Cazi, stay focused on your spells." Ebon said firmly, as he took the other side of the struggling Tiger. "I'll help Tyber get him in."
The warmth of the pool did seem to calm the White Tiger some, as his struggles decreased noticeably. This was only true, however, as long as Tyber was in contact with him. . Fortunately, Tyber had no intentions of being anywhere else but nuzzling and murmuring assurances to him while he kept him from moving too much.
In the psi-realm Nareena felt as thorny she was trying to separate roses from a patch of thornweed vine. Thorns everywhere and a great deal of interwoven thought and program. The deeper she went, the more she worried that somehow the White Tiger's programming was so intricate that she'd have to try and do the entire deprogramming in one shot. That idea didn't please her at all.
When she'd just about decided that it was going to be all at once, she found a strangely open area of mental space that the programming seemed barred from entering. Working outward from this 'shielded' space, she managed to finally track down and pacify the last of the programming's defenses. Pausing a moment to look back at the open space, she was shocked at what she saw. But it was a pleasant shock, and not the nasty ones she was used to finding in patient's minds.
"Okay, you can let him go." She said exhaustedly, as she separated her mind from his. "Process complete."
"You okay, Nareena?" Cazi asked after he released the binding spell. "That was almost three hours worth." He said, sitting down next to her, putting his arm around her.
"I'll be fine." She nodded. "Let him soak for a while longer, and then get him dried off and into a warm, soft bed. He'll probably sleep for at least twelve hours."
"Will do," Tyber let out a breath of relief and shifted his grip from restraining to embracing. "You going to be okay, love?" He murmured quietly.
"Just tired." Arsham rumbled, as he leaned against his Panther. "Feel like I just went through twelve hours of combat exercises."
"That is tired." Ebon said quietly.
"You can't be in a safer place to rest and recover." Tyber kissed him gently on the cheek.
"Right now, I don't care, as long as its with you." Arsham said drowsily.
"I think he's about to go to sleep on his feet." Ebon said quietly. "But he couldn't be in better hands." He said with an approving smile for the other Panther. It wasn't just anyone that Ebon would admit could look after one of his Bros as well as he could.
"As soon as his muscles recover, I'll get him to bed for a nice long rest." He promised Nareena and smiled back at Ebon, grateful the NightBlade leader approved of his involvement. "Nareena, do you mind waiting on any more of this until after Arsham has recovered?"
"I'm going to need longer to relax myself." Nareena admitted. "There's no rush."
"Good," Tyber murmured, most of his attention on his exhausted and relaxing mate. "Please make full use of my home." He reinforced his previous offer. "Kimmi will see to anything you desire."
"Thank you." Nareena smiled. "Don't hesitate to come get me, if anything seems wrong." She said gently.
"I will." He promised and shifted so Arsham could rest completely supported by Tyber's body.
"Now, lets find you a bed, Nareena." Cazi said firmly. "You're way more tired than just meditating will cover."
"This way, sir, ma'am." A harem-silk dressed girl startled them slightly by her sudden appearance, though her voice was very polite and soft.
"Thank you, Kimmi." Ebon said politely, as he and Cazi supported the exhausted Tigress. They followed the all but naked brown and blond mouse to Nareena's meditation room door, then threw it to a door none had noticed before that opened to a light, airy and soothingly magical room that smelled faintly of pleasant things.
"Wonderful place." Cazi commented absently. "Must be nice being able to rearrange your home at will." He added, as he looked for the bed and saw the grand four poster item done in white and creams with silken sheets, satin pillows and fluffy feather filled comforters.
"Okay, Nareena." Cazi smiled. "Time for bed." He added, and started helping her undress for bed. The Tigress was mostly out of it from exhaustion, but she kept leaning her head against Ebon's chest. "Just go with it, love." Cazi whispered to the slightly bemused Panther. Once Nareena was carefully tucked under the covers, the two toms stripped down and joined her one on each side.
"Are you sure?" Ebon said softly.
"You asked me what she wanted." Cazi chuckled softly. "But this will have to do, as she's in no condition to play. Just cuddle, Ebon."
"Okay." The big Panther said uncertainly as he lay down next to the already sleeping Tigress. It suddenly hit him, that somewhere along the line, she must have adjusted his reaction to females as well.
"Stop thinking and go to sleep, love." Cazi whispered softly just before he drifted off.
"Right." Ebon nodded, and let himself relax into sleep.
"What's that?" Tyber asked quietly when he opened his eyes to find his mate staring at a glowing cube of smaller cubes that was floating about an inch above his hand.
"A puzzle." Arsham said quietly, clearly focused mostly on the glowing cube. "And a key of some sort, I think."
"To your gift?" He regarded the object with all his senses.
"Not exactly." Arsham said softly. "Well maybe, I'm not sure. Though I think it has something to do with the lost city of Kel." He said as one of the cubes slid sideways and matched up with another of similar color. There were five different colors among the smaller cubes; red, green, blue, black and white. The puzzle was clearly both magical and psionic in nature, and it resonated with a power and energy that seemed very old to Tyber.
Not having a clue about what was clearly a very personal puzzle token, the panther kept his mouth shut and watched quietly as Arsham worked his way threw it.
"It's funny." Arsham said as he worked on the complicated puzzle. "It appeared after Nareena cleaned out some of the garbage in my head. Like it had been there all along."
"It probably was," Tyber murmured softly and carefully drew Arsham into his arms. "Much like your magic, and your ability to love."
"I didn't know anything about love, till you walked into my life." Arsham rumbled, and turned to kiss his Panther passionately as the cube faded into the palm of his hand. "And I'm so very glad you did."
"Me too." He rumbled deep in his throat and claimed another heated kiss. "Done with the puzzle for now?"
"I think so." He rumbled. "I've still got something of a headache from getting my head rewired." He smirked. "The puzzle can wait." He grinned, as his hands began to explore the Panther's dense fur and found a dark set returning the attention eagerly.
"Would you like something for the discomfort?" He offered between kisses.
"I was kind of hoping you would." He smiled. "You do a remarkable job of healing, for somebody who dishes out as much damage as you do." He grinned playfully.
"Balance," he rumbled and drew Arsham tightly against him for a kiss that embodied all the White Tiger meant to him and let the trickle of healing magic wind it's way around Arsham's body to sooth the aches. "It is all about balance, love."
"Oh, that felt good." Arsham rumbled deep in his chest. "Balance isn't something we NightBlades know much about." He chuckled. "But everybody knows we're unbalanced." He smirked, before claiming a playfully passionate kiss.
"It makes you irresistible," he laughed and kissed him back before twisting to put Arsham on his back and himself on top. "And insatiable."
"I'm not the only insatiable one here." Arsham grinned and pulled the Panther in close for another kiss. "And you're pretty irresistible as well." He smirked playfully, taking the opportunity to run his hand along his lover's ass.
"Only for you," he breathed hotly and shifted, spreading Arsham's legs in what was now a familiar bit of foreplay before taking the White Tiger's half hard cock and sheath into his mouth.
"And to think, if it hadn't been for botched Intel work, I might never have met you." Arsham breathed hotly, as cock quickly swelled to full hardness. "Even screw ups are good for something."
Tyber chuckled, his rumbling adding vibration to the sensations of his talented tongue and welcoming mouth playing over his lover's hardening shaft. He shifted one hand away from a powerful white thigh to prepare himself with fingers slickened by magic.
The both moaned loudly as Tyber sank down, taking his lover deep into his body and lowered himself to kiss Arsham until they were both breathless from it and the growing pleasures of their joined bodies.
"Gods, but I love you." Tyber shuddered in their physical pleasure and the intensity of it being with one who meant so much to him. "More than anything." He claimed another deep kiss. "Even my service."
Arsham was more than a bit stunned by that declaration, and quite speechless for a moment, which he attempted to cover by claiming a passionate kiss. "I love you, too." He said quietly, clumsy with the emotion he knew little about. "More than I ever thought I'd feel for anyone."
It was clearly enough for Tyber, for the big Panther smiled in pleasure before their mating caught up with him and he roared with his orgasm, spraying Arsham's chest with his seed.
The sensation of the Panther's hot seed spraying across his chest, pushed Arsham past his limit. His roar rivaled Tyber's as his seed splashed between them and the Panther moaned one last time before settling on his side next to Arsham and pulled the White Tiger into his arms.
"Love you." He whispered throatily with a tender lick to his mate's ear.
"I'm really hoping your mission drags out. Just so you don't leave." Arsham whispered softly. It was something that bothered him every time he thought about it, and it was getting so he didn't want the SG overthrown, because of what it would cost him personally.
Tyber stilled, looking at his mate seriously as he judged his own heart no matter how it terrified him to contemplate.
"I'm not leaving." He eventually admitted. "Not until my life is over."
"Is your boss going to be okay with that?" Arsham asked quietly, not really sure what an upset Power would be capable of. "I admit, I don't want you to leave but I also don't want you in deep trouble 'cause of me. I mean, I've heard Powers can get really vicious when they get upset."
"Yes they can," he consented. "Lady Kyvva is reasonable. If not ... I deal with it."
"Well, she is in charge of Fate." He said quietly. "Maybe you were meant to stay here longer than the mission called for." He suggested.
"Right now, I can only hope so." He admitted and nuzzled him. "But She has encouraged my feelings and involvement with you."
"Well, I'd call that a good sign." Arsham said encouragingly, and licked the Panther's ear. "And I'm grateful she did. You're the best thing to happen to me in a long time, maybe ever."
"I know you are for me." He whispered back, trembling slightly with the intensity of his emotions. "How are you feeling?"
"Recovered mostly." Arsham said easily. "Still kind of tingling around the edges though. That was the weirdest experience I've ever had."
"I'm not surprised," he chuckled softly. "Probably ranks up there for Nareena too. Your mind was decidedly not cooperative."
"I'm not surprised." Arsham shook his head. "I know way too much about hiding things to make it easy."
"And an untrained magical gift on top of it." He chuckled with a teasing nuzzle. "We really do need to work on that."
"Events just haven't been cooperating on that score, have they?" Arsham shook his head. "Always something coming up." He said, and then smirked at the unintentional double meaning.
"Usually the two of us." He chuckled back and nuzzled him. "I'm looking forward to finding out what's in that little puzzle of yours too."
"Me too." Arsham smiled. "Kind of funny that somebody left a key inside my head."
"Sounds like something one of my friends would have done." He chuckled softly. "Though in this case I'm laying odds on that old Saber spirit that healed me."
"That wouldn't surprise me." Arsham nodded. "You probably would've noticed if one of your friends had been around, right?"
Tyber considered that for a while, then shook his head. "No more than I would have noticed anyone with power being around. Detection is not my specialty. Pounding things into submission and matchmaking are." He grinned and claimed another kiss. "Though I've never been a subject before."
"That's an interesting combination of specialties." Arsham grinned mischievously. "I believe I met people who mixed beating and romance regularly though." He added with a teasing smirk before claiming a playful kiss.
"Never did figure it out myself." He laughed and pulled the White Tiger close. "But I keep getting those missions."
"Well, once people think you're good at something they just figure it's a safe bet to give you the job again." Arsham chuckled.
"True, and I never fail." He rumbled softly.
"I'm not the least bit surprised." Arsham rumbled.
Arsham had been focused on the glowing cube of cubes in his hand for almost twelve hours. For the last six hours, he'd been completely oblivious of the world around him as he shifted the fifth level of cubes into the proper configuration. Even with his knack for puzzles and decryption this cube had been challenging, and Arsham had never been one to pass up a challenge. And the White Tiger was having fun, as strange as that might seem to others. As he locked the last cube into its proper place, he wonder what the next level was going to look like.
Much to his surprise completing the current level didn't reveal another level, but a fountain of light and sound. It was like someone had set off fireworks and an orchestra in the room with him, though the orchestra was playing a piece that sounded like nothing he'd ever heard. It was piece that was both full of majesty and grandeur while at the same time being full of celebration, and it had a feeling of great age.
'*Love?'* Tyber interrupted him very gently. While he didn't want to distract his mate, the sudden involvement of the puzzle with the real world of his home made him nervous. '*What is happening?'*
'*I solved it.'* Arsham replied, his mental voice extremely pleased, and filled with a quiet sort of wonder.
'*So ... what does it unlock, besides the music and light?'*
'*The key goes to something in the lost city of Kel.'* Arsham explained. '*Which isn't so lost anymore, though I dare say the archaeologists won't be finding it anytime soon.'*
'*Do you know where, now?'* He nuzzled his love and drew him back into strong arms.
'*We were right on top of it.'* Arsham chuckled as he leaned back to nuzzle his mate. '*But if you don't know how its hidden, you'll never find it.'*
'*The SG valley?'* He guessed uncertainly.
'*Nope.'* Arsham shook his head. '*That forest we went camping in. The one where you fought the Dragon.'*
'*Which would largely explain why there was so much Sabertooth attention to it and us.'* He chuckled softly. '*I don't suppose you got told just what that monster was?'*
'*No mention of it.'* Arsham shook his head. '*I just hope it doesn't come in groups.'*
'*Very much so.'* He shuddered. '*I would definitely need help if they did.'*
'*Well, hopefully that was the only one in that area.'* Arsham said quietly. '*Cause I'm going back there.'*
'*Do you really think you'll be going back alone?'* Tyber was ready to become defiant if need be.
'*I somehow doubt it.'* Arsham chuckled, and nuzzled Tyber playfully. '*I think you'd come even if I didn't ask, which I was going to.'*
'*Believe it.'* He rumbled and nuzzled back. '*I wouldn't be surprised if your brothers chose to come as well.'*
'*I'd be surprised if they didn't.'* Arsham chuckled. '*We look after each other, always have.'* He added fondly and found himself kissed firmly.
'*Yes, you do.'* Tyber rumbled deeply. '*And so do I. Now, since all the major deprogramming is settled, when do you want to check this place out?'*
'*The sooner the better.'* Arsham said quietly. '*I don't know how I know, but its important.'*
'*Then as soon as we can rouse the others.'* He chuckled and nuzzled the White Tiger. '*And manage to get out of bed and dressed.'*
'*It's the getting out of bed part that can be difficult.'* Arsham smirked and claimed a playful kiss that was returned with predictable heat from the Panther that owned his heart as much as he had Tyber's.
"So there's a city here?" Ebon asked as he surveyed the clearing where Arsham had indicated they should stop.
"Not here, exactly." Arsham chuckled. "Or the archaeologists would've found it already. According to the map, the doorway is hidden behind a tree."
"Reminds me of one of those treasure maps in the pirate movies." Max chuckled, as he and his twin began dashing about checking trees.
"A doorway I expect your puzzle opens." Tyber reguarded the area, amazed at the level of hidden magic here. He very much wished he had permission to have one of the mages here.
"Something like that." Arsham nodded, as he focused and let the cube materialize in his open hand. This time it materialized as an arrow floating like a compass needle. Walking slowly Arsham followed the arrow until it was pointing a huge ironwood tree. He walked around the tree looking at it carefully.
"Seriously not a normal tree." Tyber commented as he regarded the heavily magical plant curiously. "The innate magic is off the scale, mostly preservation magic."
"And most trees don't have a portal next to them." Arsham commented, indicating a 3 meter by 3 meter square of multi-colored light that was now visible sitting just off the ground.
"That either." He chuckled and drew Arsham into his arms for a nuzzle. "The city is on the other side?"
"I don't think its that direct." Arsham said uncertainly. "The puzzle mentioned the 'Three Faces of Kel', which if I understood the history correctly were the Lord of Magic, the Lord of Battle, and the Devourer of Evil." He shook his head. "Last one makes me kind of nervous."
"You are not evil, love." He hugged him tightly. "No one here is."
"But some of what we did, might qualify." Arsham said quietly. As Nareena had undone the programming, a sense of right and wrong had started to develop and with it a growing suspicion that they had been on the wrong side of things for a long time.
"Yes," the big Panther nodded slightly. "But committing an evil act does not always make one evil. It is how that act is viewed by the one who committed it and why it was done. Everyone has committed some evil in their lifetime. Very few are actually evil."
"Why was because we obeyed orders." Ebon said quietly. "The question of why do it, never really occurred."
"More to the point, you were never cognizant of the nature of your acts." Tyber looked up at the NightBlade leader. "You never saw it as something wrong, or evil, and did it anyway when you had another choice." He nuzzled Arsham gently. "We will see if Kel views it as I do."
"I rather hope so." Arsham said nervously. "But we've come this far." He said stubbornly. "Ready, love?"
"Ready." He nodded firmly and kissed him soundly. "Let us go."
"Looks like the door is big enough for two at a time." Arsham commented, as he took his lover's hand. "On three...one...two...three." He said, and stepped through.
The other side of the doorway was in a vast underground chamber that was cut down the middle by a wide chasm which fell out of sight. The only way across the chasm was high arching stone bridge about four meters across. In the middle of the bridge was a large shadowed figure, clearly quadruped, but obscured in the dim light of the room.
"As long as that's not another corruption dragon, we'll be fine." Tyber commented, trying to lighten the mood a bit.
"Seems a little small for that." Arsham said seriously.
"Lovely place." Ebon commented as he and Cazi emerged. "And that would be an obstacle." He commented observing the quadruped. "I hope its not going to be a fight, because that is really not a place I would choose as a battlefield."
"That would be the point." Tyber commented and moved forward, taking point as much out of protective instincts as the practical fact that he was the hardest to kill, and wouldn't stay dead.
Arsham was close behind, leaving a somewhat bemused Ebon organizing the rest of the team as they arrived.
As Arsham and Tyber started across the rough stone span, they could see that the quadruped was in fact the largest Sabertooth tiger that anyone had ever seen. There was, in fact, no going around it to cross the bridge. It watched them curiously with glowing green eyes as they approached.
"Who enters the domain of the Devourer?" The big Sabertooth rumbled in voice as deep as the chasm beneath them. The bright eyes looked over each of them in detail, seeming to peer deep within them, beneath any masks or facades that might exist.
"I, Arsham Kelspar, wish to enter the lost city of Kel." Arsham said politely, trying very hard to hide the nervousness he was feeling. Considering what 'Kelspar' meant in the old language, he felt a bit presumptuous using in front of what was probably Kel himself.
The giant tiger laughed, a great booming sound that shook the cavern. "A bold statement, little one. Kelspar indeed, you may wear the name, but you have yet to earn the title. But you may in time, though you have much to learn first."
"And who is the silent hand of fate come into my realm?" The Tiger asked after a long pause, looking directly at Tyber.
"Tyber Windcrest, Paladin in service to Lady Kyvva, Keeper of the Paths among the Ryoshi-Simyna." He bowed politely.
"Kyvva, huh?" The Tiger said thoughtfully as he looked the Paladin over more seriously. "You're a long way from your Lady's domain. What business do you have with one of my children?" He asked seriously, sounding very much like a parent asking if a potential suitor had honorable intentions.
Two truthful answers competed to be spoken first, but in the end habit won out. "My orders are to see the NightBlades turned from the service of the Shadow Government and that organization destroyed." He began. "My business with Arsham is remaining close to my heart."
"Your lady meddles far outside her domain." The Tiger rumbled. "And yet my cousins do not object to your presence. Curious, very curious indeed." He said thoughtfully, and then turned to Arsham. "And you little one, what is your feeling on this?"
Arsham was a little intimidated by the sheer power he could sense from the great Tiger, but he refused to back down. "I love him with all my heart." He said with deep conviction, though declaring love in front of anyone but Tyber was difficult. Admitting the emotion went against everything he had been taught.
"Not an easy thing learning love at your age, little one." The Tiger smiled, and then looked back at the NightBlades who had come up while the three had talked. "And these would be the rest of my cousins' NightBlades." He chuckled. "The ore is good, but the weapon is not forged yet." He said cryptically. "You may pass, and don't be so harsh with yourself. Every abused kit does things they regret before they learn better, and they're not evil." He said, before fading.
"I guess he agrees with you." Arsham said, as gave a sigh of relief and pulled Tyber into a close embrace that was returned with a tremor of relief that went to Tyber's very core.
"I can not say how glad I am for that." Tyber whispered, his voice tight as he sought to control the welling of unfamiliar emotions threatening his composure.
"It was actually kind of weird." Arsham said quietly. "The way he kept referring to me as his kit."
"You're part Saber, Bro." Ebon said reassuringly. "I'm sure that's what he was referring to."
"They've adopted you at any rate." Tyber added and nuzzled Arsham gently. "Let's get going, before we get distracted again."
"You two could get 'distracted' in the middle of a firefight." Max teased playfully, at which his twin bapped him upside the head.
"Well, they could." He protested to his twin.
"Looks like there's another portal over there." Arsham pointed to a shimmering arch of multicolored light.
"Here we go again, then." Tyber took a deep breath and kept a tight arm around his mate as they walked threw.
There was a moments disorientation before they found themselves on a large open plain littered with dead warriors. Most of the dead were Sabertooths, but there were many of other clans as well. It was clear from the array of tabards that the Sabertooths had been one side and the other clans the other. It was also clear that many of both sides had died from intense flame, as there was little left but bone and metal. In the distance smoke could be seen rising from a stone walled city and the screams of a city being ransacked could be heard.
"The Battle of Toros Kel." A deep voice rumbled from behind them, and when the group turned to look a Sabertooth in warform was standing behind them towering above at something that had to be close to twelve feet. "The Warriors of Kel would have held the day, but for the use of acidfire." He rumbled. "A horrible wizard weapon that burns anything save bone, stone and metal to dust and it spreads to anything the victim touches." He rumbled dangerously as the anger in his scent grew powerful enough to begin to affect the NightBlades. "But with the new villages of Sabertooths rising, we will smite the descendants of those who dared use such terrible weapons before they know what is upon them." He growled with a rising intensity, as the NightBlades' eyes began to turn red and they fought to retain control against the rising Berserker rage. "We will avenge the fallen!" He roared.
"No!" Arsham shouted through the tide of rage that was sweeping him. "The past is the past. None who are responsible live. We can't right ancient atrocities with new ones." He said trembling against the Rage he knew was wrong. "You must let it go."
"You do not seek vengeance for the women and children slaughtered by the armies of the Clans?" The Saber rumbled dangerously.
"Vengeance will not return the dead." Arsham growled back. "Only create more dead. It must stop somewhere. Let it stop here."
"A warrior needs wisdom as well as strength and training." The Saber rumbled approvingly, as the anger and rage in the air faded as quickly as it appeared. "But so few attain it. Very good, little one." He smiled at Arsham. "You have come far in a short time, but there is still far to go." He smiled before vanishing.
"That I could have done without." Arsham rumbled, as he sank to the ground still trembling. Berserker rage was exhausting even at the best of times, and even the edge of it took something out of you.
"Good job, Bro." Ebon said quietly, patting the White Tiger on the shoulder even as Tyber wrapped him in an aura of healing and affection.
"Yes, you did very well, love." Tyber added proudly. "You are doing very well."
"Kel doesn't play around." Arsham commented quietly. "That kind of anger is easy to get swept up in."
"No kidding." Rifleman said quietly, still breathing hard. "Acidfire? It's like napalm, only worse. Did something like that really exist?"
"I'm guessing it did." Arsham replied uncertainly. "I don't think he invented it just now."
"It does." Tyber said quietly. "I can't say about here and then, but I've met such spells before. It's the magical equivalent of an NBC assault by most laws."
"Which means there are people willing to use such things." Ebon commented as he surveyed the battlefield. "Use of such things always precedes the laws banning them."
"Yes," Tyber nodded. "As destructive and indiscriminant as they are, they are very effective weapons."
"Hopefully the knowledge of it was lost after the Disappearance." Arsham said as he stood and found Tyber's arms still wrapped supportively around him. "Time to get moving."
"Yes, the sooner we face the Lord of Magic, the sooner we can rest." Tyber commented with a supportive nuzzle.
"Up there." Arsham pointed up the hill behind them. "Behind the Sabertooth banner, its the next portal."
"Level three, coming up." Max snickered.
"Yeah, but this game doesn't have a save feature." Tony shook his head, as they followed Arsham and Tyber toward the glowing pyramid of light.
"I think we know what Kel's been doing for the last thousand years." Arsham chuckled, just before stepping through.
There was a much stronger sense of disorientation then before, as the world swirled rapidly before setting them down in the foyer of a grand library. Books stretch in every direction, and three stories upward as well. But amid the books, and the decoration fit for a palace the most noticeable thing was the sense of age that permeated everything.
"Reminds me of Kysevva's study." Tyber commented quietly, his respect for the magical arts clear in his tone and body language. "Not even the Prime Magic Guild of my homeland had anything like this."
"I'm not surprised." The deep voice of Kel rumbled, as the Sabertooth in Felsin mode descended a staircase in a robe of deep purple with gold edging. "The knowledge of more than one world resides here. And more than just the knowledge of magic, knowledge in all forms is my domain." He smiled, as he crossed the room toward Arsham. "You've done well, little one, to come so far. Just one test left, to find the door that leads forward to the lost city. There are many doors in this library, most of them lead back to the mortal world, only one goes where you want."
"How do I recognize the right door?" Arsham asked carefully.
"Observation and deduction, little one." Kel explained. "You have the tools, now you must use them." He said before fading out of sight.
"Observation and analysis." Ebon commented quietly. "Two more critical abilities of a warrior."
"And your specialty, in a way." Tyber smiled and nuzzled Arsham supportively. "Just a different kind of puzzle."
"Kind of a treasure hunt." Tracker chuckled.
"Well, no time to start like the present." Arsham grinned. "One could lost in this library for days."
"You got lost for days in the Capitol library." Mason chuckled. "And it wasn't half this big, I don't think."
"So I like to read." Arsham smirked back.
"At least you have your team bond to keep track of each other with." Tyber chuckled and grinned at his mate. "Which means I stick with Arsham."
"We'll using the tracking beacons to mark doors as we find them." Ebon said, as the team broke up into pairs. "But I don't think the rest of us have the insight that's required here."
"I can use the tracking comp to mark them off as I check them." Arsham nodded as Tyber watched in something akin to amazement at the team action that was all but instinctive for the NightBlades. It was much different from the mindset he had much of the time.
"Come on, love." Arsham grinned, as he headed of in what seemed like a random direction. Though it might not have been as random as it appeared since the other NightBlades all went in different directions. It wasn't long before they came across a door, which the White Tiger promptly marked with a small portable beacon about the size of a two quarters and twice as thick. He stood back and looked at it for a while, and then smiled as he realized he could see a kind of swirling pattern in the door. It was just a matter of understanding what the swirls meant.
"I take it that means you understand better now?" Tyber asked curiously, regarding the door, sure he wasn't seeing something his mate could.
"There's a pattern to the door." Arsham nodded softly. "Swirls and ripples of energy. It's like the first time I look a new code, I can see there's a pattern but I haven't quite figured out what it means yet."
"You just need enough examples to match the patterns with known ones?" He half guessed.
"Not always." Arsham smiled. "Sometimes, I can just find the patterns I need. Though, of course, I'm usually matching unknown to a known language. Here, I'm not sure what I'm matching to." He admitted.
"Ur?" The Panther flicked his ears back in uncertainty. "I thought we were looking for the one that led to the city. The one that didn't lead back to the mortal world."
"Oh, right." Arsham chuckled. "Just exclude the ones that look like the portals we came through to get here. I was over-complicating the process, trying to figure out exactly where in the mortal world the portal went." He snickered. "My one little problem, I tend to want to answer all the questions instead of just the one asked."
"Something like that." Tyber nodded, willing to trust his mate without understanding exactly what he was doing. "You can figure out the rest of the destinations another time." He nuzzled him affectionately.
"Depending on how often Kel lets us into his library." Arsham chuckled. "I think this place is very similar to your home." He said, and then nodded. "Not the right door."
"It's quite possible it is." He nodded and looked around more carefully. "It can be very difficult to tell."
"One door down and a large number to go." Arsham chuckled, as he picked a direction to look for a door in.
Arsham looked at the most recent door in a long series of them for a long while before grinning broadly. "This is it." He rumbled, pleased as he turned impulsively claimed a kiss from Tyber. He pulled the Panther into his arms and it was passionately returned with a happy rumble and physical hunger that his mate's attention always brought on in both of them. '*Guys, I found it.'* He rumbled over the link. '*Beacon AX-22.'*
'*Everyone to beacon AX-22.'* Ebon ordered.
"So, is this it or can we expect another challenge on the other side?" Ebon asked curiously, once the team was gathered at the portal.
"I think this is it." Arsham said uncertainly. "I don't know what other challenges there would be."
"Very well, but everyone stay alert." Ebon directed, though it really wasn't necessary. "Your show, Bro." He smiled at the White Tiger.
"Yes, I suppose it is." Arsham chuckled, and then stepped through the doorway.
There was the feeling of disorientation, and then a warm breeze as they emerged in a large open cavern. Ahead of them across a wide open stone plain was the wall of a large city, with an open gate visible from where they stood. The cavern was amazingly quietly though the sound of the breeze, and of dripping water could be hear. There was a feeling of great age and stillness in the cavern, as if nothing had moved of its own accord in centuries.
"Feels like a preservation spell." Tyber commented quietly. "A very potent one."
"Probably the influence of Kel." Arsham commented softly, as he looked around waiting until the rest of the team arrived. "What I'm looking for is that way." He said, pointing toward the city. "Not sure exactly what it is though, but I'll know it when I see it."
"Sounds like half my search missions." Tyber groaned but willingly followed his mate.
"Must be a game that Powers like to play." Max chuckled. "Make the mortal look for something, but don't tell him what it is, or looks like." He said as they followed Arsham into the well preserved city. In some respects it was too well preserved, like the empty suits of armor standing guard at the gate, or the carriage standing in the street with the harness floating in mid air as if it were over the back of patiently waiting Destrin.
"Like a moment in time held for centuries." Arsham commented quietly, as he followed the floating arrow in his hand.
"Creepy as hellfire." Tyber shuddered as he looked around and knots formed in his gut over the similarities to one of the more terrifying of his missions. One he only came back from on the grace of his Lady coming to fetch his trapped spirit personally. "A ghost city locked in time."
"Except I don't think there are any ghosts." Arsham said quietly, as they passed a blacksmith's shop with where the glow of still hot fire could be seen. As they left the merchant quarter for the residential quarter, it got no less creepy with suits of clothing standing at doorways, or playing in the street.
"I hope so." The big Panther murmured, resisting the growing urge to give his aura full play in this enviroment that rattled him so badly.
Sensing his discomfort, Arsham put his free arm around his lover as they walked, and nuzzled him reassuringly.
"It's like a really big haunted house." Max said. "Not a real one, but like the places at carnivals where they set up all sorts of things to try and scare you." He said as they entered an area where the houses became larger and fancier.
"Except I don't think the intent is to scare." Ebon said looking around. "I'd say Kel just doesn't want things to change. I'm surprised he hasn't put people or at least images of them in the clothing."
"If it is what it seems to be, without any ghosts, then the empty clothes is a reminder of things lost. Of what should be here, but is no longer." Tyber said quietly and leaned into Arsham's nuzzle, welcoming the calm strength of his mate.
"That wouldn't surprise me." Arsham said quietly. "I don't think the anger we saw at the battlefield was entirely for show. There is some very real anger, he just accepts that the anger no longer serves any purpose. Or perhaps the only purpose it serves is to mask pain."
"And provide focus, perhaps." He added softly. "It can be very effective for that as well."
"Possible." Arsham nodded. "With a Power its difficult to be sure." He nodded, stopping as the came to the foot of wide marble steps leading up to large building crafted from marble. The pillars of the building were carved in the image of the robed Kel they had encountered in the library. "Whatever it is, is in there." The White Tiger explained before starting up the steps.
"Here's hoping it's not trouble," Tyber nuzzled his mate.
The building turned out to a library that was as well preserved as the rest of the city. It was as big as Kel's library but it had a similar feeling of age. As they proceeded into the basement of the library the books were replaced by carefully preserved scrolls. And then they reached a large door crafted from solid silvery metal. Arsham tried the key on the door with no success.
"Let us have a crack at it." Max grinned, as he and Tony moved in to take a closer look. "Not a mechanical or electronic lock that we can't pick." He said as they laid out a detailed set of lock picks and burglar tools.
"It's unlikely to be one." Tyber considered the door with all his senses, weaving divination energy around it to see what he could tell.
Tyber's suspicion was correct, the locking mechanism was magical not mechanical. The complex keyhole on the front was merely for decoration, put there by a craftsman who felt doors need keyholes.
"We have a magic keyhole, which usually requires a magic key to open." He said simply. "It probably is that puzzle, just not as a physical key."
Arsham thought about that for a while. So if it wasn't the key, then which form was it he wondered to himself. He concentrated and caused the puzzle to resume its cube form and then projected it out until it touched the door. Glowing runes ran around the edge of the frame and then disappeared ... along with the door itself. Inside was a small room lined with shelves, and sitting on the one shelf was a bright golden chest the same color as the key that the puzzle had revealed.
"Now that might be what the key goes to." Tyber nodded sharply, but stayed back to give Arsham the lead.
Ebon's instincts were telling him that there was no trap here, and usually he trusted them, but this place made him edgy. His eyes were everywhere looking for anything that looked out of place or otherwise wrong.
Arsham nodded and shifted the puzzle into its key-form. Carefully, he walked forward and inserted the glowing key-puzzle into the lock on the golden chest. Slowly the lid on the chest opened and then a glowing bird of fire rocket from the chest. It raced around them room for a moment leaving bright glowing trail of sparks and then shot through Arsham and then up through the ceiling and out of sight.
There was no visible injury to the White Tiger though he remained lined in glowing red light. He stared at the chest as if entranced by it.
"Love?" Tyber stepped forward, cautious about touching just yet.
The rest of the team was on full combat alert watching for another attack, except for Cazi who had slipped around to get a better look at the chest. Peering into the chest, he noticed that while the chest was physically empty it contained a noticeable amount of raw magical energy that was radiating out rapidly, but strangely enough the radiating energy wasn't entering the room.
Everyone's attention was diverted back to the White Tiger as the glowing light vanished and he slumped to the floor.
"He's exhausted, nothing more." The Panther rumbled, his healing magic able to counter only a small part of his mate's condition.
"Which means he needs to rest." Ebon nodded. "And this vault doesn't strike me as the best place to rest. Since we haven't had a chance to find a route back, we'll take advantage of all the unoccupied residential facilities. Twins, do a quick recon of the nearest residential facilities while we get Arsham back topside."
"You got it, Ebon." The Twins nodded, quite serious as the left the room at a speed the naked eye couldn't follow.
"Do you need help carrying him?" Ebon asked Tyber quietly. He knew the other Panther would certainly try, even before Tyber picked his unconscious mate up.
"Not for a few blocks." He said quietly, an undercurrent in his tone giving thanks for the offer. "He is not that heavy."
"If we have to go more than a few blocks, we'll probably want to construct a stretcher." Ebon nodded, as they climbed the stairs toward the surface level.
"Good morning, love." Tyber nuzzled him as Arsham slowly came around in a large bed that spoke of wealth in another time.
"Did you redecorate?" Arsham asked looking around the strange room uncertainly, clearly a little disoriented.
"No, we are still in Kel." He kissed him affectionately. You passed out after that bird did a real number on your magic." His voice lowered. "I don't know what we set loose, but something very powerful has fled from that chest. Something of pure magic."
"That's probably not a good thing, huh?" Arsham asked, after claiming another affectionate kiss.
"I don't know, but the affect on you is positive." He smiled gently. "You are much more powerful than before."
"I feel like I just ran a marathon, or something." Arsham shook his head. "I don't think I've ever been that tired before."
"I'm not surprised." He kissed him again. "The twins think they know the way out, at least the physical route out of the city."
"Well, that's start." Arsham smiled. "Be interesting to see where in the physical world it comes out." He chuckled, and then put his arms around his Panther and pulled him close. "This has been a very weird trip."
"And a good one." He smiled and hugged him even closer. "No one was injured."
"Well, that's much more normal for the NightBlades." Arsham chuckled. "Not that missions involving Powers and lost cities is anything near to normal for us."
"For anyone here." He chuckled. "Ready to try to eat and get out of here?"
"Yes, to both." Arsham grinned broadly. "Though I think a trip back, at a later date, to check out that library may be warranted."
"Hopefully there will not be all those trials next time." He chuckled and nuzzled the White Tiger out of bed. "Let's go rouse the others and see what my magic can come up with in here for a meal."
"And if all else fails, there's always food packs." Arsham smirked teasingly as he rolled out of bed. "Most of the guys are awake, except for Cazi and Ebon, who had watch first."
"I'm sure I can do better than that." He made a face and followed his mate. "You do realize we just spent over eight hours in bed together and didn't fool around." Tyber added teasingly.
"That's cause I was unconscious." Arsham smirked back. "Nice place you guys picked for camp." He grinned as they walked through the big house.
"The twins have good taste." He chuckled as the other NightBlades filtered to join them in the grand dinning room.
"I should've known." Arsham chuckled. "They wanted me to have something like this built when I bought the land my home is on."
"I think what you had built suits you better." Tyber nuzzled him. "Are Ebon and Cazi going to join us?"
"They'll be down shortly." Rifleman rumbled from a corner. "Cazi managed to get a shower working and I think they decided to clean up."
"Hopefully they'll have better luck getting out than we usually do." Tyber chuckled softly and stepped a bit away from his mate to focus both inside and outside to weave the meat-creation spell.
"I wouldn't bet on it." Blitz snickered as he lounged in one of the big windows of the grand dining hall. "They're at least as bad as you two, only they've been dating a bit longer."
"True love never cools." Tyber smiled at him and let his magic wined into the local reality to form a fine meal of meats, vegetables, breads and sweets in quantities sufficient for the entire team and himself.
"No it doesn't." Ebon grinned in agreement as he entered the room, looking seriously frizzy as though he'd been overdried. "It occasionally learns a little control though."
"Good heavens Ebon, were you attacked by an industrial strength hair dryer?" Corwin asked, as he looked his leader over.
"No, Cazi attempted to create a warm air jet dryer using magic." He chuckled. "Didn't quite compensate enough for the local magic booster."
"Cazi must look like a fuzzball, with that mane." Tyber chuckled and produced a sizeable brush from nowhere. "This'll settle your fur a bit, if you let it work while we eat."
"You seem much more comfortable with the increased magic than Cazi is." Ebon commented as he considered the brush. "Anything to not look like I just stuck my finger in a light socket. Cazi actually jumped back in the shower and is now employing towels to dry off."
"I'm used to having to adapt to all sorts of different environments with little warning." He chuckled and let the brush go. It promptly floated over to Ebon and went to work smoothing his hair and fur. "It's all but instinctive to check the local effects before weaving anything."
"According to Cazi the Alliance is pretty consistent with some well known exceptions." Ebon explained. "So he hasn't had a lot of practice with variant fields."
"Well everybody dig in." Tyber chuckled at the scattered Felsin in the room and grabbed a seat for himself. "We eat and then we get out of here."
Tyber didn't have to repeat himself as the commandos dug in hungrily. Cazi came in a few minutes later and grabbed a chair next to Ebon and started in himself. There was no sign of frizzy about him at all. It was a condition his mate was soon in as well, which send the brush back to where it came from.
"So what do we know about this place, besides it's creepy and does interesting things to magic." Tyber cracked a grin at Cazi.
"It has indoor plumbing and running water which is interesting for the time period." Cazi commented. "Apparently when this house was 'stored' it was waiting for a plumber to arrive, because a pipe had broken. I think their plumbers must have been at least minorly gifted because the plumbing uses magic as well as piping."
"Sounds like my place." Tyber chuckled softly.
"You have problems with the plumbing at your place?" Blitz asked curiously, a bit surprised since the place had seemed to be perfect. Almost a bit too perfect at times, but it was a nice vacation spot.
"No, pluming that's half magic." He clarified easily. "Nearly everything there is at least half magic."
"Only half?" Mason smiled. "Everything seems kind of magical there." He said, clearly meaning it as a compliment.
"Perhaps more than half." Tyber consented with a returned smile. "How much the den-realm uses it's innate magic and how much is converted to normal physical means is not something I have paid close attention to."
"It works, that's what counts." Ebon grinned. "No need to dig in the details unless you need to know."
"At any rate, time seems to be passing normally in the city." Cazi continued. "But it has no effect on non-living matter within the city. I believe this is why there are no plants within the city. They would've overrun the city if left unchecked."
"No doubt." Tyber nodded easily, his gaze on Arsham. Despite the White Tiger saying he was fine, he was still worried about what had happened.
Clearly whatever had happened, had not affected the White Tiger's appetite. In fact Arsham seemed hungrier than usual. He noticed Tyber's gaze and smiled warmly at him, as if he sensed the Panther's concern and wanted to reassure him.
A reality that Tyber quickly realized was probably true, given his mate's strong empathic gift.
"We're gonna have to be careful when we hit the surface." Corwin said thoughtfully. "Otherwise this place is going to have archaeologists all over it."
"I don't think Kel is going to allow that." Arsham said thoughtfully. "I think this place is in his domain, even if it is in the real world, and no one intrudes in such a place unless the Power allows it."
"Quite true," Tyber nodded. "And it may not be in the real world anymore, either."
"With any luck, the Director has not tried to reach us." Ebon said thoughtfully. "Of course, if this is not in the real world, than we have no way to be sure how much time has really passed."
"Even if it is, given the modifications Kel has done to this area, there is little telling anyway." Tyber shrugged lightly. "We'll just have to deal with what comes when we get back. Including him and his masters." The big Panther bared his teeth slightly. "This is far more important than maintaining your cover."
"Aside from contact with a Power no one has seen in a thousand years, and a city just as old." Ebon said considering the situation. "What is important about this?" He asked curiously, though he could see a distinct value in it, if it was a place in the real world the SG couldn't touch.
"Knowledge." Arsham said quietly. "Assuming we can translate them, the library here could hold things forgotten for centuries, to say nothing of the potential magic knowledge."
Tyber interlaced his fingers under his chin and regarded the other Panther for an unsettling moment.
"Kel's involvement in the real world again. The full rebirth of magic and the Saber clan." Tyber paused and glanced around the room. "You do realize that between the eleven people in this clan, we have the very direct interest and occasional intervention of six Powers from three worlds?"
"Very occasional, closer to rare." Ebon nodded. "At least for five of them. Well, four of them, since I'm not sure how Kel does such things."
"I think he's more involved with the Sabers right now." Arsham said thoughtfully. "But we are the focus of a lot of non-mortal attention."
"Which may prove helpful on occasion." Ebon nodded. "But isn't something we should rely on. And you're right Tyber, those are important. I just wasn't thinking that big picture." He admitted.
"No, it is not to be relied upon." Tyber agreed easily. "But that big picture is where my job usually rests." He chuckled. "I rarely forget to see things in that view. It's the details that I tend to miss thinking about."
"Sounds like we've got a good overlap then." Ebon grinned. "I've never had to do big picture 'cause that wasn't my concern. It was the team and the details of missions."
"I'm just not as annoying as the one who usually does your big picture."
"And considerably more attractive." Arsham added with a playful rumble. "On any level you can name."
"Now you see why we put him in charge of Intel, he doesn't miss a thing." Ebon chuckled.
"Except the door when I've got him distracted." Tyber grinned mischievously and pulled Arsham close for a heated kiss that nearly melted the silverware.
"He'd miss moderate explosions with that distraction." Corwin snickered, as Arsham returned Tyber's passion with an equally hot passion of his own.
"You really need to get out more Corwin." Cazi teased, as he grabbed Ebon and pulled him into a kiss that threatened to ignite the wood furniture.
"Stay quiet and we'll get a double show." Blitz elbowed Corwin.
Arsham wasn't really paying attention to the crowd, as he was focused entirely on his lover. He pulled Tyber closer as he claimed a kiss with all the passion in his heart and quickly found himself straddling the Panther's lap and unapologetic black hands moving over his body even as they were pulled even more closely together.
Arsham's hands began to move through the dense fur of his lover's body, as the musk of his arousal began to mix with that of mate to create a heady mix.
He moaned into his lover's mouth, willingly surrendering to the pleasures of touching and being touched by Tydin. He didn't even care that they were both still dressed when he felt his body nearing the edge.
"Arsham?" Tyber nuzzled his SoulMate as they lounged in their quarters at the Lake Maxwell camp that had been established almost a year before in preparation for Nareena's kit. "Have you thought about kits, for us?"
"Thought about it? Yeah, I have." Arsham rumbled, nuzzling Tyber back. "Pretty much since Nareena, Cazi and Ebon decided to have one. But its gonna take a bit more effort for us. We'll actually need a G-tube to pull it off, fortunately Nareena knows how its done." He said easily.
"Good, cause it's a bit over my head how it's possible." He chuckled a bit sheepishly and drew his White Tiger into a tender, lingering kiss. "We would have such beautiful kittens."
"Love, its over my head too." He said after the kiss. "Advanced Genetics is not something I've ever understood. But I trust Nareena and she understands how its done. We'll need to do a little shopping at Citadel for equipment first." He grinned playfully. "And we should probably talk to Nareena before she gets too far along in her pregnancy. Or we could wait till after their kit is born." He said quietly.
"Yes ... soon I think." Tyber said softly. "This way you have of only one kitten at a time is very ... alien ... for me." He murmured and held Arsham close, stroking the White Tiger's hair gently. "It doesn't seem healthy to try to raise a kit without siblings to play with."
"We don't always have one." He said quietly. "Two happens often enough, but as I understand it, this isn't going to be an easy pregnancy for Nareena. Something about her family's genetics, I didn't fully understand it."
"She has the best protection available." He smiled faintly and licked Arsham's ear. "Lady Felsira is not likely to let anything happen to either of them."
"I know that, but its why there's only one kit this time." He said quietly. "The next time there'll probably be two." He chuckled, and claimed an affectionate kiss. "Our limit is how much equipment we requisition from Citadel." He smirked.
"A birth back home was usually four to six kits, though it was rare for more than one to survive to have kits of their own." Tyber said softly. "I don't think more than two would be good for a first litter, even with all the help."
"Around here its rare to lose any kits, so we don't have litters much larger than two normally. I mean you see larger multiple births, but they're pretty rare." Arsham said softly, hugging the Panther close. "I think two will be plenty to start, given that I know I've never been a parent before."
"Neither have I." Tyber admitted. "I was always too busy, or not considered good enough to breed yet." He sighed softly. "Once I entered the service of Kyvva, it just wasn't much of an option anymore."
"Not good enough?" Arsham asked in disbelief as he looked over the Panther. "Some seriously screwy standards if you ask me."
"No, just very refined tastes, very little noble blood and seriously late coming into my full growth." He ran a finger down Arsham's face. "Very few females have ever held my interest that way, and far fewer were ones I had any hope of courting."
"Noble blood?" Arsham shook his head. "Gods, does that concept cause enough grief or what." He grumbled. "Nareena's had hell from her family for 'marrying beneath her station.'"
"Yes, it does." He nodded. "I know, I've seen the reason they come about and it has everything to do with survival, but once it's an institution, it's nothing but grief."
"A lot of institutions do that." Arsham agreed. "Once they outlive the reason they came into existence, and no one remembers the 'why' anymore. They just keep doing it because 'it's always been that way'."
"And that's when it needs to get shaken up."
"Which it usually doesn't." Arsham sighed. "Most people prefer things to stay as they are. Its easier that way, and doesn't require much effort or thought."
"And it's usually when I get dropped into things to help them along." He chuckled and kissed his mate soundly. "Change is rarely a quick process."
"No it's not." He nodded. "And the SG is one of the biggest opponents to change there is. They're the last of the resistance to the formation of a world government." He shook his head.
"We will see them put down, love. We have time on our side."
"Only if the government decides to get serious." Arsham rumbled. "Politicians have been playing with this mess for over a century. I think everyone's just gotten comfortable wit the arrangement."
"Then we will do it." Tyber rumbled darkly. "Sooner or later, we will have that ability."
"We just need a bit larger team." Arsham chuckled. "Right now we're spreading it thin to run anything larger than quick and dirty strike missions. We've got a base to look after now, and non-combatants." He said thoughtfully. "Well, non-combatant, but we'll have more in time."
"Yes, but now we can start to gather others of a similar mindset." Tyber reminded him. "A stable base of operations is one of the first real steps in gathering an army."
"We do need to be discrete though." Arsham cautioned. "We don't want either the government or the SG to catch on to where we are, or what we're up to. Fortunately, Ebon's good at reading people so we should be able to avoid moles."
"Most of us are." He smiled softly. "Nareena's gift is a useful one too on that count."
"True." Arsham nodded. "Ebon's just frightening and he does it without thinking about it. It's like he's just seeing what really is, instead of what people put on for show."
"About what he does." He chuckled and hugged hug mate. "But enough of them, we were talking kittens. Which brings up who is going to be the 'mother' half of them."
"As Nareena explained it, unless there's a reason it matters that's usually left to random assignment." He said easily.
"It .. does kind of matter." He struggled with something he'd been trying to understand for years now. "To me at least. Some beliefs I still haven't left behind."
"Anything in particular?" Arsham asked gently.
"Some that do not matter here, like their family name." He started softly. "Some ... there are a few ceremonies I still believe in that who is the sire and dam are important to."
"Well, for last name we could go with going with both connected by a hyphen." He suggested. "As for the other, well I guess we either have to decide, or let the computer decide and tell us which is which." He said quietly. "Does it merely matter you know which is which, or does it matter who is which 'cause technically this is a kit with two sires. There's just a little genetic magic to make one of the sires DNA stand in where a dam's would have."
Tyber had to think very hard about that, running threw the rituals he still valued and what mattered to him. "No, it is just necessary to know who is who. I want to be the father of at least one of them."
"Well, we could simply have Nareena make it one way for one, and the other way for the other." He suggested easily. "That way we both get to be 'father', though I think we should just let the kits call us both that, just for sake of limiting confusion."
"That works for me." Tyber smiled and kissed him again. "It's ... a very weird conversation to be having."
"Discussing having kits with another male?" Arsham chuckled and kissed him back. "It is kind of strange, and unheard of a generation or so ago. I mean the tech was available before, but nobody thought about applying it to same gender pairs."
"Well I'm glad they did, because it's the only likely way I'd manage it."
"True for a lot of people." Arsham nodded. "Most of this team in fact." He chuckled. "Not that anybody in the original nine aside from Ebon and me are showing any signs of settling down with one person long enough for kits to be an issue."
"Except each other." Tyber nuzzled him. "The Twins are as close as any mated couple. Most of you are."
"That's different." Arsham said quietly, as he snuggled against the Panther. "We've always been that close, its part of who we are. But it does make getting close to others difficult." He admitted. "Most relationships seem so shallow by comparison. But once in a while someone really special comes along." He added, claiming an deeply affectionate kiss.
"You didn't catch it." He chuckled softly. "I meant kits with each other."
"I don't know that that has occurred to any of them." He said thoughtfully. "Probably because we tend to think of each other as brothers."
"Yes, but you must admit the potential of such kits is incredible and they couldn't wish for a more loving family."
"You have a very good point, love." Arsham smiled, nuzzling the Tiger. "And maybe with the G-tubes around, some of them will think about it."
"It wouldn't hurt." He murmured and nuzzled him back. "I must admit the thought of what a kit by Tracker and one of the twins is a fascinating concept in perfection."
"Tracker and one of the twins?" Arsham said curiously. "The ultimate tracker with the speed of a cheetah." He nodded. "It does have potential, assuming the inheritance mixes the way you want."
"Of course," he nodded. "Though I don't think any will match up to the one growing now. Ebon, Cazi and Nareena? That's just a mix of everything possible on so many levels."
"Considering Cazi's a mix of Felsin and noble Dracon, Nareena's a product of one of the oldest and most carefully bred families on the planet, and Ebon's, well Ebon." Arsham chuckled. "What's amazing is that she didn't need tech to make it happen. That's a Healer ability that hasn't been seen since the Age of Wonder."
"Then why'd we requisition so much of it?" Tyber asked in confusion.
"Because the way she did, only works for combining three, and only when one of the three is the Healer." He said quietly. "The equipment is required, because a G-tube is required when two guys are having a kit."
"So all that ... was for us?"
"Well, Ebon figured a little planning ahead for when others come up with the same idea, wouldn't hurt." Arsham said easily. "And besides, if we've got it, the SG doesn't. They don't need to be manufacturing more super-soldiers."
"No, they don't." He considered thoughtfully. "We might want to look into snagging a few of the new kitten commandos now that we have a stable base."
"Something for the next planning session, I think." Arsham nodded. "Though we have to watch our expansion, given that we don't have support staff. It's just us, one of the few outfits were the commandos double as janitorial staff." He chuckled.
"We'll have staff as soon as Ebon lets me use mine here." Tyber pointed out.
"I thought they only worked inside your home?" Arsham asked curiously.
"I am a competent mage, love." He chuckled lightly. "It is hardly a difficult enchantment. Much less complicated than what I originally proposed for out base, after all."
"I think Ebon is still uncomfortable with the idea of conjuring people." Arsham explained gently. "A little to close to home if you will." He said softly.
Tyber thought about that for a while. "I think I need to explain things to him again, with different words."
"It couldn't hurt, love." Arsham nodded, and kissed the Panther gently. "For one who was created to serve, it can be a difficult concept." He explained gently. "Even with the understanding of magic I have, it was still not the easiest thing to understand."
"I expect not. But if it not people doing it, but cleaning and return to home spells, it may be easier to accept." He considered out loud. "I just don't think along those lines often. I prefer my help to be attractive to look at."
"Most people do, I expect." Arsham nuzzled the Tiger gently. "But most people don't have the past the NightBlades do."
"No, you are most unique." Tyber purred back.
"Despite some very serious attempts by the SG to create another set." Arsham chuckled, seriously amused the SG's long running string of failures. "What they lack in success, they make up for in persistence."
"Persistence that is to our advantage." Tyber rumbled. "It is wasted resources and if they ever succeed again, we'll have a set of kits to raise."
"Now that'll be a challenge." Arsham grinned broadly. "We were a handful and then some."
"And you deserve a handful in return."
"Love we've been talking kits already, I think we're going to get a handful." He chuckled. "Probably a rather magically inclined handful."
"Possibly even a match for the one Nareena caries." He chuckled and drew Arsham close against him to run his hands along sleek white fur and powerful muscles. "Maybe we will even be blessed with a black Sabertooth." > with a black Sabertooth."
"That would be something." Arsham rumbled, and ran his hands through Tyber's dense dark fur.
"Yes, as handsome and powerful as anything this world has seen recently." He breathed hotly and claimed Arsham's mouth with all the heat in his soul. "A son of ours."
"I think the second generation of this team, may out do the first." Arsham rumbled before claiming a kiss of unrestrained passion.
"It is how evolution works." Tyber's voice carried the desires of a body well aroused and eager for his mate.
"How are you feeling, Nareena?" Tyber asked politely when he and Arsham entered the medical area of the NightBlade's main building.
"Very good, Tyber." Nareena smiled. "What can I do for you two today?" She asked curiously, since she rarely saw the pair in medical.
"We ... um, got talking about kits again." He said softly. "Now that it's possible."
"I can't say I'm surprised." She smiled warmly. "Something you want to do soon?" She asked curiously.
Tyber glanced at Arsham, a double check that they were in agreement and nodded. "So they are close to your kit in age." He said softly. "Two kittens, if none are twins."
"Twins have been known to happen with the process, but it's rare." She nodded. "I admit, I like the idea of my kit having playmates of the same age."
"And it is very ... difficult for me to think of raising a kitten alone." Tyber admitted quietly. "Two and a playmate in Nathan is a concession to the cultural differences. As is our other request. That we are each sire of one of them."
"When there are two kittens, it's fairly common to have that requested." She smiled. "Though the Healer will never suggest it."
"It is very important for me to know who is the sire of who." Tyber inclined his head to her differentially. "Several rites of my people require knowing."
"I understand." She nodded. "Some older Felsin rites had such requirements. You do understand that gender and such are as random as in nature. No genetic manipulation beyond what is absolutely required is done." She explained.
"Yes," he almost shivered in excitement at the idea. "It is how it should be. I hope for one of each gender and stripes, but that is for time to tell."
"Yes, it is." She nodded, noticing the Panther's excitement and the quiet White Tiger's equal excitement. "I have a strange feeling that you two won't be stopping with just one litter." She chuckled playfully.
"Possibly not." Arsham grinned agreeably.
"Not something I wish to do." Tyber rumbled and drew Arsham against his chest for a nuzzle. "It may be very old fashioned, even on my world, but I have always wanted a large family. And the NightBlades make that possible. I could not hope for better aunts and uncles."
"Even if it's mostly uncles." She chuckled. "And it's quite old-fashioned here as well. Few families have more than three or four kits these days, though that's for economic reasons as much as anything."
"Which are one of the better ones." Tyber nodded seriously and hugged Arsham tightly. "No child should be brought into the world if it can not be cared for. Physical and educational needs I can handle easily. Enough family they are grow up healthy and with enough attention is the one thing I can not provide myself."
"More than three or four kits, and it becomes tough for two parents to pay proper attention to all of them." Nareena nodded. "At least without help."
"Something I think there will be lots of." Arsham chuckled, and nuzzled Tyber. "Everyone is excited about there being kits around."
"It's a real change," Tyber grinned. "A challenge like no other."
"Also in the category of things that were supposed to be impossible." Nareena chuckled.
"Two things that will draw a NightBlade like a deer to water." Tyber chuckled.
"And its something constructive to do." Arsham added quietly. "That's something we've never really done before. Usually we blow stuff, or knock stuff down, generally destructive activities."
"That saves lives." Tyber tipped his mate's face up with gentle fingers. "As you demonstrated quite apply the day we met, not everyone is meant to be good at everything."
"No, actually I'd say that no one is meant to be good at everything. Most people have a whole here and there in what they can do." He said quietly, leaning into the touch. "But sometimes when you've done one thing your whole life, you start wondering what else there is."
"Everything." He kissed him gently and slid his arms down to embrace the White Tiger. "And nothing at all. Contentment comes from inside, love, and nowhere else. Whether that means being the best at something or trying new things until you find one you aren't good at is up to you."
"When you're the best at something because you were created for that purpose, there's a certain need to figure out if you're more than just what you were made to be." He said softly, claiming a gentle kiss. "Contentment ... that takes longer."
Nareena smiled. "As I told Ebon, you've only been working on it for four or five years. Takes most people a lot longer than that to figure out those things. Especially contentment...some people never figure that one out."
"Or love." Tyber added with a fond look at his mate. "And there have been definite successes there."
"Definitely." Arsham agreed easily, nuzzling his mate affectionately.
"That there have been." Nareena agreed. "And I'm as surprised as anyone. But then the NightBlades reputation gives a very distorted picture of the people behind it." She smiled fondly. "Definitely not the cold-blooded killers they're made out to be."
"Plenty of people behave differently at work." Arsham chuckled, though it was a little forced.
"Yes, and most people grow up different that they were at home." Tyber added and hugged him close. "Remember Kel?"
"How could I forget." Arsham chuckled. "I think I've seen him occasionally since then, but I can't be sure."
"Then trust Kel's faith in you." Tyber murmured gently. "Powers do not give that trust easily."
"He trusts that I'm blowing up the right things now, I think." Arsham chuckled. "Not quite the same thing."
"You're wondering what you would've chosen to be, if you'd had a choice." Nareena said quietly.
"Yeah, kind of." He chuckled softly.
"A father, for one." Tyber rumbled softly. "And a mage, which you're making good progress on."
"Father ... that's going to be interesting." Arsham smiled softly. "No clue how it works, but I've heard a lot of people go into it without a clue."
"Almost everyone." Tyber chuckled softly. "Somehow the kits tend to do okay for it."
"Well, most people take clues from how their parents raised them." Nareena said easily. "And adjust things because of what they did, or didn't like about the experience. However, each kit is so different, at best you end up with vague guidelines."
"I still think this bunch of parentless perpetual teenagers will do just fine." Tyber rumbled and hugged Arsham tightly. "We'll probably have three magic heavy kits for this first group, between four of the parents. Three mages and one with magical talent at a minimum."
"And probably two or three shapeshifters." Nareena added. "Given how strong the shapeshift genetics are on the NightBlade side of things."
"I can't say I'll be surprised to see a full Saber in ours to." Tyber chuckled. "This family is a most unusual collection of people."
"And a very interesting set of genetic profiles." Nareena chuckled. "And I'd be surprised by the full Saber if it wasn't for the interest of Kel." She chuckled. "Powers have a way of skewing probabilities."
Tyber gave her with a soft look from where he was nuzzled against Arsham's shoulder that belied just how serious it was. "So do my kind when we really want something."
"Just what is your kind, Tyber?" Nareena asked seriously. "It's an important question from a genetics standpoint." She added. "It's never really been an issue before, because you heal yourself so effeciently."
"A good question." He blinked in surprise. "I meant as an Immortal Servant. Your science can answer your questions about me better for it's own needs."
"Yes, even the Spirit Court around here can tamper with things within certain limitations." She nodded. "Which is probably our closest equivalent to Immortal Servants. And as long as your both here, we should get the genetic profiling done so I can get the process started."
"Yes, please." Tyber rumbled eagerly. "The closer the births are to each other, the better."
"Okay, I'll start with you Tyber. Mostly because I have a fairly complete profile on Arsham already." She said easily, as she led the way back to one of the medical scanner beds. "Just lie down on the bed."
"Yes, ma'am." He nodded and did as directed, curious at the equipment that was her realm so far from his experience.
"Now just lie still, and refrain from doing active magic." She said, as she sat down at the nearby computer console. The bed hummed as it did a slow, careful scan which was much more detailed than the usual diagnostic scan.
"This is not going to be easy." Nareena commented as she looked at the preliminary results, while the computer began working through the data acquired during the hour long scan. "Doable, but not easy."
"If it wasn't doable, there are other methods." Tyber rumbled softly. "But as long as you can, I will leave it to the Healers."
"If it wasn't doable, I'd find a way to make it doable." Nareena smirked. "I don't buy into the idea of something being 'impossible'."
"There is only the easy, the difficult and the annoyingly difficult." He chuckled back.
"Roughly speaking." She nodded. "Your DNA is about half-way between difficult and annoyingly difficult." She teased playfully. Rather like your mate's would be, if I didn't have the blueprints for him."
"Blueprints?" Arsham snorted. "Sounds like you're planning to build another me." He added, though the grin on his face made it clear he was amused.
"Oh, I wouldn't do that." She chuckled. "One set of twins is quite enough."
"Oh, I don't know." Tyber grinned and rolled off the bed to pull his mate close. "I must admit that another Arsham would be a most attractive addition to the team."
"I rather expected you'd say that." Nareena chuckled, as Arsham claimed a playfully kiss from the Panther. "Whole new meaning to the phrase double date."
"You are giving me such fantasies, my dear." Tyber rumbled with a hungry shiver.
"Well, I'm afraid it'll take about sixteen years for me to come up with another Arsham." She teased. "Only way to do it faster, would be to talk to Cazi." She smirked.
"Not quite the same thing." He grinned back, his hands growing a bit bolder in their roaming. "Not that even you could come up with an exact match." He rumbled throatily, utter adoration in his tone as he nuzzled his mate.
"Given that no two tigers have exactly the same stripe pattern, no I couldn't." She chuckled, as she watched Arsham pull the Panther close. "Now, before you two get too distracted, I need to get Arsham on the scanner to update his genetic scan."
"Guess we'll have to behave for a little while." Arsham smirked playfully.
"Just a little while." Tyber rumbled a chuckle and let his mate go. "You do such things to my self control."
"Oh, it's very mutual." Arsham rumbled back, as he got up on the scanner bed.
"And I didn't think anybody could be as bad as Ebon and Cazi." Nareena chuckled as the scanner started and Tyber leaned against the wall to stare at his mate lustfully.
"What can I say, I'm a hopeless romantic at heart." Tyber grinned. "And this delicious-looking one has completely stolen my heart."
"Well, had to get one to replace the one you stole from me." Arsham smirked at his mate. "And to think, it all started 'cause mission Intel was screwy." He chuckled.
"Oh, I would have caught you eventually." Tyber grinned in certainty. "I was sent to hang with you guys after all. Best mission assignment I've ever gotten."
"Yeah, but that made it so much easier." Arsham chuckled. "Got you past our tendency to distrust anyone outside our team."
"Which is something I am quite grateful for." He admitted. "I'd hate to have had to deal with any more suspicion than I did while trying to figure out what was going on between us."
"Would've put a damper on things happening between us for a little while, at any rate." Arsham added quietly. "At least till I got the point of trusting you."
"Which is something we got to avoid." He rumbled gratefully and moved to just next to the bed so he could touch his mate again as soon as Nareena was finished.
"Okay, you two can run along and play." Nareena chuckled as the scan finished.
"Yes, ma'am." Arsham smirked, as he hopped off the table and claimed a kiss from his waiting mate that instantly developed a heat that blinded them both to their surroundings.
Fire, Ice and Wary Hearts
NC-17 for M/M
R for Violence
Het Level is None Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is High Femslash Level is None Herm Level is None
395 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Closed-Unfinished
Written March 20, 2004 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Todd McCall
Setting: Galactic Alliance, Ryoshi-Simyna
Primary Races: Felsin, God
Contents: Furry. Slash (M/M). Romance
Pairings: Arsham Kelspar/Tyber Windcrest
Notes: The service of Kyvva brings many demands and few rewards for her paladins in the mortal world. It is a life and duty that Tyber Windcrest embraced with his soul, and in return she granted him immortality and a home within the very walls of her temple-dimension of Koray-Ku and her full support. Now she has seen what he still refuses to, her favorite paladin needs a companion, one of his own stature and kind. It is enough to bring her to negotiate such an option with the Powers of many feline inhabited worlds outside her normal realm of influence. Now all she must do is get him to *see* the possibilities before him.
Blurb: A new mission, a new life, another death when it is completed. It's a cycle far older than Tyber, Paladin of Kyvva, can remember. Despite this time being no different, the Felsin at the center of his mission holds his attention like none before. It makes him wonder about many things, even his heart and faith.
Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.
Page Hit Count from November 26, 2004