Fire, Ice and Wary Hearts part 1 of 2
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.

"The same."

"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.

"Of course."

"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."

"That works."

"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.

Go to Part 1         Part 2        

Fire, Ice and Wary Hearts part 1 of 2

NC-17 for M/M
R for Violence
Het Level is None
Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Medium
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is None

237 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.

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