Power Games 9:
Coming of Age

by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 M/F, M/M sex
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

Dark Kat checked the setup of his summoning circle, making sure that the proper symbols were in place for the Herald's expected arrival. Even if he wasn't casting a spell, it was good to have everything in place.

Especially when he was expecting a gift.

"Janet, are you in place?" He asked her as the Creeplings bustled about, putting the braziers in place.

"Yes, father," she nodded, dressed in formal robes of purple, red and black that did nothing to conceal the raw sexuality he had worked so hard to foster in the last year and a half.

"Good," he purred, taking his own place as the final preparations were made. "Now, remember not to disturb us until after our business is complete. Then you may address him."

She nodded and settled down into the polite watchfulness that was expected of her. Every time it was the same, every time she watched, judged, waited for her time to come. She'd be ready to take him, to be an adult and at full strength.

Dark Kat waited, quietly muttering the words to a spell to say he was ready. The air split, a dark rent in reality opening as the Herald stepped through, carrying a long, thin object wrapped in velvet.

"Greetings, Herald," Dark Kat said respectfully. "Were our Masters able to complete the dagger as I requested?"

"Yes," Herald inclined his crystalline spike of a head and handed the object over. "All went as expected. Should a champion-candidate kill a full champion with it, they will kill them as fully as another champion."

"Excellent," Dark Kat purred lowly. "I have just the candidate in mind as well... Eshik, Marka, and Tamorl will finally be of some use to our cause. Are there any limitations on what will make the kill acceptable within the bounds of the contest?"

"They must kill on their own, and directly with the dagger," Herald told him. "The more independent and intentional the act, the more likely it is to work. It is never a guarantee when a mortal kills a champion. Particularly Bastet's Champion."

"That won't be a problem with this one... I'll just give him a little push in the right direction. I just need to know that other kills will not diminish the magic before this is finished; it's unlikely that he'll get Bastet's Champion on the first try."

"If anything, it will increase the power of the blade," Herald chuckled, a glassy clicking sound that echoed within the stone walls of the room. "Each kill will increase the bond between blade and wielder, improving their ability to mimic a champion when killing."

"Excellent," the Xanith purred. "And if this works out properly, we may end up getting another Champion under our banner ... especially if the Gods of Pain decide to try and capitalize on the kill."

"One can never tell with them," Herald said simply. "Are we finished today?"

"With this, yes. Would you like an update on our other plans? Little has changed since the last time, but you have your own expectations," Dark Kat conceded.

"I will wait until you have actual news for us," Herald told him and turned to leave, apparently unaware of the movement building in Janet's body as she prepared to launch herself at the most incredible meal of her short life.

Dark Kat allowed himself a secret smile, realizing what Janet was about to do.

Since she'd been three weeks old and she's first tried to feed from him, she'd waited for this moment. Now it was her time to prove what kind of predator she really was.

Herald stumbled as his strength evaporated, turning his head a fraction of a second before she slammed into him. Red blood sprayed across the room as the combatants rolled to a stop. She took a second strike from Herald's sharp fingers before his arms clanked to ground limply and she began to glow darkly.

As he watched, she screamed in the pheromone-rich sweat of an orgasm more intense than death itself rippled through her until her body had adapted to the incredible power that now belonged to it.

"As intense as you've imagined?" Dark Kat asked her with an amused tone as she panted and recovered from the feeding, the Herald going a sickly gray.

"Far better," she grinned up at him, the feast only having increased her desire for more. "How many more of these creatures are out there?"

"Many, but if you want to avoid punishment for feeding on them, you must give your Masters what they desire. They need compensation for their lost Heralds. Of course, if you happen to come across the servants of Bastet or Halikar...." He trailed off with a wicked grin for the obvious implication. "Just avoid the Champions. It would do you little good to feed from them."

"Because I would be punished, or because they would not die for long?" she asked as she stood and shook her fur out, her wounds healed from her feeding.

"Some of both ... they would not die for long, and you would lose much of their power when they were restored. Worse, it would bring the churches down on you faster than anything else you could do, short of trying to take on the divine themselves."

"I understand," she inclined her head to him in understanding and submission. "I will not feed on them if I have another option."

"Very good," he purred. "Now though ... I think you are ready for your true purpose. We will have to find your namesake first, but we can begin the process."

"Yes," Janet purred in return, her mouth curling in a deadly grin. "I look forward to knowing her inside and out."

"You remember what you're supposed to do?" Dhiren Natwishia asked his assistant quietly as they sat at a table in the Silk Tiger, the dark-furred, orange-striped Xanith dressed immaculately as he glanced at the two familiar Kats across the dining room, enjoying their meal and doing their best not to look too out of place in a restaurant that was clearly well out of their usual price range.

The cinnamon-furred tom was doing a better job of it than his date, though not by too much.

"I do, sir," the black-furred shekat nodded crisply. Her lean, shapely form was accented by the silky black dress that she wore, clinging to her curves in a way that was just on the sultry side of professionally attractive. She glanced up, ears twitching as she noticed movement near the entrance. "The maitre'd is coming; I suspect our 'date' is here," she chuckled.

"That would make him punctual and no more," Dhiren nodded slightly, his calculating gaze elated by the nearly controlled way Maxwell Steele stared at Jake Clawson. Lustful in a decidedly unnatural way.

It was beyond what he had dared hope for.

He stood, inclining his head towards Maxwell Steele as the tom was led to their table.

"Mr. Steele," he said with a faint Tusandrin accent that had been absent before. "It is a pleasure to meet you."

"The pleasure, I hope, will be mine," Maxwell returned the handshake firmly, not at all putt off by dealing with someone half again his height and build like a linebacker on steroids. "Who is your lovely companion?"

"Lissette Mandaley, my personal assistant in MegaKat City," Dhiren said easily, nodding towards the smaller shekat. "Please, have a seat and order whatever you wish," he added, taking his own. "We have already ordered," he explained.

"Thank you," Maxwell inclined his head politely and sat, skimming the somewhat familiar menu briefly while the waiting white wine was poured before catching the eye of the discretely waiting server and ordering the seafood platter.

He nodded, heading off to handle the order as Dhiren waited for Maxwell to get settled in a bit.

"So, have you considered my offer?" The Xanith asked him once he had relaxed a bit.

"Yes," Maxwell nodded. He had too. The price as good, even given the number of pieces involved, though he was lothe to part with a couple of them. Still, a buyer, and not just the one-off kind, was the chance of a lifetime. A Tusandrin noble, even just a bastard half-breed son, could make him in the art world. "I believe it is acceptable. Though I am curious. What drew you to those paintings?"

"The subjects, the methods ... the vulnerability displayed, for the most part," Dhiren purred. "Your 'Last Bath' was the first piece of yours I saw, and it remains one of my favorites. You have quite an eye for how the body should look... just how did you get that?" He asked curiously.

"I use models when I can, set it up to mimic the real thing as closely as possible," he explained with an easy smile. "The S&M community provides the bulk of my subjects."

"I see ... I would have thought that you had some experience with crime scenes or death," Dhiren mused. "Is there anything you're uncomfortable with doing in a piece?"

"Not that I've encountered," he said and swirled his wine to enjoy it fully. "It's mostly a matter of a willing subject."

"Like me, perhaps?" Lisette asked him with a sultry grin. "Or am I too close to one of your old models?"

"Not at all," Maxwell purred deeply, both in memory of the painting and ideas for more. "You would make a lovely subject."

"You may get the chance," Dhiren purred. "I am hoping that you'll be willing to do a private commission for me ... possibly a few of them?" He asked with a sip of his wine as the soup was brought out, three bowls of lobster bisque. "Assuming you're willing to take requests like that; some artists can be painfully difficult to work with."

"I am willing to consider them," Maxwell nodded. "With a willing model, the rest comes easily enough."

"Then, if you're interested, I'd like to invite you to my suite tonight," Dhiren smiled. "I can show you what I have in mind for your paintings, and perhaps we can discuss future pieces?"

"That will work for me," Maxwell agreed, only a fraction too quickly to feign neutrality on the subject. "So where did you see my work?"

"I first saw it through a website your friend, Miss Long, runs," Dhiren explained with a smile. "I contacted her when I was in town, and she showed me some of your pieces she had bought. I purchased 'Last Bath' from her, and you know the rest. She's quite a fan of your work ... though I am curious what medium you work in, besides paintings?"

"Pencil, charcoal, occasionally pastels and mixed medium," he said. "I've tried my hand at sculpting and clay, but the detail doesn't come easily like it does on a flat surface."

"I'd love to see them some time; Miss Long said something about your paintings not being your best work, and I'll admit that I've been painfully curious about the rest."

"Yes ... Miss Long played it up quite a bit," Lisette giggled slightly. "She wouldn't explain either, just gave one of those knowing smiles she's so good at."

"Yes, she's quite good with those," Maxwell shook his head with an easy laugh. "I can't imagine she thinks my other work is better, but the judge is in the beholder."

"As is always the case with art," Dhiren chuckled. "Though some beholders are less appreciating than others, as I imagine you're keenly aware. So, do you have any other questions for me?" He asked as they finished their soups and they were each presented with a plate of exquisitely prepared crab, shrimp, and lobster. An additional plate of perfectly cooked swordfish filets and saffron rice was set down for Dhiren.

"How did you find out you liked my kind of art?" Maxwell asked, both honestly curious about a kindred and wanting to get a better feel for what could be a setup.

"The way most of your fans do, I imagine," Dhiren said easily, starting on his fish. "Though you might also say I came by it honestly. I haven't had complete luxury to live without finding a profession for myself; I have both medical and forensic training, so in Tusandrin I would sometimes be asked to help with death scenes, particularly those involving nobles. I was close enough to being one that I was allowed to involve myself, but separated enough that I was above the usual political interplay.

"Of course, criminal death in Tusandrin is rarely as... intricate, as it can be here in MegaKat City," he chuckled deeply. "During a stay here, I found that death can have an artistic element, as well as the criminal or tragic one. Art itself is a rather more acceptable way of acknowledging this newfound appreciation."

"Quite true," Maxwell nodded in solid understanding. "Truly realistic portrayal is rare even among those of us who try," he paused, cocking his head slightly as a tidbit of information wormed its way up. "I was under the impression that a noble in Tusandrin would indulge such tastes with relative impunity."

"I am a half-caste," Dhiren pointed out. "My father is a noble Tiger, but my mother was only a commoner Panther. More importantly, Lord Khan disapproves strongly of that part of the old ways, so while the laws would allow it...."

"He has the ability to punish even legal behavior if it angers him enough," Maxwell only kind of had to guess. "It is much safer to indulge in artwork, than actually indulge. That does kind of explain why he gets along with Feral so well," he chuckled faintly behind his wineglass. "Birds of a feather and all."

"Quite," Dhiren chuckled deeply. "To be honest, I'm not much more fond of Feral than I am of Lord Khan ... though I imagine you have more issue with him than I could ever have," he observed. "From what I know of the Steele family, at least."

"No, he's not popular with my family, but neither am I for the most part," he kind of shrugged. "They don't like my subject matter any more than Feral would. Isn't saying ill of Khan treason or something?"

"No, though it's usually not wise," Dhiren admitted. "However, Khan rarely enforces his right to silence nay-sayers, and more importantly, I don't talk like this in Tusandrin. Here, MegaKat City's laws generally protect me as well. Besides, all I've said is that I'm not fond of his policies ... under all but the harshest of rulers, that is usually considered harmless grumbling," he chuckled.

"A plus and minus for him," Maxwell cracked a grin. "I guess there are worse rulers to have around. Is he at least competent?"

"Compared to your Mayor Manx, he's a statesman the likes of which Aristal has never seen before, and never will again," Dhiren chuckled, earning a laugh from both his companions. "Unless you happen to be Pumadyne, of course. He is competent ... and in most respects, a good ruler. He just has little respect for traditions that he doesn't agree with."

"Sounds like most rulers who can get away with it," Maxwell admitted. "He looks better too," he half-purred at the thought of such a powerful individual as a subject. "Pity he'd never pose for me."

"If he did, I think there might be a war started," Dhiren chuckled darkly. "Though there are others who might. You've never had the chance to work with Xaniths or Kantin in your art?" He asked, cocking his massive head slightly.

"On rare occasion," he said after a bite of lobster. "Mostly Alsatian, though I had a Lion once."

"Ooh, I'd like to see that one some time," Lisette purred as she worked on her shrimp.

"As would I," Dhiren rumbled lowly. "However, I think we can arrange for you to work with them more often ... I have a Leopard model in mind I'd love to see in your work, if you'd be interested."

"Tom or Queen?" Maxwell asked, almost absently, his mind on the possibilities of such things. "In some cases, I could use help getting them in the proper state to paint...."

"And just what would the proper state be?" Dhiren asked, raising an eyebrow slightly.

"Usually just shy of dead by whatever means are in the painting," he purred deeply, still too easily aroused by the subject. "Affixation, blood loss, drowning, electrocution ... you name it, I've probably done it at least once."

"It might not be my place to say, but maybe this is a topic best saved for home, sir?" Lisette suggested, glancing at some of the other diners, now paying them more attention despite the quiet nature of their words.

"Yes, it is," Maxwell pulled his self-control together quickly. "So, Dhiren, are you married?"

"No, I'm not," the Xanith said easily. "I was going to be once, years ago, but she passed away before we were wed," he explained. "Since then, I've rather enjoyed the bachelor's life," he chuckled. "Yourself?"

"I've eventually scared off everyone who I've found interesting," he admitted. "Mother wants to arrange a respectable marriage, but I'm not ready to deal with living somebody who probably won't appreciate my taste in art."

"What about Miss Long?" Dhiren asked with a chuckle. "The two of you seem a good match."

"True enough," Maxwell thought about her that way for the first time. "Perhaps if mother becomes insistent I'll see if she's interested, but I like being a bachelor for the most part."

"The best reason there is to stay single," Lisette grinned.

"Definitely," Maxwell nodded as the three of them settled into more-or-less small talk and enjoying fine food and wine until the sweetfish flambé dessert display was finished.

From there, they went out to their cars, Lisette offering to help Maxwell navigate back to the apartment. They split up, and a few minutes later met up again at the entrance to one of the penthouses of Katsylyan Towers.

"Nice place," Maxwell look in the decidedly Tusandrin themed decor placed in an otherwise modern apartment.

"Thank you," Dhiren purred as they walked in. Lisette guided Maxwell down onto a pile of comfortable silk cushions as her employer retrieved a bottle of dark liquor. "Do you like brandy?" He asked, pouring a drink for himself and Lisette.

"Yes," Maxwell nodded as he relaxed, taking in the atmosphere until his gaze fell on a familiar sight; Last Bath in a place of pride right in the living room.

A black-furred shekat lay limp in the hot tub, the floor around it splashed with water and suds, a radio floating in the water next to her in the dim light. He remembered how hard it had been to get the right look without actually killing his model, but he still felt it had been worth it.

Dhiren handed him a snifter of the dark liquid, then reclined to enjoy his.

"So, Max, if I might ask you... what was it that drew you to such an unusual subject?"

"It's always fascinated me. Expressing it began with bondage, to S&M and then to that," he motioned to the painting on the wall. "That is still the most difficult piece I've completed, and one of the finest."

"You've never been close to the real thing then?" The massive Xanith asked him easily.

"Certainly not the way you've been," Maxwell chuckled slightly. "I've seen dead people before, but not like the sort of things you've mentioned already."

"Have you ever considered trying?" Dhiren cocked his head slightly, smiling at the way Lisette snuggled against Maxwell, teasing him lightly to keep his mind and body aroused.

"Considered it, yes, but this isn't Tusandrin, whoever's in charge," Maxwell chuckled slightly, snuggling back against Lisette as he enjoyed his drink. "And even if it was, money isn't a substitute for being a Kat, so...." He shrugged slightly.

"All true," Dhiren admitted. "Though there are ways around the legalities if you have access to the medical care or magic that seems to flourish in this city."

"Oh, there's one way around it that I know of very well," Maxwell chuckled. "Unfortunately, the tom in question is slightly less likely to agree to work with me than Manx is to declare it's perfectly fine to commit murder for artistic reasons."

"And a tom, who is not so fine a subject," Lisette purred while nuzzling him. "What makes that one so special?"

"Oh, he could be, if he was willing to accept it," Maxwell chuckled. "He can't die, actually ... not permanently. I've actually seen it; Bastet keeps bringing him back, for some reason, even after days of torture that would've made some Xenquii torturers balk."

That raised an eyebrow. "I did not believe that would be possible," Dhiren said. "How did you see this?"

"His wedding, if you'd believe it," he chuckled. "I got roped into it by some big Panther outside the temple of Eshik and Marka. Bastet and a whole bunch of other gods and goddesses showed, and told him that he'd get a 'free resurrection'... I'd heard about him before when the Enforcers 'accidentally' declared him dead and he came around after fighting with a werewolf. I think Bastet just won't let him stay dead, she just offered to let him through without being hurt by it."

"You are talking about Jake Clawson, Rock Furlong's mate," Dhiren smiled knowingly.

"Yeah," Maxwell nodded. "He was at the restaurant, actually... you guys know him?"

"I know of him, and his kind," Dhiren nodded. "Champions and the divine challenge are a better-known in Tusandrin. It is a subject all kittens are schooled in, though not extensively. I have studied them slightly more than most."

"So this whole 'not dying' thing is pretty normal for them?" Maxwell asked, snuggling against Lisette as he considered the possibilities.

"Yes. They are the Devine Champions, the chosen ones of their generation. Only a champion can kill a champion and make it stick. It makes them quite unique among the living."

"Quite," Maxwell purred deeply. "Gods, what I'd give to have a model like that," he grinned, nearly drooling at the concept.

"Yes, then you would not have to stop at almost dead for your work," Dhiren smiled dangerously. "He is not the only one, you know. Easily one of the higher profile champions right now, but there are several hundred around Aristal."

"You wouldn't happen to know who they are, would you?" Maxwell asked, perking his ears up in interest.

"I know who many of them are, yes," he smiled a bit more. "Not all are so difficult to deal with as Clawson and Lord Khan, though none are all that easy to control. Unfortunately, the two most likely champions to be agreeable have yet to be selected."

"Who would they be?" Maxwell asked with an undeniable eagerness.

"Eshik and Marka, and Tamorl," Dhiren said. "The deities of pain."

"True... I don't suppose there's a god or goddess of art who's got a Champion somewhere you know about?" Maxwell asked with a chuckle.

"There is Tyassa, her champion lives in Xenquii," Dhiren said after a moment of thought.

"Mmm ... be a delight to find out if she might be interested in my vision," Maxwell rumbled.

"And your kink?" Lisette giggled, reaching down to rub his bulging pants lightly. "You're real wound up just thinking about it."

"By the company, as much as the conversation," Maxwell lied smoothly, turning to lick her cheek playfully.

"Still, it seems a shame not to indulge in it," she purred, hooking a finger under his belt. "If you do not mind."

"As long as your boss doesn't," he rumbled, kissing her lightly and reaching down to undo his belt when Dhiren nodded.

"We are discussing erotic art, after all," Dhiren chuckled. "I am sure we will both appreciate her talents tonight. How many painting have you done?"

"Counting the four you've bought, fifteen," Maxwell explained, groaning as Lisette's fingers found his shaft and coaxed it out of his pants. "Mmm ... you'd have loved my best piece," he purred, closing his eyes thinking about it. "Damned shame about that one."

"It is no longer available?" Dhiren raised an eyebrow at the implication.

"I... ah, Hell," Maxwell murmured as Lisette went down on him. His hand found her ears and rubbing them lightly. "If you were setting me up you wouldn't go this far. Burned it after I finished it," he admitted. "Mmm ... good girl," he purred deeply, scratching the black-furred scalp beneath his fingers.

"To keep her from being tied to you," Dhiren didn't have to guess. "Yes, it is a pity. It must have been incredible."

"It was," Maxwell nodded with a deep breath. "I hadn't been able to get the eyes right for weeks, but then, with her dead...." His cock jumped in Lisette's mouth as he remembered it. "They were perfect, better than anything I've ever done. My masterpiece, and I had to burn it," he laughed, the drink, arousal, and the sympathetic audience wiping out his usual restraint on the subject.

"Perhaps with some help we can bring such vision to reality without the legal issues of permanently killing," Dhiren suggested throatily, playing up his reaction to watching Lisette fondle and suck on Maxwell. "There are herbal concoctions that mimic death very well, and modern medicine can revive the dead if they are prepared for it."

"And we wouldn't get nailed on ... mmm ... on attempted murder?" He asked Dhiren, warming up to the idea, and the hot, wet mouth around his throbbing shaft.

"It is not attempted murder if she is willing and we are prepared to revive her," Dhiren pointed out. "That is no more illegal than any form of S&M that might lead to a hospital stay."

"Mmm... think you might go for it some time, beautiful?" Max asked, looking down at Lisette with a grin. She returned it, bobbing her head up and down his shaft faster, sure he was about to explode.

"That would be a yes, as soon as she gets her snack," Dhiren laughed deeply. "What do you think she'd look best dead from?"

"I'll have to get a better look," Max purred hotly. "Personally, I'm fond of drowning or hanging ... mmm ... but that fur color begs for blood," he groaned, starting to thrust up into her mouth, his balls twitching. Suddenly, he arched his hips up, burying himself against the back of her throat as he came hard, his balls erupting into her mouth.

He continued to shudder and thrust, pumping ribbon after ribbon to be swallowed as she continued to eagerly milk his shaft until he could only gasp for breath.

"Perhaps you can use you claws and teeth on me, tie me up as you use me before it moves to a bath," she suggested sultrily.

"I think I like that idea," he rumbled, pulling her up for a kiss, tasting his seed on her breath. "Care to join us?" He asked Dhiren with a grin.

"Very much so," he stroked himself through his slacks. "Come. My playroom is this way."

Max and Lisette stood, Max shucking his pants the rest of the way before they followed.

"Mind if I do a bit of sketchwork after we play? Maybe while he's still on you?" He winked at Lisette as they followed Dhiren.

"I'd be delighted," she smiled honestly. "Do you like me naked, or dressed and available?"

"Dressed and available," he rumbled hotly, thinking about it. "Assuming you don't mind the dress being ruined."

"Not at all," she giggled playfully before stepping forward to slid the black cloth of her dress up one leg to show him when the band of her thong underwear was untied and let them fall to the ground. "It's Dhiren's."

"And if he minds, he'll say," Max grinned, reaching down to grope her naked ass as they approached the Xanith waiting by the playroom he'd mentioned. "So, how would you like to see her 'killed'?" He grinned up at his host.

"I'm partial to seeing Last Bath recreated in life," he admitted with a hungry rumble. "I am prepared to have her revived from the experience."

"If you've got a hot-tub, we could do that instead of breaking in the playroom," Max said easily. "But I don't know if you've got the equipment here for it."

"I do, though I see no reason why we can not enjoy her bloody and well-used before finishing in the water," Dhiren suggested, licking his whiskers back.

"I'd prefer to actually recreate the painting ... or at least the situation that led up to it," Max rumbled, licking his own lips. "The well-used part, definitely, but if we can hold off on the blood until after...?"

"It was only suggested because you said I'd look good bloody," Lisette purred, lifting her tail and swishing it. "Bed, rack, bent over the frame?"

"Bed, for now," Dhiren said before stripping down. "Join us, or sketch first?" he looked over at Maxwell.

"I'll join you," he grinned. "We'll save the sketching for after it's all done, when the blood's in place," he added with a wink. "So, you want her pussy or her ass first?" He asked Dhiren as they all climbed onto the bed.

"I rather like her pussy," he rumbled and slipped a large finger between her spread legs, rubbing her until she let her head drop back with a trembling moan.

"Then I'll take her ass," Max grinned, nuzzling her neck as he reached down between them to finger her tight, furless pucker. "Need lube, gorgeous?"

"Not with you," she grinned over her shoulder. "Now with Dhiren, I need some prep."

"I think you'd need prep before that if it was just a blowjob," Max laughed, sliding his shaft up between her firm buttocks, her dress rubbing between them. "Mmm ... I've got one Hell of a painting in mind for you," he purred, kissing her neck.

"Oh," she moaned, shivering when Dhiren drew his claws across her sex as he withdrew his hand from between her legs so he could fill her wet sex with his cock. "Please, tell me about it."

Max groaned as he pressed himself up into her ass, reaching around to fondle her breasts through her dress as he felt Dhiren's massive, throbbing shaft through the walls of her body. "Have you strapped to the rack... mmm... all clawed and bloody, your pussy and ass both dripping with come. Maybe even have Dhiren still fucking your body," he rumbled hotly."

"Mouth dripping too?" she suggested with a heady moan, her eyes rolling back slightly at being so full on both sides. "I like him still fucking me. Fucking me forever."

"I think that could be arranged," he grinned as he and Dhiren found a rhythm that left one of them pounding into her as the other pulled out. "Nnngh ... think I'd garrote you while you were being fucked," he rumbled. "Maybe rig a way so you strangled yourself while you were being taken?"

"Oh, oh I like it," Lisette cried out, her body quivering as the pleasure of their thick, hot maleness filling her so completely began to overwhelm her.

"I like it too," Dhiren rumbled, his thrusts becoming more forceful. He grabbed her hips so his upward thrusts wouldn't pull her off the bed and completely off of Maxwell. "I should have a special slave-collar here that would do the job."

"Sounds good to me!" Max grinned, slamming his own hips up against Lisette's ass, his cock throbbing. If it weren't for the blowjob, he'd have already come, but he had a feeling he could outlast both of them now.

At least for this round.

He locked his jaws on her scruff. Not drawing blood, but enough that it triggered the erogenous zone there and her submission kink.

There was a deep growl above him, a vibration as much as a sound, before a roar rattled the entire room and completely overpowered Lisette's scream as she came right after Dhiren.

Her body clenching down around his cock pushed him over the edge, and he erupted into her ass, growling lustily around her scruff as the two toms rode out her powerful orgasm.

"So how many rounds do you have in you, and still be able to draw?" Dhiren looked down at him with a grin.

"I think when we kill her twice, I could rise to any occasion," Max grinned back. "Mmm ... seriously, probably another three before we should think about the tub?"

"I wish to come five or six times before relinquishing her for a while," Dhiren said as he began to thrust again. "Like where you are, or do you wish her face for a while?"

"I think I want one more back here before I give her another snack," Max grinned as he got back to thrusting into Lisette's tight, hot, slick ass.

"Sounds great," Lisette squeezed down around both of them, relishing in the feeling of being so completely taken and used. It was heaven. Even when Maxwell had exhausted himself and it was just the great, dark Xanith pinning her to the bed, it was great. With no one else to consider, Dhiren let loose with his full strength, slamming into her so hard her body was pushed from his grip each time.

"I have got to watch more Xanith porn," Maxwell mused to himself as Dhiren roared for the final time, his head finally hanging down as he panted. Lisette was in perfect shape too, for recreated panted. Lisette was in perfect shape too, for recreating the painting.

It was incredibly delicious.

And now that he had somebody who wanted his work, who would encourage him and help him get the canvas to work on that he needed ... he could only imagine that he was bound for great things.

"See you next week," Detective Sam Longclaw waved to Detective Janet Mercer as they parted company in the parking garage of Enforcer HQ after their shift.

"See you then," she grinned back at the medium brown tom with a medium build before opening the door to her car. "I'm so ready for this weekend," she said to herself with a relieved sigh as she settled in the driver's seat.

She sat there for a moment, just gathering herself and reflecting on whether she was still glad to have won the right to be reborn with all her memories intact. As many things that it had made more difficult, she still was. It was still good to be solving crimes and bringing answers to victims and survivors.

With a nod she put the car in reverse and pulled out, ready to have a couple days at home before returning to the troubles of the world.

The drive home was uneventful; traffic was slow, as usual, but there weren't any accidents, no trouble that she saw along the way. It was shaping up to actually be a quiet weekend for once.

As she got out of the car and went up to her door, she had a feeling that something wasn't quite right. She couldn't put her finger on it; everything was in place, the door was locked, windows were closed ... she couldn't help it though. It felt like there was somebody else there.

Could it be that Halikar or Bastet had sent someone to look in on her? It was unusual, but it wouldn't be the first time. Now that their champion was playing ball, they'd have the energy to look a little further a field than him.

"Hello?" she called out, her hand on her blaster as she pushed the door open without stepping inside the small apartment.

No answer... but she couldn't hear anybody inside, either. The only scent inside the apartment was hers, too. She was just getting paranoid, that had to be it. It had been one of those weeks.

She shook her head, trying to throw out the odd feeling as she stepped inside before closing and locking the door. She began stripping out of her uniform as she walked to her bedroom, though her senses were still sharp for discrepancies.

She just caught a glimpse of dark fur coming out of the corner as she stepped into the bedroom, but too late to do anything about it with her arms caught in her undershirt. Her attacker slammed into her, knocking her to the floor outside the bedroom, teeth curled back in a silent snarl.

Sweet Bastet ... the shekat on top of her looked exactly like her!

Smelled like her too, she realized as she hit the floor under her attacker. Then all her attention had to focus on staying alive.

"Just give up, dearie," her attacker growled, fighting to try and get a firm grip around her throat. "It won't hurt for long, and you can't beat me!" Janet could feel her strength waning, waves of nausea overwhelming her the longer she fought.

She didn't waste her breath talking. Compared to what Kythar and his goons had done to her, this was nothing. This time she had her hands free, and lashed out with open claws at her attacker's throat.

Her doppelganger pulled back, but not quickly enough; Janet caught her collarbone, claws opening a ragged gash as the shekat snarled.

She grabbed Janet's wrist firmly, sinking her claws into the flesh. Her fur started to pale and grow brittle, and she felt her flesh seeming to dry beneath her attacker's touch.

Janet summoned the strength she had left and kicked up, knocking her attacker off her only to continue the roll to her feet and lunged for her blaster. Three shots square on and the world went black.

Distantly, she felt her neck snap and the angry growl of her killer as her life faded. This time there was no opening her eyes to the realm of the gods. It was just darkness, then a dim partial awareness of her apartment from her eyes, but she wasn't in any kind of control.

The shekat growled and brushed the charred cloth from her front.

"You'd best be worth the trouble," Janet muttered as she started rifling the original's pockets, pulling out her wallet and starting to go through it. "Enforcer, that's good ... going to have to change, but a good place to start." As the original Janet faded to the background, the last thing she was consciously aware of was her body being moved out to the kitchen.

Jake closed his eyes, making himself invisible with the only reflective part of him now shielded. In the dark corner of the night-filled fortress yard the Wolf guard walked right by them without so much as a pause or glance. He let out a small breath. Not only were the stealth suits working, but the scent-suppressors were as well; small miracles that definitely increased their odds of getting out alive.

He didn't exchange a sound with the buff tabby behind him, but they moved forward in silence, keeping to the shadows as much as they could. It was just the two of them today, the only two felines in a fortress of Wolves, out to rescue a Hyena.

It was practically suicide, with just the two of them. He'd wanted to leave Chance at the jet, but he needed the help here ... getting out would be difficult enough if they could split the guards up, if they'd all been focused on him after the extraction it wouldn't have worked.

He'd have just about killed to have the Killhearts with them for this... but this mission wasn't for MegaKat City. It was for the Champion inside the fortress. He was lucky he'd gotten the tacit permission to have Chance and the hoverjet with him.

A side door, only feet away from them. Time to find out if the security card he'd swiped from the perimeter guard was good.

He ran it through, and was intensely grateful when the lock beeped and flashed a green light to indicate it was open.

"We're clear," Chance told him in a low whisper. "Guard's just about to turn around."

Jake nodded and they slipped inside, the door closing before anyone was the wiser. "Now lets hope there aren't cameras," he muttered under his breath as they moved quickly, both hoping that Jake had found accurate floor plans to the place.

The place smelled heavily of Kantin, Wolves mostly. Fortunately, the fortress had been built centuries before, and while it had been refitted for security ... it hadn't been refitted all that well. They were able to keep an ear out for the guards, hiding before they were spotted.

"Whatever that stuff is you're using to mask our scent is working ... have some for the target, when we get her?" Chance asked quietly.

"Yap," Jake nodded quickly, patting a spot on his belt only to freeze at the sound of footsteps on cold stone.

"What is Blood Fang so wound up about, anyway?" One of the four guards grumbled to his companions. "It's not like that deformed bitch is in any shape to challenge anybody."

"She has friends though," one with a torn ear pointed out. "Queen Sulma's a mother-goddess. She has friends."

"Yeah, but what psycho would come here to try and save her?" The first one pointed out. "Come on - no Kantin would risk pissing off Kram for Sulma's sake, except the Hyenas, and they don't have the guts. Kats or the Xanith? We'd have smelled 'em by now, and besides - one of them got her for Blood Fang in the first place," he said as their voices receded into the distance.

"Ah crud," Jake hissed under his breath when they were gone and they started moving again. "I hate conspiracies."

"Yeah, but maybe we can find out who from 'em," Chance suggested. "Get another of the Champions pinned down somewhere out of the way."

Jake suddenly winced, then sighed and broke into a near-run, focused on where he was going. "He knows I'm here. If he wants a fight, there's no getting out of it now."

"Right," Chance sighed. "I'll get Hyretha and get out of here ... you stay alive, okay? That's one conversation I really don't want to have with Rock."

"I don't want you to," Jake promised as they turned the corner and all bur ran over a startled guard.

Chance clobbered him in the face, knocking him out so he wouldn't be trouble as they continued towards Blood Fang's inner sanctum.

"You really need to learn to hide yourself that way too," the tabby grumbled.

"I can, but that makes their presences from me too," Jake said, skidding to a stop outside two huge doors and went to work picking the ancient lock while Chance stood guard for him.

It took him seconds; the biggest problem with the lock was getting the leverage to turn the heavy tumblers without the key.

Before long, it 'clanked' open, and the door swung inward. Inside, Blood Fang stood waiting for Jake, a blaster in one hand trained on Hyretha, chained up against the wall naked. His other hand held another blaster, and it was trained on the door.

"Welcome to my home, Champion of Bastet," Blood Fang growled in self-satisfied welcome. "I'm surprised you made it without having to hurt my guards."

"You have forgotten who else I serve," Jake growled softly as a golden glow enveloped him in a hawk's head and wings. "You will not claim my head without a fight."

"When was the last time you saw a hawk feast on wolf-flesh?" Blood Fang chuckled darkly. "You're nothing against me without your toys. Fight me without them ... and I'll turn this one over to your friend," he said, jerking his head towards Hyretha.

"Don't," Chance whispered, very much not liking his partner's odds as it stood, never mind unarmed.

"One on one, no technology, winner takes all," Jake said the formal Wolf-challenge.

"Jake!" Chance hissed, his ears flat. It was too late now though; the challenge had been made and conditions set. If Blood Fang accepted, there was nothing to be done about it.

"Agreed," Blood Fang grinned. He howled for his pack to join him, and put his blasters down, pulling an old key out of his pocket and putting it in the lock to Hyretha's chains.

"Call your pack to you, if you've got more than that one," he told Jake, nodding towards Chance.

"Not who is here," Jake said simply before handing his belt, shoulder holster and glovatrix to Chance. "Go hold her up. When I win, we can walk out."

"Right," Chance sighed, heading over to Hyretha's side to help her. He glanced over, surprised, as Blood Fang stripped off his shirt and belt.

"We'll fight in fur, Kat," Blood Fang told him. "I don't know how much of that suit you wear is armored."

"Fairly well," Jake admitted with a look that said he actually had forgotten about it as he stripped down, tossing his uniform over towards Chance once he was out of it.

"Just because he's agreed to fight by the rules, doesn't mean you have to if he's about to loose," Hyretha whispered very quietly in Chance's ear as the dozen or so members of Blood Fang's actual pack gathered, exchanging uncertain looks at what they were faced with.

"Only so much I can do, either way," Chance whispered back, though he ran through his head to try and think of just what his options were. The good news was that he didn't have to worry about using something that might kill both of them, as long as he could still get Hyretha and Jake out.

But if Blood Fang was dead, even temporarily, he was sure he could. It would probably be a bloodbath, but he could do it.

"The champion of Bastet and Halikar has challenged me by our laws and I have accepted," Blood Fang filled them in. "One on one, no technology, winner takes all. His pack consists of the other Kat and Hyena."

There was a chuckle that passed around the Wolves... and from the looks Chance got from some of them, he was more sure than ever that he really wanted Jake to win this one.

He carefully flexed his hand, getting in most of the activation code for the 'rescue' call for the jet. He'd just have to hit one more button to call it for them.

"Are you ready, Champion of Bastet and Halikar?" Blood Fang asked Jake, dropping into a defensive posture.

"Yes," Jake moved forward fast with a lightning-fast sequence of punches and kicks Chance recognized well from MMA matches he'd watched. Jake was testing his opponent's defense and temperament.

Blood Fang countered each attack, blocking or dodging each punch as it came, almost like he knew they were coming the moment before they did. He twisted around at the last blow, spinning into a backhanded punch that would have taken Jake's head off if he'd aimed a few inches lower. As it was, it whistled over the shorter Kat, giving Jake an opening that he took, clawing into Blood Fang's side.

The Wolf snarled, his body seeming to shimmer before he lunged at Jake faster than a body as large as his should have been able to move. He slammed into Jake, taking him to the ground to cheers from his pack.

They silenced a moment later when the move was finished with Jake pulling him further forward and kicking up to send him flying. The tom was on his feet before Blood Fang even hit the wall.

The Wolf rolled out of the way, getting to his feet and launching himself at Jake again. This time he didn't bother trying to grab him, he just slammed into the Kat, knocking him back into the wall and cutting loose with a howl that chilled Chance to the bone. He very nearly hit the rescue switch as Jake slumped to the ground, but shook off the effect of the howl and his fear as his partner shook his head to clear it.

Jake twisted his body upwards on his hands, leaving both feet clear to connect with his opponent before he kicked up, launching himself upwards from Blood Fang's frame. He landed, perfectly balanced on the top edge of one of the shields lining the walls.

Chance knew what he was about to try; he just wasn't sure if Blood Fang did. He hoped Jake wouldn't focus too much on his MMA tricks ... this was a fighter who wanted him dead, not unconscious, and there weren't near as many rules to protect him.

This was a fighter would could make him dead, at that.

The Wolf reached up, hammering the shield Jake was perched on with his fist just after Jake had jumped. He twisted out of the way before Jake could land on his head, clobbering Jake solidly on the back of his as he recovered from an unexpected landing on the ground. While the smaller tom was stunned by the blow, Blood Fang grabbed him by the throat and picked him up, squeezing down on Jake's windpipe with a vicious grin.

Chance gasped, he wasn't entirely sure whether in fear or shock at the matching grin that crossed Jake's face.

"Your friend is crazy, even for a champion," Hyretha commented. Then her eyes went wide in comprehension as Jake curled his body forward and drove both sets of hind claws into the sides of Blood Fang's neck. Even before pain had registered with the Wolf, he used the full strength of his body to rip them inward and forward, leaving a bloody mess.

Blood Fang fell to his knees, throwing Jake back and clutching at his throat. He cut loose with a gurgling howl, and the pack answered, a single note that echoed through the chamber. The Wolf seemed to swell, and he stood again, his throat mostly healed as he charged Jake, trying to end the fight while he still could. The first blow almost seemed to do it; he grabbed Jake's arm and threw him at the wall with a whipping 'snap' that slammed the smaller tom against solid stone with enough force to fracture his shoulders, dislocating the arm the Wolf had grabbed.

He was stronger, more brutal than he'd been when the fight had started, and now that he was wounded, he wasn't worried about trying to put on a show for his pack. He grabbed Jake, squeezing down on him tightly and trying to crush the life out of him.

The frantic claws and snarls and puffed up fur even the youngest Wolf there knew to expect. It was when Jake stilled that the difference in experience began to show. Some thought the battle was over with.

Chance, Blood Fang and a few older Wolves knew better. They saw a Kat focusing his strength for a final attempt to free himself.

Blood Fang adjusted his grip slightly, squeezing down harder to try and finish the job, or break Jake's back, before he could do so.

Chance winced as he heard Jake's bones pop out of place; he'd be weeks before he really recovered from this, if they were lucky. He could only imagine what Rock was thinking right now, half-way across the world and only knowing that his mate was in agony.

Chance saw it first. Jake's upper body remained relatively still, but one leg was voluntarily disjointed to drive all four claws of his right leg forward and down, splashing blood everywhere with the ripping of flesh.

Blood Fang's grip slackened, and Jake moved as fast as he could. He wriggled up, getting a hand around the Wolf's throat and ripping it out with his claws as his teeth sank in around his spine. He brought them together, and the Wolf's body went limp, trying to twitch in death.

"Sweet Sulma," Hyretha murmured, her eyes wide

Chance undid the lock on her chains and hurried over to Jake even as he hit the last button in the 'rescue' sequence on principle. Even though the other Wolves there seemed ready to remain still in a mixture of shock, uncertainty and training that it wasn't their place to do anything, the tabby had no faith that it would last.

"Buddy?" Chance knelt by his partner, half afraid of reflexes to touch given Jake seemed unwilling to let his jaws loose just yet. He could see broken bones, dislocated joints and bloody injuries. "He's dead, Jake. Isn't he?"

A shallow nod answered, and Jake made a visible effort to unlock his jaws and let the Wolf's limp body fall from it.

Chance helped him up as he heard a missile streaking in, and one of the outer walls of the room blew in, revealing their jet on the other side as Wolves scattered out of the way.

Jake stopped him from moving him and pulled away to stand on his own, broken bones and battered body. "Get Hyretha in the jet," he ordered Chance.

"Do you want his body for a funeral?" Jake locked eyes with the alpha female of the pack.

"Yes," she answered him quickly, averting her eyes in submission to her new leader.

"Then have him skinned as he skinned his conquests," he instructed before locking onto a beta. "You," just the word made the powerful male Wolf jump slightly. "Fetch his collection of trophies."

"Yes, Alpha," the black Wolf said quickly with no attempt at the dignity the alpha female had maintained as he hurried off with two others.

Chance helped get Hyretha settled in the passenger area of the six-person transport-fighter. "Sorry that's all we have. This was kinda a rush mission," he offered her a blanket to cover up and keep warm with

"Thank you," she said with honest gratitude in her eyes.

"I'll be back as soon as I've made sure Jake's all right," he told her. "If anybody tries something, there's a blaster under the seat," he added. He didn't think it was likely she'd need it, but he didn't want to take the chance either.

"Thank you," she nodded as she snuggled into the blanket. "He'll, and we, will be safe for at least eight days. The laws are strict and penalties severe for an alpha fight. Even for a Kat victor."

"I'm pretty sure you're right," he nodded, heading out to see what Jake was up to, and if there was anything he could do for his injured partner. He walked into relatively empty space. Only two living Wolves were still there; the alpha female and a teenaged tricolor male who were busy skinning their former leader of the top of his head, back and tail in a single piece.

As he walked up to Jake, who was now resting on the throne and dressed, the great doors opened to three male Wolves came in with their arms full of finely cured furs cut like the one being removed from their dead leader. Nine Wolves, two Coyote, a Puma and two Hyena were in the collection.

"Put them in the jet," Jake ordered with a wave towards the vehicle's open side door.

"The other champions?" Chance guessed with a sick tone to his voice.

"Yes," Jake nodded, his body in pain and injured but holding well. "It is a trophy, proof of their defeat. Many of us collected the hides of our opponents."

"Great ... should l I get you some painkillers or something, Jake?" Chance asked him, trying not to think about how Jake included himself in the barbaric tradition.

"I'll be fine until we get back," he shook his head slightly as the alpha female stretched her former mate's partial hide on a frame designed for such trophies and placed it in the jet while others took the body away.

"May I take care of that, Alpha?" she asked submissively, her eyes on the erection in his pants.

"No," he looked at her more gently when she knelt beside him and reached out to scritch her ears until she leaned into the touch. "You will make a fine alpha for this pack," he told her. "Blood Fang chose you for more than your looks and breeding. Just think about the consequences a little better before you start a war."

"Yes, sir," she glanced up at him as he stood.

"I wouldn't have killed him if he'd given me a choice," Jake added as he walked to the jet's open side-hatch and climbed on board. "Let's go, Chance."

"I know you put him off, but you will let me tend to those injuries," Hyretha said firmly and stood to take the medical supplies from him as he opened up their on-board medical kit.

Jake glanced at the door, checking that it was closed as Chance pulled the jet away from the fortress and into open air. "All right."

"Then sit on the bench and let me do my work," she said, and was obeyed without contest.

Jake opened his eyes when the sound of the engines and the large jet cutting through the air changed with their decent.

"Go back to sleep, Champion of Halikar," Hyretha spoke gently as he tried to orient himself. 'This is my stop, not yours."

"Mulrit," he mumbled and let his eyes drift closed as the healing grip of sleep took hold of him again.

Later, much later, he felt Chance's hand against his shoulder lightly.

"Hey, buddy... wake up, we're home," he said softly. "And you've got company waiting for you," he added. "Sounds like Rock and Tommy are here."

"Tommy?" Jake looked up before he shook off the sleepiness. "Why'd he be here?" he mumbled to himself as they walked to the hatch and waited for it to open.

"I don't know, but I can't think of any other Caracals who'd want to talk to you," Chance told him as they climbed out. "When I radioed in, they mentioned him. Want me to take care of whatever it is before I head home, let you and Rock get out of here?"

"If it brought him here in the middle of the night to wait for me to get back, he'll probably insist on talking to me," Jake shook his head carefully. "Hope it can wait."

"Same here," Chance murmured as they headed in, Enforcers looking at them along the way, especially at Jake. Few people had known what he was going out for, and now that he was home, they were wondering what had left him so badly beaten up. "By the way; Hyretha said that if you ever needed help, to try and get word through to her. She was a little surprised you didn't try to finish what Blood Fang had started."

"Why?" he looked over at his partner. He was sure he should already know, but it was hard to think.

"You're another Champion ... Bastet and Queen Sulma might not be enemies, but I think she expected you to try and whittle down the numbers, despite the fact you didn't want to hurt either of them," Chance explained quietly.

"I fought as Halikar's champion," Jake nodded with a murmur. "Bastet ... Queen Sulma is her daughter and sister in ways. They've never fought. Halikar ... he has growled at her a few times."

"That might do it," Chance chuckled slightly. "Jake, are you going to be okay, or should I be hauling you to the infirmary for a while?" He asked, clearly willing to do just that if he decided he should.

"Lyris' wedding gift is doing its job," Jake assured him with a weak smile. "I'm sore as hell, but I'm fine."

"Okay," Chance smiled a bit. "Come on, let's get you and Rock back together. I'm sure you'd rather spend the night with him than me anyways," he chuckled.

"Definitely," Jake grinned back. "I just hope he didn't get into trouble when the fight started."

"If he did, I'm sure he got out of it too," Chance chuckled as they headed out into the waiting area friends and family usually stayed in when they were waiting for the pilots to get back from a fight. Rock and Tommy were there, sitting off separately from a large group of nervous-looking Kantin who all looked at Jake in surprise when he walked in.

"Who's out?" Jake asked the older female that looked to be in charge of those there.

"Aurora Stars," she told him. "According to the news Chop Shop showed up again."

"They can handle him," Chance said confidently. "They're good pilots; they can fly rings around that chopper of his, and he doesn't have that anti-tech gun anymore."

"Yeah, they're good at what they do," Jake agreed before turning to find himself enveloped in Rock's arms. He didn't even think before all but melting into it, resting his head against Rock's broad chest and purring softly at the comfort of feeling protected.

"What were you getting into over there?" Rock asked him with a gentle sternness. "You've had me panicked ... and taking the place of the forklift at work to burn it off," he scolded.

"Sorry, we were really trying to avoid the fight," Jake nuzzled his chest. "I ended up in a fight against Blood Fang."

"Well, whoever that is, I really hope you don't have to fight anybody like him again," Rock said, sitting back down and pulling Jake into his lap.

"I'll head back home, make sure the kits still remember what their Dad looks like," Chance smiled, heading back towards the locker room. "And I did try to get him to back out of the fight," he offered to his cousin before he left.

"We'd been discovered," Jake added with a scowl for his partner's back before the door closed. "If I hadn't challenged him the two of us would have been up against the entire fortress. One on one I had a good chance at. Two against at least a hundred? Not so easy."

"I understand, love," Rock murmured, nuzzling his head. "I just wish you hadn't come out of it as badly as you did ... you haven't hurt like that since the last time you pissed off the Killhearts."

That drew a chuckle from the lean tom. "Blood Fang's in much worse shape. I'll be fine in the morning."

"You'd better be," Tommy chuckled. "Never forgive you if you ended up ruining yourself for future paintings," the Caracal winked. "I don't know what you got yourself into, but I'm glad you're back."

"So am I," Jake let a breath out. "It went well, for rescuing a champion. What brings you here though?"

"Well... it's a little weird, but you're the only contact I've got on the Enforcers who I think could talk to the guy without making him worry," Tommy admitted. "I've got a friend, Max Steele, who's an artist." Rock's ears perked up slightly, earning a curious look from Tommy before he continued. "The problem is that I'm worried about his subject matter... are you familiar with snuff?"

"Yes," Jake nodded. "Let's take this somewhere else though," he flicked a glanced at the Wolves. "This doesn't sound like a public subject."

"Home; Tommy can follow us there," Rock said firmly, getting up and fighting the urge to pick Jake up as he did so.

"It can certainly wait that long," the Caracal chuckled slightly. "It can probably wait until you're in better shape, though if you're willing to hear me out now I'd be grateful."

"I'll listen," Jake said seriously as they walked into the hallway and headed for the elevator. "I'm been up for three days and in a hell of a fight, so I doubt I'll do anything until tomorrow."

"I don't blame you," Tommy said easily as they rode the elevator down to Rock's waiting car, Tommy's motorcycle nearby.

"Just follow us on home," Rock said easily as he helped Jake into the car, the Kat nearly falling asleep as soon as he hit the headrest.

"He looks really sweet like that," Tommy smiled softly at Jake before pulling his helmet on.

"Yeah, he does," Rock agreed with a smile before closing the door and pulling out, leading the way back to the condo. Once they got there, he gave Jake's shoulder a light shake to wake him up again.

"We're home," he said as Jake startled to consciousness. "If you want, I could carry you up," he smiled affectionately.

"I'm not that far gone yet," Jake leaned over to kiss him before getting out of the car and stretching with a yawn. "Besides, Tommy gets to talk before I pass out for real."

The Caracal pulled up as they started for the door, taking off his helmet as he turned off his bike.

"If you'd like, I think we can just go over it here," he offered. "Nobody around to freak out, from the look of things."

Jake almost insisted on getting the rest of the way to their condo, but nodded when Rock slid a hand up his spine.

"Right," Tommy nodded. "Like I said, Max Steele's a friend of mine... more of an acquaintance, really, but we connected through the art some. What worries me is his subject matter... the guy's good, but he's practically obsessed with snuff art. It almost got him thrown out of school a time or two, when he pissed off a teacher enough with it. I'm not really in any position to complain about it, but... well, I just don't think it's healthy. I was kind of hoping you could talk to him, get a feel for if I'm overreacting or something."

"Okay," Jake nodded. "You have his address?"

"Yeah," Tommy nodded, pulling his wallet out of his jacket and giving Jake a card from it. "He's a good guy, Jake," he added. "Just don't let him talk you into modeling for anything unless you're up to it," he chuckled ruefully, rubbing his neck a bit. "He really gets into it."

"No good at drawing without actually seeing it?" Jake nodded grimly. "I can see that going all the wrong places. Is he likely to know who I am?"

"He does details without seeing... things that he couldn't get without actually killing somebody," Tommy nodded. "And maybe... I don't know, really," he admitted. "But if you seem interested in his work, he'll forgive just about anything," he chuckled. "Especially if he knows the sort of things you're into. He actually found somebody interested in buying some of his paintings not too long ago, and he's practically been glowing since then."

"I'll keep that in mind," Jake nodded and pocketed the card. "I'll let you know what I think of him in a few days."

"Thanks," Tommy smiled warmly. "Now go on; you two go get some sleep," he said, starting his bike up again.

"Don't worry, I'll take care of him," Rock grinned before shepherding his mate to the elevator and home.

Janet chuckled as she knocked on the door to the apartment she used to share with her 'father.' She had one of her duplicate's Enforcer uniforms, including all the extra bits, in a duffel bag over her shoulder, and a warm meat pie in her hands as she waited for the door to open.

Thomas opened the door and smiled at her. "I take it things went well," he said, sniffing until he realized that it was a meat pie and he wouldn't want any.

"Very well," Janet purred. "There was a bit of a fight, but nothing I couldn't handle," she explained as she stepped in and he closed the door. "She's different, if a little boring ... tasty though," she grinned.

"Anyone who managed to be reborn with their memories intact can't be that boring," he raised an eyebrow as they walked to the kitchen with the pie.

"Oh, not that way," Janet chuckled. "But you should see her bedroom ... I swear, those last few hours of her last life took all the fun out of her," she said, rolling her eyes a bit. "Didn't go through anything that you haven't put me through."

"Keep in mind her reaction though. It is a difference between you that could tip Ulysses off to your true nature," he reminded her through his pride in her accomplishment. "How much have you been able to access of her memories and personality?"

"I will," Janet promised him, cutting into the pie and taking a slice out for herself. "You might want to try this one," she told him. "I think I've managed to avoid the Kat-taste, for the most part. And I've gotten quite a few of them ... more than usual, actually," she admitted. "I think it's because she's got the rest of my soul; everything fits together better. I should be able to fool the Commander well enough ... and I know just how to get the chance too," she purred.

"Oh, do tell me your plan," he grinned as they settled down on the couch in the living room.

"I'm planning on personally delivering him my letter of resignation and paperwork early next week," Janet purred as she ate. "Tell him that I've been trying to work as an Enforcer like I did before, but that I can't keep it up. After all, it wouldn't be right for him to be my Commander when I try to start a relationship with him, now would it?" She grinned.

"Are you prepared for him to try and talk you out of resigning?" he asked, hoping to prepare her for what he would expect the Commander to do.

"Oh, I expect it," she nodded. "He'll try and talk me into at least waiting long enough to make sure there's something between us ... but you know what I am," she purred. "I know what his Janet knew ... I can tell him anything he wants to prove it ... and I can always fib a little, when it comes to how she felt about him. I'm his Janet, his lost love, and the perfect shekat for him. I can fake being an Enforcer long enough to get through that period ... unless, of course, I've got a consulting job lined up, but only if I can start working in the next couple days?" She asked, looking over at him and raising an eyebrow.

"Easily arranged," he nodded, thinking over his various corporate holdings and the holdings of those he had authority over. "Kahrin Security. They have a branch here and a detective should fit in with a security company well enough."

"And it means I'll have a good reason to leave while I can still get the job," she purred. "I should think that will keep him from objecting too much, and it's very much what Janet would have done ... it hardly does to retire so young without another job already lined up, now does it? Of course, one that has fairly flexible hours and stays to the city will also leave me ideally positioned to take advantage of the fact that dear Shier Khan is in Tusandrin so much."

"Yes, and it is just the job she would have found if she decided to retire to peruse him," he agreed with a slight nod. "I will have it set up for you by the time you talk to him in the morning. The pay will be good, but not exceptional. Your contact is Lara James. Will your plans need anything else?"

"I don't need the pay to be exceptional, as long as it will meet the expenses I have in Janet's life," the shekat said easily. "And no ... not right now, at any rate. I may need more, from time to time, but we'll deal with that as the time comes. Of course, if I'm going to make him trust my advice, there will have to be a few times when I'm right," she pointed out. "So if you can find some agents you won't mind sacrificing, a few jobs in the next month or so that you don't really need to do, it will help when I start to get my hooks into him."

"I have been setting that up since I first created you," he chuckled deeply. "For credibility, I'm not going to tell you when you'll be right in advance. Just know you frequently will be."

"All right," she nodded. "Will I always be finding out about them the same way, or will they turn up differently to keep my cover stronger?"

"You will come across them however seems most opportune for me at the time, and your own insights. You do know much of my local operations and general goals for various units. Extrapolate on what you know as well as what I tell you about."

"Understood," she nodded. "So, how is your artist doing? Finding his muses?" She asked him with a grin as she finished her piece of pie.

"Very well," he grinned with a deep rumble of pleasure. "He killed her twice in one night, and admitted he killed before for real. It was glorious. He will take very little before his worries about the law will fade completely. He is even more fixated on Jake than I had dared hope for. He will be a great resource very soon."

"Assuming that rather large Wolf you were dealing with doesn't take care of Jake first?" Janet guessed.

"He doesn't really have much of a chance against Jake, but he has taken out several champions who could be quite annoying in the future, as he himself would be. So no matter who wins, I do," he grinned.

"The perfect plot," Janet purred. "Mmm ... oh, I brought you all the extra bits and pieces from my uniforms, in case there's anything you don't have examples of yet ... or in case you want to have a full-fledged Enforcer under you without having to catch one," she winked playfully.

"Such a thoughtful daughter," he chuckled and leaned over to kiss her. "Are you planning to know me, or Dhiren in any way?"

"I think it's best if we leave my relationship with Dhiren strictly professional," Janet purred as she returned the kiss. "At least until somebody can introduce us. As for Thomas, it's easy enough to say that I met you at some Enforcer function ... you are a designer, after all, you've gone to those parties before to make contacts."

"It sounds good to me, though it would be best for your cover that you do not have any lovers other than Ulysses," he reminded her. "At least no one the real one did not have."

"I plan on it... she didn't have any, that I know of," she admitted. "Knowing Thomas and Dhiren is mostly for the sake of giving my reports without raising suspicion... the reason I came here instead of the lair. For tonight, I'm still single, but after my retirement I'll just have to satisfy myself with the Commander and his lover," she purred, scratching Thomas' thigh lightly as she snuggled up against him. "I think I'll live," she winked up at him.

"If you don't, it had better be in breaking Feral for good," he rumbled and pressed her back against the couch's arm. "For tonight, I'm going to enjoy your last night available."

Rock relaxed in the living room, a glass of milk wine at hand while he channel surfed for something to do while Jake continued to sleep well past his usual four hours, and Rock's own eight.

He knew he had a hundred things he could be doing that were more productive, but he didn't really want to. It was too hard to concentrate as it was. He knew the magical effects of the fight were clear of his system, but that didn't mean the effects were.

As much as he hated admitting it, that had scared him badly. Something about Jake when he returned made it harder than usual to let the tension go. Something had ... changed ... in Jake on this mission.

Rock's ear flicked towards the door as a key was turned in the lock after a quick knock.

He got up, and had only taken a step towards the door when it opened to reveal a familiar black-furred shekat.

"Kyale, good to see you," he smiled. "Jake's sleeping right now... probably will be for a while."

"Just gone home, or that worm out?" she asked as she set her overnight bag down and closed the door.

"A bit of both," Rock sighed. "He got back last night, he's been crashed for about half a day now... he really got himself worked over. You want something to eat or drink?"

"Sure," she smiled and kissed his cheek. "What happened?"

"He went on an unofficial rescue mission in Wolf territory," Rock explained as he smiled and headed over to the mini-bar they had to mix Kyale's usual. "Got beat up real bad in the process," he added, his smile fading. "You ever hear of a guy named Blood Fang? Judging by what Jake went through, I'd almost think he was MMA who'd gotten serious about things."

"He's not, but I do know of him," she nodded, her ears sinking slightly. "Do you know how the fight started?"

"Not off hand," Rock admitted. "I wasn't there, obviously. But it sounds like they got caught, and the fight happened from there. He's had to kill before, but this was different for him," he murmured.

"It was his first champion, not to mention the leader of a country," Kyale added the details quietly. "Blood Fang is, was, the champion of Krom and the leader of Lothos after a series of bloody challenges. Jake just took out the last fighting Wolf champion on Aristal."

"Shit," Rock swore under his breath as he gave Kyale her drink. "Are you sure? How do you know about this?" He asked her as he mixed himself a whiskey sour.

"I travel a lot," she pointed out. "I was in Lothos last year and got to watch one of those challenges. Blood Fang challenged everyone there when it was over, especially those of us in the MMA and the military leaders. I got a crash course in Wolf law and champions that trip. It's why I asked how it got started. If the challenge was formal, we're okay. If not, he effectively assassinated the leader of Lothos."

"I'd have to ask him," Rock murmured. "But it sounded like there was a challenge, so that it was just Jake and Blood Fang, not Jake and Chance against an entire fortress."

"I'm sure he knows enough to have given at least a basic report before he went home," she settled down with a nod. "The Enforcers would be on top of it. So, how is your business project coming along?"

"It's going pretty well," he smiled, settling in on the couch next to her. "I'm getting financing put together for it, trying to convince the accounting folks and analysts that it's a good idea to run the shop the way I want to. It's more expensive, but I really think it'll pay off in the long run ... and if it doesn't, I'm not doing this just for cash. So, how about you? Heard you did pretty well in that last tournament you were in," he grinned.

"Very well," she smiled behind her glass. "If I can keep it up, I'll be able to retire in a few years to become a trainer. It's a lot less wear and tear on the body."

"Good for you," Rock smiled back. "How's Owl-Eyes doing?" He asked her.

"Loving his life as far as I can tell. He's got a definite talent for what he does, and I'm benefiting a lot from it."

"That's good," Rock nodded, then looked over at her with a grin. "And outside the professional skills he helps you with?" He asked her.

"A great deal of fun," she grinned back with a low rumble. "He's not a Kat. He is good in both roles. Likes it too."

"Glad to hear it," Rock chuckled. "Jake ever tell you how I handled the slavery the first time I joined him on a visit to Karalanol?"

"No, I don't think he did," she looked at him curiously, eager for the story.

"First off, what's slavery like in Majeare, and how familiar are you with it in Sayden Bay?" He asked her, leaning back in the couch.

"Slavery to here is life in Majeare," she shrugged. "All females and kittens belong to their male, be it a husband, father or uncle. I have heard that it exists in Sayden Bay, though I have no knowledge of it."

"Well, in Sayden Bay, it's a lot more vicious than most other places where it's legal," Rock explained. "The slavery that exists there is brutal... you don't have any rights, you do what your Master tells you or he punishes you however he feels like it. No appeal, no higher court; if he wants you to act happy with your lot in life, and you don't, he can beat you until you get it through your skull that it's less painful to be happy with it. It's the sort of monstrosity that got it outlawed around here."

"It does not sound much different then Majeare," she thought about it. "At least the legal rights and lack of them. Perhaps it is the intent of most that is different."

"I'm sure it's a part of it," Rock nodded. "It's normal in your place; in Sayden Bay, having a slave is a mark of influence, power, and money ... at any rate, it's rough, to the point where some slaves ran away and considered turning tricks at the kink houses a serious move up in life. At least there they were getting paid for going through whatever the fat Kats could come up with.

"Well, coming out of Sayden Bay, where that's the usual sort of slavery, you can imagine that I was real surprised to find out that, in Karalanol, we were expected to enjoy the use of some of the Chief's slaves for our stay," he chuckled slightly. "I managed to keep from flipping out, but it was real awkward, especially when the one I ended up with was eager to prove her skills to her temporary master."

"I can not blame her," Kyale purred with a wink for him. "I do understand, however. From what I have seen and heard of it, their slavery is as far above Majeare female life as Majeare is above Saydan Bay's. Karalanol masters have many obligations to their slaves, and slaves many protections from all but their master."

"It's an entirely different setup from what I'm used to," he agreed, glancing up at a noise from the bedroom. "Sorry, love. We didn't mean to wake you."

"It's okay," Jake yawned before smiling at them. "I've been asleep for too long. Nice to see you again, Kyale," he added before leaning down to kiss her.

"Does that mean you're up for a little fun?" she purred, ghosting a hand up the inside of his bare thigh.

"Oh, I think I can manage it," Jake chuckled and sat down to lean in for a kiss.

"Before we all get too distracted, how did your mission go?" Rock asked him, hoping not to break the mood too much.

"Well enough for one that ended in a fight," Jake said.

"Was it a challenge, legal?" Kyale asked as her fingers began to stir interest in his groin.

"Yes," he said with a kiss, pulling her muscle shirt up to rub his palms over her small breasts. "Legal and witnessed. I left someone in charge who isn't likely to cause trouble."

"Good," she purred, fingering his sheath. "Should we go back to your room?"

"I think that's a request for me to wait until later to ask more questions," Rock chuckled, standing up. "Am I welcome too, or should I keep channel surfing for a while?" He asked, cocking an eyebrow.

"Of course you're welcome," Kyale snickered even as she pressed into Jake's touch. "Owl-eyes is fun, but I miss a strong, confident tom in bed sometimes."

"And now you have two," Jake grinned before pulling her to her feet. "I am looking forward to having you around more often in a few years."

Late in her first shift back at work after the weekend, Janet took a deep breath and looked down at the paperwork she'd filled out, then up at the door to the Commander's office. This wasn't protocol, on several levels. All the same ... it was how she wanted to do it.

She reached up, knocking on the Commander's door. She was just glad the Lieutenant had understood her reasons, even if he'd been shocked by her decision.

"Come," Feral's gruff voice answered her.

She took a deep breath and opened the door, stepping in and looking at him, hesitating a moment before she snapped off a salute to her Commander.

It was returned almost absently. She doubted he had really looked at her yet, but she saw recognition quickly suppressed on his face the moment he did actually see past the uniform and looked at her.

It was only because the real Janet had known him so well when he was more expressive that she caught it, but she did.

"I'm sorry to bring this to you so late in your day, sir, but I wanted to do this face to face," she said, offering him the papers. "You recognize me, don't you?" She said as much as asked him.

"You look like someone I knew decades ago," he acknowledged. "I do not believe I know you."

"Detective First Class Janet Mercer ... and yes, I know I'm a little young for the rank," she said with a slight smile. "I served with you, when you were much younger ... not like I am now, but in my last life."

He scowled at her. Even with her knowledge she couldn't figure out if he was happy or angry or just not willingly to believe the implications of what she was saying.

"All right," he regarded her levelly. "Why does it matter?"

"Do you remember the day I died, Uly?" She asked him quietly. "Over forty years ago ... I watched what they did to you after they killed me. I couldn't just leave like that, not with so much that I hadn't done, or said. I fought with Halikar, to get the right to live out my life with all my memories... I came back to this body as a kitten, and ever since then I've been trying to get back into the Enforcers ... back to you," she admitted.

"Why?" he asked again as the shock began to sink in at what he was being told.

"Because I was cut off before I had a chance to find out what would come from the rest of my life ... because I was only just beginning to realize what I was feeling for you, when I died. It's ... well, it's why I'm turning in my resignation," she admitted, nodding towards the papers she'd given him.

"You don't need to," he said, much less certain than he usually was. "There are no regs against Enforcers dating."

"Not officially, but we both know the Commander is held to a higher standard," she pointed out. "Considering the difference most people would see in our ages, and the difference in rank ... it'd be Hell for both of us. Some would think you were taking advantage of me, others would think that anything else I managed in my career was only because of a relationship between us. I've been thinking about this since I'd had enough time with the Enforcers to make sure that I was right about how I felt for you."

"Have you considered that we might not work out?" he asked her cautiously.

"I have," she nodded. "And normally, I'd wait to find out before taking this step," she added, heading off the question she was sure would come next. "But I got a good offer for my next job, assuming I'm available in the next few days, so I didn't think I could pass it up if I thought there was any chance I'd want to do this soon."

Feral nodded, digesting the news on several fronts.

"Then your resignation is accepted. Your badge, passkey and sidearm," he said as he stood and extended his hand.

She actually smiled as she removed them; she took the clip out of her blaster before passing it over, her badge and passkey next.

"Just so you know, I did talk this over with my supervisor before I came up here," she told him. "He knows about it."

"Good," he sat back down and placed the emblems of her service on her resignation papers. "So what is this new job?"

"Consultant and investigator for Kahrin Security," she explained, shifting around to his side of the desk, though she kept a respectful arm's length between them for now. "It's not the Enforcers, but they can use detectives, and I got a lead on a position they hadn't even listed yet from a friend of mine who's worked with them before."

"I'm sure you will do well," he nodded to her even as he stopped leaning towards her with a stern mental chiding.

"Thank you, Commander," she shifted so she could reach out and cup his cheek and smiled at the way it leaned into the contact slightly. "So ... would there be any particular time that's convenient for you?"

It took him a moment to come up the information. "Wednesday, after shift?" he suggested.

"Sounds good to me," she smiled, pulling him forward and up a bit as she leaning over to kiss him tentatively on the lips. The pair against hers parted. She felt his pulse jump and breath catch in his throat.

If he was any less self-disciplined, he'd likely take her on his desk in the next few minutes if she kept kissing him. As it stood he pulled himself back, reluctantly she hoped, after a lingering moment.

"What would you like to do?" he asked in the silence between them.

"I'll have to think about it a bit," she admitted. "Maybe I can get back to you tomorrow?" She offered with a bit of a grin, backing off a little bit herself.. "Or later tonight, if something comes up that sounds good?"

"That is acceptable," he nodded, retreating slightly behind his Enforcer training to keep control. "You have my home number?"

"I am a detective, Uly," she winked at him playfully. "I've found it out. So, I'll talk to you later then?"

"Yes," he agreed, watching as he left his office. He waited an extra moment before buzzing Lt. Cmdr. McKysn.

"Yes, sir?" she responded almost immediately.

"Fine everything you can on Detective Janet Mercer, both current and former. Particularly find proof either way that the current is the former one reincarnated."

"Yes sir ... any suggestions whose priests we should speak to regarding the reincarnation?" She asked him.

"She said it was by Halikar, so start there, and with Bastet," he said. "She just handed her resignation in. You have three days to come up with the intel."

"Yes sir. We'll have everything we can ASAP," she promised him.

"Just remember, you are not posing for this guy for anything," Rock said sternly as he pulled to a stop in an area of town he had no business being anywhere near. Upper end bohemian near the beach. It was the realm of trust fund kittens and those who liked to pretend they were suffering for their cause by not living in an actual mansion with a dozen servants.

"I know, love," Jake leaned over and claimed a lingering kiss. "But can you blame me for wanting to check him out?"

"No," Rock admitted, returning the kiss for a few moments before they started towards the door. "Just remember who we know he is," he pointed out. "There's a chance that, one of these days, he'll be able to do permanent damage to you."

"All the more reason to get to know him, since we have a good reason from another quarter to look him up," Jake squeezed his hand and flipped his ID to the door guard. "Jake Clawson and Rock Furlong to see Maxwell Steele."

The guard checked their ID's, then nodded.

"Apartment 816," the Rottie said, stepping aside to let them in. "You might want to use the service elevator," he told them as they walked through.

"Nice guy," Rock muttered. He and Jake were both wearing their best casual outfits, and he was sure the guard usually dressed worse than they did when he was off-duty.

"Don't worry about him," Jake leaned up and nuzzled him as they walked to the guest evaluator and tapped in the access code. "He just wants to feel important."

"I know," Rock nodded slightly as the elevator opened and they climbed in to ride up. "I'll try and stay quiet up there," he promised. "At least unless I'm asked for an opinion," he chuckled.

"Just try not to insult him too much," Jake kissed his cheek. "It'll be disturbing, but we already know that. I just want to find out if he's sane."

"I know," Rock smiled, tipping Jake's face up for a light kiss. "I'll behave," he promised again as the door opened. His nose wrinkled as he picked up a vaguely familiar scent when they stepped out.

"You smell what I do?" He asked Jake quietly.

"Yap," Jake's nose wrinkled as they glanced at the numbers to find their way. "Ckydri. Pretty pure too."

"It'd be bad form to bust one of Max's buddies, but maybe you can tip somebody in Vice off about it later," Rock murmured. "Anyways, let's not worry about it unless he's using," he said, finding apartment 816. "Here we are."

"Agreed," Jake nodded and knocked politely.

"Just a moment!" A voice called inside. There was a bit of a racket, then the door opened to reveal Maxwell Steele, the unexpected guest from their wedding. He grinned when he saw Jake and Rock, wiping a bit of paint from his smock as he stepped back.

"Come in," he said enthusiastically, stepping back into the apartment. "Sorry, I was working and lost track of time."

"I understand that," Jake grinned at him in real knowledge of the process. "Should we come back later?"

"No, it's okay," Max laughed. "Lisette could use a break anyways, I'm sure. Lise!" He called back to her as Jake and Rock stepped in, closing the door. "Go ahead and untie yourself; company's here." A muffled response came back that Rock and Jake couldn't make out before Max started leading them in.

"So, would you like something to drink?" He offered them. "I can make something up as soon as I've cleaned up a bit."

"A drink would be welcome," Jake nodded with a smile for him even as he looked around at the paintings hung with pride around the condo. "Rock has a good hand at it, if you don't mind."

"No problem," Max said easily. "If you could mix up a Radiant Sunrise for me, I'd appreciate it."

"And maybe a margarita for me?" Lisette called out from where she was dressing. "Mmm ... Max, could you grab some gauze while you're cleaning up?"

"Sure thing," he answered, heading back to join her.

"Sounds like they were having an interesting time when we got here," Rock chuckled as he started mixing the drinks.

"From the look of him, a painting session," Jake chuckled and accepted his chocolate milk and rum. "She was posing."

"Probably ... wonder what the subject was," he mused, looking at the other paintings and mixing the drinks for Max and Lisette before making a milk and rum for himself. "I can just pick up the sex under the paint smells. So ... what do you think of his work?" He asked, trying to sort out his own mixed feelings at the images of death. Some of it was violent, some apparently natural or accidents, some obvious suicides ... all of them were heavily sexualized, romanticized views of it.

"He has talent, that's for sure," Jake said easily. "More than a few bring back memories of our wedding," he added with a bit of a husky voice. "I may not want to do that again, but it was incredible on so many levels."

"I'm glad you like them," Max said, coming back in without his smock, dressed more casually and with the paint cleaned off of himself as he took his drink and sat down in a comfortable armchair. "Actually speaking of your wedding ... that was probably the most incredible thing I've ever seen," he said with a half-way grin. "If you guys wanted some time, I could probably paint the end of it practically from memory."

"I can't say I'd mind to see your rendition," Jake gave a winning smile made all the more effective that he was telling the truth. "Have you seen Tommy Vercetti's work?"

"Oh yeah," Max smiled. "You two are the toms in those beautiful dom-sub pieces he's done?" He asked easily.

"Yes," Jake nodded as all four found places in the plush living room. "The first piece he did in the series was where Rock and I met," Jake didn't bother to hide the loving eyes he gave his mate. "We always seem to have the most amazing moments when he has us in for a new painting."

"He's good at arranging them," Max purred. "I'd be happy to do up one of what you two did -"

"After you finish the piece you were working on with me, I hope," Lisette giggled as she took a seat on the arm of Max's chair, reaching up to scratch the top of his head.

"Of course," he chuckled, taking her hand and kissing it. Rock couldn't help but notice that the black-furred shekat had several cuts that had been bandaged, and places beneath her dress that were a little pushed up by the gauze beneath it.

"How much would you need us to be involved?" Jake asked.

"Approval of the sketches... I might need some help with the posing, but like I said, I remember it well enough to be able to do this one without the extra visuals," Max purred. "I'd be happy to sign off on something saying that it's staying in my personal collection if the two of you don't want to buy the final product. To be honest, I'd have already painted it if I'd been able to get your permission before."

Jake gave a glance at Rock before nodding. "You have our permission. I would like it titled for what it was. 'The Wedding in the Temple of Pain's Pleasure' and we would like first dibs on it."

"Done, and done," Max purred. "Just so I know... I got the feeling from the Temple and all that this isn't exactly going to be a piece that should be displayed at all; they seemed to be pretty secretive to me."

"Right," Rock nodded. "Besides, that is so not normal for their weddings," he chuckled.

"If it was, I think I'd convert," Max grinned.

"Well, blood and sex is common enough there," Jake chuckled, relaxing against Rock's side. "Death, not so much."

"Yes, our wedding was unusual in so many ways," Rock agreed.

"Like how you're both still breathing after that?" Lisette asked.

"More that it was attended by eight gods," Jake told her. "And they all made a full appearance. Even signed the wedding papers as witnesses."

"Whoa," she murmured, clearly impressed. "You must be pretty important to somebody," she chuckled.

"A lot of somebodies," Rock smiled, nuzzling Jake's neck lightly.

"It happens when you're a champion for a couple popular gods," Jake chuckled, trying to make it sound less impressive than it had been.

"It was still impressive," Max chuckled. "Mmm ... so, what got you interested in coming over to see my work?" He asked them. "You mentioned that Tommy had brought my name up to you, but that's not usually enough to get folks in here without running and screaming."

"He did give us a fairly good idea of the subject matter," Jake chuckled. "After the wedding, he had a fairly good idea we might find your kink appealing."

"And do you?" Max asked them with a grin.

"Some of it is definitely erotic," Jake nodded, his eyes going to the image of an Alsatian with a hard on even as he sank forward in his bindings, his eyes glazing over. "Brings back some intense memories."

"That's a good chunk of what I like to do," Max purred. "For some people, at any rate. Would you like to see the piece I'd been working on when you got here?" He asked them enthusiastically.

"Yes," he nodded. "I'd love to watch you work too, if you don't mind. I've been called an artist with machines, but I don't create anything like this."

"Would you like to see me with a new piece some time, or while I work on finishing up this one?" Max asked with a grin as Lisette shook her head and stood, leaning down to kiss his head lightly.

"You've created a monster, you know," she chuckled indulgently.

"Just encouraged one," Jake countered with a wink for her. "Seeing you work on this one is good."

"Then let's go," Max purred, standing to lead the way back to the workroom. "Lise, go ahead and get back in position ... you need some help with the gauze?" He asked her easily.

Janet took a deep breath to calm her nerves as the guard at the parking garage entrance checked her ID against the expected arrivals and told her were to park and where the elevator was from there.

She thanked him and forced the butterflies down after she parked before climbing out and smoothing out her dress. The smooth metallic black fabric clung to her curves, silver trim emphasizing the low-cut neckline and the curves of her hips. It was the sexiest thing in the closet, and while it was more classy than outright sexy, it was likely to appeal to Ulysses' tastes fairly well.

She walked to the elevator and typed in the code he had given her to open it, half surprised to realize it only had three buttons: the garage, lobby and penthouse. She pressed the penthouse button and forced the butterflies in her stomach again on the ride up.

"You're not a lovesick kitten, Janet," she scolded herself under her breath before she knocked. "Get a grip."

It was several heart-pounding moments before he opened the door, wearing a welcoming smile and fine dark suit.

"Welcome, Janet," he bowed slightly to her and stepped back to let her inside the spacious apartment. "You look stunning," he said in honest admiration of her.

"Thank you," she smiled, stepping inside and looking him over. "You're very handsome tonight," she purred, turning her attention to the apartment as he closed the door behind her. It was finely decorated and appointed, the military and historical interest was unmistakable, but it was also done with an eye towards comfort that seemed almost incongruous with what she knew about the massive tom who lived here. "Dinner smells wonderful."

"I'm sure the Chef will be pleased to hear that," he smiled and guided her to the dinning room table. "He is very good at his craft."

"The Chef?" Janet asked, looking at him with a blink as she let him lead her through the house. "I didn't know you had one," she murmured.

"Only tonight," he chuckled and pulled the chair out for her. "A fine meal with no concerns for making it," he smiled and sat down himself. "I may not indulge often, but I do enjoy doing it right when I do."

"Well, given what I know of your usual company, I really shouldn't be surprised," she smiled, looking at some of the Tusandrin decorating touches. "Gifts from Shier Khan?" She asked him.

"Many," he nodded with a fond smile at the memories they brought up as his eyes found each one. "I appreciated their art even before I met him. Have you ever been there?"

"No, I haven't," she said easily. "Though I've thought about it, from time to time. Never really had the time before," she admitted with a smile. "I know you have been... sometimes even not on business," she chuckled. "What's it like?"

"Warm, humid and as exotic as you probably think it is," he chuckled slightly. "Admittedly, I've seen mostly the best it has to offer, but it is a truly unique mix of sensual and celibate."

"It sounds fascinating," she smiled. "Maybe one of these days I'll get the chance to go... if I do, I'll have to ask you where to steer clear of to avoid the tourist traps," she winked.

"If you would like," he smiled. "Perhaps it will be a guided tour."

"I think I'd like that," she purred, looking over as a sleek female tabby brought out a tray with two steaming bowls of herb-laced tomato soup and served them.

"Any excuse to spend some time with me?" Ulysses raised a playful eyebrow at her.

"Mmm ... you could look at it that way," she winked. "But really, it would be nice to go some time, and I can't think of anybody I know who'd know the country better."

"Now you are just trying to flatter me," he teased her. "We will see when we can manage time off at the same time. How did you manage to get Halikar to let you be reborn?"

"I convinced him that I'd be more trouble dead than alive," she chuckled. "The first part was arguing that I had a reason to go back, beyond 'I don't want to be dead.' There was so much left that I had to do ... not just related to you, but related to trying to make the city safer. After all, at the time, the Manges and the other crime lords had a lot more influence than they do now ... the Omegas have actually done a lot to cut back on that," she mused. "Caused other problems to make up for them, but at least the likes of Kythar aren't running the show."

"True, though the overall death toll is higher and more indiscriminant," he reminded her. "Kythar, Mange and their kind took out more criminals than innocents."

"I know," she nodded. "It's just the small consolation I try to find. At any rate... that was one of the things that I used for my arguments. Basically, if I'd been stuck as a ghost, I would have been more trouble for them - and for the crime lords - than if they sent me back... I'd probably have broken more rules that way too. Of course, after that, I had to fight with Halikar to prove I had the will to back it up, though he didn't let me in on it at the time."

"You won against a god?" he raised an eyebrow nearly up to his cru-cut hairline.

"Not really," she admitted. "I just refused to give up, even when he had me pinned. Too stubborn to be allowed to run loose without a leash of some kind."

"That leash being a body," he nodded in partial understanding.

"Right," she nodded. "After that, I was reborn ... to a couple of my relatives, if you can believe it," she chuckled. "It was interesting, especially early on ... imagine having a mind in your mid-forties, and being stuck in a toddler's body."

The wince she got for that description was well worth it.

"I imagine it wasn't much more fun through your mid-teens."

"School certainly wasn't, but at least I was able to get through it more quickly, and I had a bit more freedom," she said easily. "You probably already know I set all sorts of speed records getting back into the Enforcers," she chuckled.

"Yes, your biggest holdup seemed to the age requirement, though you spent the time collecting related degrees, so it wasn't wasted," he nodded. "You also made more than a few speed records making detective, then abruptly slowed down. It does make sense in context of your full life at least. Won't Halikar be annoyed that you left the Enforcers?"

"If he is, I'm sure the clergy will let me know ... but they knew that you were part of why I wanted to come back at the first, and this is the best way to go about it. Besides, it's not like I'm completely retiring."

"True," he nodded and sipped a sweet white wine. "What are your dreams now?"

"Mmm ... short term or long?" She mused as she sipped her own wine and had some of the soup. "You might be a little surprised by some of them," she chuckled.

"Both," he gave her an encouraging smile. "Start with the short term."

"Mmm ... shorter term, I'd like to get us off to a good start," she smiled. "Get used to working for somebody other than the Enforcers... but longer term, I'd like to close a few of our old cases, if I can find the information. You remember the Stoughton Green case?"

"Of course," he nodded, his ears twitching in annoyance. "It's the most expensive theft in modern history where we haven't found the take. The reward on it would be a hansom living for some time."

"That, and a good donation to the Johansen's ... the family deserved a little more than they got, I've always thought," Janet said, finishing her soup.

"Agreed," Ulysses nodded slightly. "Though there is little that can make up for the loss of a loved one."

"I know," she nodded. "And I wouldn't try to do that. But I know it can't have been easy to keep going after that, and he is part of the reason we caught them so quickly. Just not quickly enough to find the loot, yet."

"Yes," he stroked his chin, regarding her levelly. "Do you have plans for how to go about it?"

"Actually, several," she chuckled. "The latest one comes courtesy of Manx's latest round of budget cuts. I understand that Samian is up for parole shortly, for good behavior and to 'reduce congestion.' If he gets it, I just have to trail him to the goods. Even if he doesn't try to double-cross his accomplices, I'm sure he'll want to check on it."

"I'm sure," Ulysses agreed, thinking it over. "Though be careful. You won't be the only one following him."

"I know," she nodded, though a sly smile crossed her face. "I can generally do a pretty good job of taking care of myself, especially these days. I've focused a lot more on combat training, since that last case."

"The world is a much more dangerous place now too," he reached over to cover her hand. "These guys may not be all that vicious, but some of the folks who are expected to be trailing them are. You may be a better fighter, but you aren't anywhere near the top of the class."

"I know, Uly," she said, putting her other hand over his. "But trust me, I still know how to take care of myself. I've got a few tricks up my sleeve that aren't in the books, either ... something of a holdover from dying the first time, you might say."

"Something you can talk about?" he asked, now curious enough to forget the nearly finished soup in front of him.

"Something I'm not supposed to," she said apologetically. "I could, but they'd prefer that I not."

"I understand," he nodded in acceptance and returned some attention to finishing the soup course and controlling the arousal touching her had created. "So how have your tastes in bed changed?"

"Thank you for understanding," she smiled as she finished her own soup. "Mmm ... the main change is that I really can't enjoy S&M the way I sometimes used to," she admitted. "Reminds me too much of what Kythar's goons did to me ... us."

"That almost makes it easier," he said. "It is not something I have ever understood the enjoyment in receiving."

"That's a good thing then," she smiled, curling her tail under the table to brush his leg lightly. "I still enjoy a little kink, but for the most part it's just good to be with somebody who cares about more than just their own pleasure."

"That is something I have always enjoyed," he purred under a low chuckle. "Even when it was just for show."

"Mmm ... my favorite part of that last mission, you know," she winked playfully, purring herself. "Even if we hadn't been caught out."

"Yes," his eyes closed slightly as memories made much more intense for the feelings that had developed later. He held his words as their dishes were removed and the main course of citrus roasted wildfowl was served. "I have learned a great deal since then."

"Maybe you'd like to show me... later?" She asked him.

He was sure he hadn't imagined the hopeful tone in her playful voice, and he knew the answer showed on his face before he nodded with a low rumble.

"I would like that," he said with arousal evident in his voice. "Are there any particular fantasies you have?"

"Mmm ... a couple," she said with a teasing grin. "Just being with you again is going to be a big start. I've occasionally thought about what it'd be like, being with you and Shier Khan both."

"We'll see what he thinks of the idea the next time he is in town," Ulysses grinned at her, his pants now tight with arousal. "I think he would enjoy it as much as we would."

"I'll bet he would," she purred as Ulysses noticed her own scent, strongly aroused. "Mmm ... you're not really into S&M, but how do you like bondage, when you're the top?"

"When it's enjoyed, a great deal," he admitted without shame. "There is little I enjoy more than having a strong female willing bound and helpless for me."

"Am I strong enough for you?" She asked with a raised eyebrow and a broad grin.

"Always," his voice was much softer than she expected, and the intensity in his yellow eyes had much less to do with their physical arousal than she had anticipated.

Father had been right. He really was in love with her. He might even let her mount him out of nothing more than a desire to please her.

That would be the sort of pleasure she'd want to make very sure she handled properly though... preferably captured for posterity. Another night.

"We really should wait until after dinner before we go play," she pointed out. "Unless you'd like a little preview, maybe?" She offered with a playful twinkle in her eye.

"What do you have in mind?" he asked, the conflict between desire and appropriateness easily read on his face.

"Mmm ... if you're up for it, maybe see if I can get a little appetizer before the next course arrives?" She suggested with a low purr, leaning forward to emphasize her cleavage.

"I am quite up for it," he chuckled deeply as he reached across the table to stroke the exposed fur before he leaned back in his chair and spread his legs for her, offering without demanding any particular favor.

Janet grinned, slipping out of her own chair and beneath the table, sliding over between his legs. She unzipped his pants, releasing his massive shaft with an eager purr. She lapped at his tip lightly, undoing her dress enough to release her breasts.

"Warn me before the chef shows up again," she grinned up at him, pressing her breasts around his cock and taking the tip of it into her mouth, moaning softly as she savored the heady flavor she'd missed for so long.

"I will," he promised, not about to mention that the reason the timing was perfect was because of a camera feed to the kitchen. "You like that," he groaned, rubbing her ears as he relaxed into the enjoyment of the attention he never thought he'd have.

"I love it," she purred, rubbing her breasts along his throbbing, massive cock, lapping at his tip, occasionally nuzzling the rubbery barbs with her furry cheek. She put all her skill to use, her familiarity with the best ways to pleasure a tom much bigger than she was ... she'd been trained to do that since just after her first heat.

This one's desires worked to her advantage too. He didn't want to hold back or test her skill. He was only interested in enjoying her attentions.

He moved his hands from her ears and lowered them to squeeze and rub her breasts around his cock, playing attention to rubbing her nipples as she moved up and down his hard shaft.

She moaned deeply around his tip, taking her hands off her own breasts and letting him keep them pressed around his shaft. She fondled his balls, feeling the massive, heavy orbs in her hands and shivering as she thought of what it would be like to bed him.

But first, she had to finish this, and dinner ... the movie might end up interrupted.

The tempo of his breathing changed, quicker, shallower, as his body offered up the first taste of his seed. A deep growl vibrated them as he held back the roar he wanted to let loose.

Janet purred hotly, swallowing the thick ropes of seed he let offered up, savoring his juices before she licked him clean and worked his cock back into his pants, licking her lips greedily as she got back up into her seat and refastened her dress, giving him a good look at what it hid.

"I think it's good that I'm not expected in the office tomorrow," he rumbled deeply, hid body still flush and tingling from the fast, hard orgasm that had crashed through him. "You're very good at that."

"Mmm ... what can I say? I have had some practice," she winked playfully. "I have a few other tricks best saved for later," she purred.

"I suspect we will both enjoy it when you do show me," he rumbled deeply, though he made the effort to enjoy the fine meal instead of rushing through it. "You are much more playful already."

"I'd always thought that I'd have time for that sort of thing later on in life," Janet shrugged slightly. "This is my second time around ... I don't really want to leave as much undone or unsaid this time."

"I can understand that," he acknowledged truthfully as the chef appeared on the cue of empty plates with a dessert of fine cheesecake with chocolate and strawberry sauce. "We do not get many second chances in life, much less at life itself."

"No, we don't ... and I plan to make the most of it," she purred as they both started the delicious dessert. "I'm surprised you remembered," she chuckled.

"It was my job at the time," he reminded her with a slight smile. "When you can have anyone you wants, I had better know what pleases you. Since then, sometimes the strangest bits stick in your head."

"Mmm ... while it's what kept you your undercover position, the general advice is still good," she chuckled. "Anything else you remember about my tastes?"

"The rest of the meal were favorites, you liked to be on top, you had a taste for getting someone really wound up and then making them just watch as I satisfied you," he said as he thought about it. "You enjoyed shopping and clothing on a level I still don't understand."

"Batting a thousand so far... though that last one is probably any fem you'd look for," she winked playfully. "Don't worry though... I liked to be on top, but I like it both ways, and I'm not really up for pushing anything you're not comfortable with."

"Thank you," he inclined his head, the memories still sharp of when she had pushed him to his knees and taken him with a strap-on before an audience. Just as clear in the memory was the whispered apology she gave. It hadn't made much difference though when he had met Shier Kahn and wanted to let another mount him. It still wasn't easy most the time.

"I'm missing something here, Uly," she cocked her head slightly.

"That wasn't my first time, even if it was a lot kinder than my first time," he tried to gloss it over while still giving her enough to appreciate why he'd been so badly rattled by it.

"I'm so sorry, Uly," she murmured, her expression softening. "I didn't know."

"No one did," he shrugged, though he managed a small smile of thanks. "It wasn't even in my Ghost file before Doug Berten came back as BKK. It's hardly the worst thing I've been through for a mission."

"Mmm ... well, maybe some time we can try again with a better situation," she smiled slightly. "Where you can have me stop if it's too much."

"And without an audience," he nodded and sipped the last of his wine. "It's not bad when care is taken, even if I doubt it will ever be a favorite."

"It's better without the audience," she agreed, finishing her own meal. "Or at least when the audience is more sympathetic. But for tonight, I'll be all yours," she grinned, setting her empty wine glass down.

"Mmm, what kind of movie appeals to you tonight?" he asked, standing and offering her a hand.

"Mmm ... something we can cheerfully start to ignore when we decide to," she purred, taking his hand and standing up. "Maybe that'll help get us in the mood to ignore it?" She winked.

"Can you ignore explosions and dialog, or something that would just blend into our noise?" he asked with a low rumble, his hand sliding down to cup her firm ass.

"Oh, I can ignore them easily enough," she grinned. "I don't suppose you might happen to have a copy of that movie we went out to, first night on that mission? I seem to remember it was enough that Kythar's thug had a hard time keeping his mind on business."

"Oh yes," he rumbled with a heady purr at the memories as he showed her to his bedroom and the grand Xanith king-sized bed dressed in fine sea blue silk, burgundy satin and royal purple velvet. "We had quite a night once we got back to the apartment as I recall."

"Oh my," she purred, looking around the room. "Very impressive ... though I don't see anything to watch a movie on," she pointed out teasingly.

"You will," he kissed her soundly as he came around her, his fingers lingering on her hip as he walked to the head of the bed and picked up a remote from a concealed pocket in the headboard.

One press of a button and a large section of the wall facing the foot of the bed slid down to reveal a wide screen plasma TV with a menu on it.

"Ooh, very nice," she chuckled, taking in the combination of old school luxurious comfort and modern technology. "Mmm ... so, we see how long we can stay dressed through the movie, or don't want to bother with it?"

"Thank you," he stepped close to her and claimed a hungry kiss that went a long way to making her melt in the face of his raw desire and energy. "Tell me what you want tonight," he breathed a sultry demand. "Tell me what makes your blood boil and your body ache with need."

"I want you," she murmured softly, pressing herself against him shamelessly. "Want to give myself to you, tonight ... no missions, no acts, just us ... and maybe some rope," she grinned.

"Then dance with me," he said in a hushed tone, pulling her close as soft, slow music filled the room.

She smiled, starting to move along with him to the sound of the music.

"One of the strangest dance floors I've ever been on, but I like it," she smiled up at him. She opened her mouth when he claimed a kiss, and moaned into it when she felt his hand work under her dress to squeeze her ass.

"Before we get to the bed, I'm going to make you see stars," he growled against her neck in a lusty promise. His fingers pressed forward between her legs, brushing the tight furless pucker of her ass to stroke the back of her pussy's lips.

"Mmm ... promises, promises," she grinned, pressing into the next kiss, raising her tail as well as her dress would allow. It was teasing the way he touched her, until he hooked a claw into the crotch of her underwear and tore them loose.

She was up against the wall, her dress pushed up and his hard cock pressing against her sex in the next heartbeat.

"Oh Uly," she moaned. "Inside me, please!" She finished before kissing him hungrily.

His claws dug into her rump as he lifted her up, showing off his strength before thrusting deep into her body, spreading her wide and rubbing her inner walls all the way to the entrance to her wombs.

"Fuck you're huge," she gasped, wrapping her arms around him as much as she could. The last time they'd been together he'd been just as tall, but much less muscular, still in his adolescence. Now, he had the better part of forty years more experience, skill, and bulk that made this all the more incredible.

A deep rumble of appreciation greeted the gasp as he began to thrust, slow, deep and controlled, his arms taking most of her weight as they mated.

She squeezed down around him as he pounded into her depths, clinging to him, working the walls of her sex around his throbbing, barbed shaft. She worked her fingers into his fur, hanging on desperately for the ride.

The pleasure built slowly to an inevitable peak she had no desire to resist. With a scream she threw her head back, her entire body tightening around the hard length thrusting inside her.

He bit down on her shoulder, just enough to hold her so she felt his teeth and the power of his jaws, and continued to thrust until her whimpers became desperate on the brink of a third orgasm that sapped her strength.

She cried out as he pushed her over the edge, her body clenching down around him as she fought to try and make him spill his seed into her hungry, spent body.

"In my time, beautiful," he chuckled, walking to the bed and putting her down on it as he pulled out. "I will fill you to your limit before dawn," he promised as he crawled over her and claimed her mouth before plunging into her slick body again.

This time there was no holding back. He let loose with his full strength as he pounded into her with gravity aiding him this time.

He knocked the wind out of her, hammering himself into her body as she spread her legs and tried to wrap them around his powerful sides. Her claws raked his arms where she could reach him, catching in his sleeves before raising small welts beneath his fur before he roared and pumped a load of seed deep into her body with a series of powerful thrusts.

"Have any strength left?" he grinned down at her.

"Ooh... no," she grinned back up at him. "I'm completely at your mercy," she purred unashamedly.

Chance caught himself glancing back at the empty seats of the mini-van and chuckled, shaking his head as he parked outside Houlihan's as the sun went down.

"Hard to remember they're not with us tonight," he smiled as he leaned across to give Midnight a kiss on the cheek. "Glad Lyth was willing to come over and help Tamera out."

She smiled and turned into the kiss. "I'm just glad her first interest in toms is such a good choice. A priest is usually as good a teacher as they come."

"Yeah, and he got used to being stalked on dates pretty quickly," Chance chuckled. "Let's just hope they don't start the lessons too soon. Come on, we've got reservations to show up for," he smiled, climbing out of the mini-van and walking around to help his slightly pregnant wife back out.

"She's years older than either of us were," she pointed out with a teasing smile and smoothed her emerald green satin dress out. While it was a more mature cut, it bore a distinct resemblance to the first thing he had seen her wear ten years before. "Much older and I'll start to worry about her health."

"Remember, love, she's had some bad experiences that way ... close to them, at any rate," Chance said, rubbing Midnight's back lightly as they walked into the restaurant. "Besides, I'm pretty sure she's thinking about it, just not following through."

"Good,"' she smiled and leaned into him as they were guided to their table and seated. "I'd hate to see her have a hard time because of what happened."

"You and me both," he nodded. "But between the usual nerves and taking care of the kits for us, I'm not too surprised," he smiled.

"True enough," she mused while browsing the non-alcoholic drink selection. "Perhaps we should make sure she has a little more time with Lyth that's duty free."

"Maybe talk it over with Lyth some time," Chance chuckled. "See when he can get some time. He's a good kid," he mused, quickly spotting his own drink choice and waiting for Midnight to find hers. He knew what she had when she wasn't carrying, but when she was she was always experimented with new flavors.

Their waiter appeared just as she set the drink menu down.

"May I get your drinks?" he asked politely.

"I'd like a virgin sherry flip," Midnight said, handing her menu over.

"And I'll take a Bloody Mary, hot," Chance said, giving his to the waiter. "Could we get a plate of stuffed mushrooms to go along with those?"

"Of course, sir," the waiter bowed to them. "I will return shortly."

"Thank you," Chance nodded. "So, how have you been doing lately?" He asked, turning back towards Midnight. "Been so busy with work and Jake lately, I feel a bit like I've been neglecting you," he admitted with a bit of a blush.

"You couldn't have been neglecting me much," she smiled sultrily and rubbed her still-flat belly. "Five cycles and this time it worked. You know how much I love having kittens."

"You know, when the kits start growing up, they're going to have to open a Raven wing in the maternity ward," he teased lightly.

"As if there isn't already a Furlong one," she giggled and reached across the small table to take his hand. "I have hoped for more by now, but it's still wonderful to have as many as we do."

"And more on the way," he purred, kissing her hand lightly. "I'm kinda glad Jake's helping out a bit," he admitted. "Things'd be tight without him."

"Your Ghost paycheck helps out a lot too," she smiled. "But it's true," she lowered her eyes a bit in a silent thanks to her oldest friend. "He always promised he'd help with my dreams. I never quite imagined it would be like this."

"You know ... if you wanted to try for a litter with him, some time, I'd understand," Chance offered.

She blinked, then smiled shyly. "I'm not sure he's up for it yet, but it would be nice when he is."

"Well, you'll just have to settle for me until then, then," Chance winked at her. "I like to think I usually keep up though."

"Oh, you definitely do," Midnight smiled indulgently for her mate's ego. "Even on your bad days you keep up nicely."

"Mmm ... so, anything in particular the kittens have been up to?" Chance asked her as their appetizer and drinks came out.

"Lets see, Heather has finally grasped the concept that she can't bully her way through everyone. It doesn't stop her from trying, but she seems to get the point after a couple punches from somebody bigger."

"She's finally stopped biting?" he couldn't help but snicker.

"Mostly," Midnight rolled her eyes. "That girl's got a major dominant streak. Keep your cousin away from her for a couple decades, please," she really did beg.

"I will, as much as I can," Chance chuckled. "He'll know better than to encourage her that way, not this young," he promised. "Being Jake's mate though, not going to be able to keep them apart all the time."

"It's all I can hope for," she smiled her thanks. "I just worry, with Jake already looking at her as a student. I shouldn't, but I hope none of them go that way."

"Which way?" Chance asked her with a sip of his drink. "Couple different ways I can think of," he admitted.

"The bloody, painful part," she said softly. "Pat's already talking about flying and Enforcers," she added with much more of a smile. "She may look like me, but her soul takes after you."

"Yeah, I can understand that ... the good news is, Jake and Rock are both going to be good about laying off that end of things, I'm sure. Though if any of them do get kinky like that ... well, I can't think of many people I'd trust to teach them more," he admitted.

"I know, but I can still hope it won't happen," Midnight murmured before taking one of the stuffed mushrooms and eating half of it. "On to better subjects, all five are talking, and you know how well they walk," she giggled with a wink for all the times one of the kittens had interrupted their fooling around.

"Oh yeah, I know," he chuckled. "Mmm ... fortunately, they're not tall enough to reach the doorknob yet, but we really ought to start thinking about locks ... for us, and Tamera, probably," he mused.

"Love, if they are anything like either of us, a lock would keep them out for maybe a week," she giggled, trying hard not to laugh too hard for where they were. "And if I do have any by Jake, we'll be lucky for it to last an hour."

"And what would you suggest for alternatives, until they learn to respect closed doors?" Chance chuckled, munching down on one of the mushrooms. "Not too many other options, you know, and I don't think you want to take a vow of celibacy until they grow up."

"Not at all," she smiled seductively. "I don't think either of us would hold out. I was thinking along the lines of a bar lock on the inside. Something they can't pick."

"That could work ... easier to install too," he chuckled. "We'll have to work something out ... for tonight though, not an issue," he winked.

"Mmm, quite true," Midnight purred back, her long, fluffy tail drifting between them under the table. "I must admit, I am looking forward to being pampered for the evening with no kittens."

"And I intend to do just that for you," he purred, curling his tail along hers affectionately. "More like when we were dating again," he winked as the waiter came out to get their dinner order.

"I'll have the parmesan crusted chicken breast with sea-salt crusted potatoes and broccoli," Midnight told him.

"And I'll take the T-bone steak with baked potato and sour cream," Chance decided. The waiter nodded and headed off to deliver their orders, leaving them alone again.

"My real surprise is how much of a caretaker Carmin has become," she smiled fondly for their first-born son. "Much to his sibling's annoyance when it involves bathing them."

"Has he at least stopped tongue bathing them?" Chance asked, snickering.

"Only Heather," Midnight shook her head. "He can still pin everyone else."

"He'll learn that there are other ways to make sure they get clean soon enough," Chance chuckled, shaking his head as well. "Guess he takes after his mother," he teased.

"I don't find that a bad thing," she said. "The world could use more care giving males."

"Hey, we try," Chance chuckled. "I do, anyways."

"You're a great caregiver," she leaned over and kissed him lightly. "Marrat can already read magic, and Sceline is very pleased with his progress. He'll be a powerful wizard in a few decades."

"The fact she can read at all at his age is pretty astounding ... going to be strange, having somebody with that sort of talent in the family, especially trying to raise him. I hope Sceline is taking our concerns about his self-control growing up seriously?" He asked her hopefully.

"She is," Midnight assured him. "Marrat isn't her first gifted student, and she's very careful that he knows who mom and dad are. Nothing's perfect, but I trust her."

"I know," Chance nodded. "You wouldn't have let her start training Marrat if you didn't. She's got good references with the Enforcers too. I just don't want to have one of my kits blowing up buildings," he chuckled, trying to make it more of a joke than it was.

"I know, love," she squeezed his hand as they paused for their meals to be served. "If she blows anything up, I'm sure it will be in defense. I'd be much more worried if it was Heather with the gift. Marrat just isn't that aggressive unless it comes to learning."

"How's Keeu taking her brother getting so much attention?"

"Fairly well," Midnight smiled slightly. "As long as she has a steady supply of audio stories and picture books, she's happy. Especially if she can sit in Jake's lap while they play."

"Mmm ... now she's the one you're going to have to worry about with Jake," he chuckled. "He likes her too ... won't be surprised if she ends up in design work somewhere."

"She seems to have the intelligence for it, though anything can happen in the next decade or two," she mused while she savored the perfectly cooked and seasoned meal. "She just doesn't share the temperament Jake did at that age that worried me. None of them do, really, but kittens are so impressionable."

"None of them have the issues that Jake did either... and they're not going to," Chance said confidently. "We won't raise them the way his mother did him, and the shortage of deities and spirits showing up should help with some of the rest."

"Especially about his mother," her tail flicked in irritation. "That is one mess I am not repeating. I may make mistakes, but not the ones I know about."

"I know, honey," he squeezed her hand, stroking her palm until she settled down. "So, any word on Rock and Jake's new business venture?" he asked for a different topic. "I know they've been talking to you about it more than me."

"I have time to play researcher," she smiled and relaxed. "The permits are in place and he's already recruited his first two workers. It won't go into full operation for a few months yet, but it's going well."

"That's good," Chance smiled. "I don't know if I'm sure about the idea, but it's better than a lot I've heard of, and I know Rock's heart's in the right place."

"You know the kits he takes in will be treated better than anyone else would," she turned her attention to her meal. "Better Rock's brothel than the street, or much of anywhere else, really. You know he's not going to pressure them into doing more than they're ready for too."

"No, he'll find exactly what they're up for and put them there, figure out when to push to try their limits just right ... he's good at that," Chance mused over the strange twists and turns the four of their lives had taken. It was amazing when he thought about just how many ways their paths had crossed, parted and reunited over the years.

It inevitably brought his mind to the links and strange twists that connected him and Ulysses Feral from their youth to goals to what eventually drew them both to their current places in life.

Their meal was nearly finished when he realized that he'd been silent for a long time.

"Sorry," he murmured sheepishly.

"It's okay," Midnight smiled indulgently at him. "What were you thinking of?"

"Oh, just some of the stuff that's happened," he said with a slight shrug. "My life's gotten a bit more mixed up with some people I'd never really thought it would ... not that I'm complaining about my present company," he winked.

"That's good," she smiled with a low purr. "Sugar for desert, or me?"

"Mmm ... how about you, after we get to the hotel," he purred heatedly, leaning across the table to give her a kiss.

"Then lets settle the bill and go for desert," Midnight said as she stood.

"It's already settled," he smiled and stood, wrapping an arm around her and affectionately kissing her cheek. "I can plan a perfect mission when it's important to me."

"You deal with this every night?" Lyth asked Tamera with a mixture of exasperation, incredulousness and awe as he spotted Heather sneak out of the kitten's bedroom while they were trying to hunt down Marrat.

"With Midnight and usually Chance," she nodded as he turned to grab Heather's muscular fifty pound frame and haul her back to her bed. "Lock the door this time, Lyth. She may get up, but she can't get out so fast then."

"We ought to have Marrat rounded up by then," he nodded, hauling Heather into bed and hurrying out, locking the door behind him. "Remind me to ask my teachers about something to keep kittens in bed before I come over next," he murmured. "A few more months and she can probably out-muscle me."

"She does have the Furlong build," Tamera giggled. "Fortunately, so do I. Marrat's probably in the library."

"Probably ... you want to go after Keeu, I'll look for him, or see if they stuck together?" He asked her, taking a moment to see if he could sense the kitten's magical talent.

"They probably stuck together," she smiled at him. "Birds of a feather in that litter."

"Let's get 'em, then," he chuckled, starting towards the small library on the main floor of the two-story condo. "I don't know how you stay sane, especially knowing you've got more brothers and sisters on the way!"

"If Midnight had her way, she'd be pregnant when she's not breastfeeding," Tamera smiled at the half-understanding she had of that desire after many conversations with her adoptive mother. "I'd bet there will be at least a dozen before I'm in collage."

"Heck, if they take that long, it'll be really small litters," he chuckled. "So, we want to try dragging them out, or give them something more interesting to chase after?"

"What do you have in mind to lure them out?" she looked at him, more than willing to listen to new ideas.

"I seem to remember that most kits find flying lights or butterflies fascinating enough to follow them out so their parents can catch them?" He offered with a bit of a grin, enjoying the chance to show off a little.

"Oh yeah, that sounds good," she grinned widely. "The big kittens here like it too," she added with a bit of a shy giggle.

"Mmm ... after we get the kittens out, maybe," he chuckled, pausing outside the room and quietly speaking the words to the minor spell, creating the illusion of glowing, fluttering butterflies, trying to get their attention and lead them out of the room.

"Bu'flies!" Keeu's little voice cried out excitedly from inside.

"Magic," Marrat added, following his sister out, both of them stumbling in their excitement over the new thing fluttering inside their house.

Lyth led them out, the illusions fluttering up and settling on their noses as they came to a stop in front of the two older kits.

"Come on, time for bed," he smiled down at them, reaching down to pick up Marrat.

"I want to study!" Marrat objected with a bit of a whining pout. "Not sleepy."

"Shh - your Mom and Dad say it's bedtime," Lyth pointed out. "If you behave tonight, tomorrow I'll bring over something from the Temple for you to study for a while," he promised.

The little black tom with thick chocolate stripes thought about the offer, then nodded his agreement. "I will rest."

"Can I have my book in bed?" Keeu looked up with bright blue eyes that stood out strongly from her black fur and long auburn hair.

"As long as you stay in your bed," Tamera said. "Come on, it's time to rest," she scooped Keeu's small body up to carry her to the kitten's bedroom.

"Remind me to bring one of my old primers along tomorrow," Lyth told Tamera as they walked to the bedroom and he reached down to open the door.

The large tabby form that bolted out slammed right into Tamera's waiting arms.

"Oh no you don't, Heather," she laughed.

"Hmph," the largest of the kittens pouted.

"Sorry about that," Lyth said apologetically, carrying Marrat in. "I'll give them all something to keep them quiet when we head out this time."

"Sounds good to me," Tamera giggled as they got all five kittens into bed at the same time. "And a miracle."

"Well, I am training to be a priest," he winked, working one of the spells he'd been taught, soft music and gently fluttering illusionary butterflies and birds filling the room to amuse the kittens until they fell asleep. He closed the door and joined Tamera back in the living room.

"I think I'm going to have to talk to somebody about the spells they use when the daycare breaks out," he murmured.

"Especially when the next litter arrives," she nodded and sat next to him on the couch in front of the living room TV and snuggled close.

"Oh yeah," he grinned as she rested her head on his shoulder. "Eight or nine kittens in one house is going to be crazy. What do you want to watch?" he asked, picking up the remote.

"I ..." Tamera swallowed, looking down inadvertently at what had her attention. "Something romantic?" she suggested.

"Let's take a look and see what's on," he agreed easily, turning on the TV and wrapping an arm around her shoulders almost on reflex, not really aware of where her eyes were for the moment as he flipped through the channels before settling on a movie he thought he recognized that would fit the bill.

If he remembered correctly, it was about two teenagers in love despite being from very different backgrounds and parental disapproval. It was several minutes before he realized that she wasn't paying attention to the movie.

"Something on your mind?" He asked her, rubbing her shoulder lightly and looking to see what she was paying attention to. It didn't take him long to follow her gaze, and he smiled slightly. She was certainly old enough to be interested, if he was reading it right.

"Yes," she looked up at him and blushed deeply before ducking her head. "I ... well, Midnight and Chance are noisy at night. I didn't care at first, but recently ... it's made me want to join them."

"I don't think they'd go for that," he chuckled, scritching her shoulders lightly. "So, you're starting to get interested in toms?"

"With dad would be really weird, even if I didn't know him until I was ten," she said hurriedly. "But yeah," she blushed even brighter. "And I like you."

"Yeah, it would be ... he's attractive, but that'd be really weird, for both of you," Lyth chuckled. "And I like you too ... so, are you interested in more than just some snuggling tonight? Your folks aren't going to be home until tomorrow, I don't think."

"They won't be," Tamera purred nervously without moving more than looking up a bit when he didn't laugh or reject the idea outright. "You've fooled around before?" she asked hopefully.

"Yeah, I have," he reassured her, turning towards her a bit and pulling her up onto his lap a bit. "Kinda hard not to, living at the Temple," he chuckled, kissing her cheek lightly.

She shifted to straddle his legs, the move drawing a throaty sound of desire from her throat at entirely unexpected spike of arousal shot through her. She tried to speak, but all she could manage was an unintelligible sound as she lowered her forehead to his shoulder.

He tipped her face up and towards him, looking into her eyes, trying to get a feel for how much control he should take over what was happening.

She leaned forward the rest of the way and touched her lips to his, uncertain of the technicalities but sure of her desires.

"Make ... make me cry out like dad makes Midnight," she moaned against his mouth.

"I'll do my best," he promised, kissing her back more certainly, reaching down to slip his hands under her shirt, working it up and over her head as they made out. When his hands ghosted over her full, firm breasts as gasped into his mouth, quivering for a moment before pressing against him further.

"Good start," she gasped.

"Thank you," he purred, fondling her breasts through her bra. "Can you get your skirt?" He asked her with a grin, kissing her tenderly on the lips.

Tamera nodded and quickly unzipped the side of her skirt so she could slide her legs out of the top and let it drop to the floor, leaving her in her bra and panties. "What about yours?" she asked hungrily and tugged at the bottom of his shirt.

"All right," he grinned, working his shirt off to reveal a lean, handsome chocolate on red tom's body, just a few years older than hers. Even almost fully filled out he wasn't as broad as her still adolescent frame. "So... you like what you see?" He asked her, undoing his belt.

"Yes," she slid her fingers through the thick white fur of his chest and up to the darker fur of his shoulders. "You're so warm," she murmured and pressed her body close to his.

"You are too," he purred back, putting his belt to the side and running his fingers through her fur, finding the hooks to her bra. "May I?"

"Yes," Tamera nodded as she nuzzled his neck, licking between kisses, her fingers running through his rich red fur and chocolate stripes where it wasn't white. As he separated the back of her bra and guided it away from her body, she slid a hand down to tentatively feel his groin through his jeans.

Ooh... why don't we get those out of the way next?" He purred deeply, unbuttoning his jeans before nuzzling Tamera's naked breasts, licking her nipples lightly as he worked his jeans and underwear off.

She moaned, her nipples hardening, and lifted herself up a bit so he could get his clothes and shoes the rest of the way off. He was soon naked, his sheath filling out as he pulled her back down onto the couch, kissing her and licking her lips.

"Mind if I ask you something?" He asked her, rubbing her back, fingering the waistband of her panties.

"No," she murmured, her scent rich in arousal. "I don't mind."

"Am I just convenient, or are you interested in me specifically?" He asked her as he nuzzled her neck. "As more than just friends, I mean. Either way is okay," he added, realizing what it might sound like to somebody who didn't grow up in the Temple.

"A little of both," she said truthfully before kissing him. "I feel safe with you, and, well, folks have teased me for a couple years about my boyfriend in the temple. I kinda like it."

"So do I," he purred, shifting his hands around, stroking her damp sex through her panties. He was almost immediately rewarded by a deep moan as she rocked her hips instinctively against the contact.

"Oh that feels good," she whimpered, more than willing to let him teach her in his own time for now.

"Let me know if I do anything you don't like," he rumbled, slipping his hand into her panties to finger her clit. "I'm learning it's a bit different for everybody."

"Will," she promised, her hands roaming his back as she let her body do what it wanted. It all seemed so much better than when she touched herself. "Gods it's good."

He slipped her panties down around her knees, kissing her tenderly, pressing his tongue into her mouth as he fingered her sex, stroking and rubbing her, trying to find the way to give her her first orgasm from something other than her own fingers. As he did, his own cock stiffened, pressing against her thigh.

A low moan escaped his throat when she lifted her leg a bit to actively rub against his thickening erection. It wasn't long before his fingers were slick with her juices and he knew she wasn't really paying attention to anything but getting herself off.

He grinned, leaning down, suckling her hard nipples as he tried to satisfy her. It wasn't long before she mewled, her body tightening as she came, her hips pressing into his hand as he kept fondling her through her orgasm.

"Wow," Tamera panted, her body trembling against his as she slowly came back to Aristal and awareness of the enticing scent of his arousal. "Oh wow."

"I'll take that as an 'I liked it,'" he grinned, nuzzling her breasts before he pulled her up more into his lap.

She leaned up to kiss him as she reached between them to stroke the soft, hot skin of his cock experimentally and smiled at the rumble it drew from him.

"Would you come from this, like your fingers did for me?" she asked a bit more boldly than before.

"Mmm ... keep it up and you'll find out," he purred, kissing her deeply. "Want me to touch you at the same time, or just let you get used to it?"

"Just let me," she murmured, purring into his mouth as she rubbed, stroked and explored his full erection with her fingers, relishing in how different it's hard, dry smoothness felt from the soft slickness of her sex. "It feels good to touch you," she added in a bit of amazement.

"The way you touch me feels good too," he purred, wrapping his arms around her and holding her close as he thrust up lightly into her fingers. Without thinking she closed her hand around him and shivered at the sensation of the shaft and it's rubbery nubs passing across her sensitive pads.

"You like how that feels?" He asked her, reaching down with one hand, rubbing the base of her tail lightly as he kept thrusting, making his thrusts a bit longer now.

"Yes!" she gasped, her attention split between the sparklers of pleasure his touch sent up her spine and spiraling through her body. "You feel so good."

He kissed her deeply, moaning into her mouth as he kept rubbing her, thrusting into her hand. His balls were twitching, his shaft tingling....

"Not gonna take long," he groaned, reminding himself forcibly that he should warn her before he came. He felt her nod and tighten her grip a bit, shifting pleasant stimulation into a spike of pleasure every time a rubbery nub passed by her hand.

He rowled lowly, his shaft twitching in her fingers, spurting streams of his seed out between them as his balls pulled up and emptied themselves into the air to land on her soft golden fur in pearly ribbons.

"You smell really good when you get off," she licked his cheek.

"You do too," he purred, turning to lick her muzzle lightly. "Mmm ... want to try a bit more?"

Tamera nodded, though she was clearly nervous to his eye. "You're ... seem big for me."

"Trust me, I couldn't seriously hurt you if I wanted to," he promised her, rubbing her back as she snuggled close. "But if you want, I can start with a bit of oral instead?"

She thought about it, struggling with a fear she couldn't name, much less explain, and her desire to get beyond it.

"I want to feel you inside me," she cupped his face to look him in his eyes. "I don't want to be afraid."

"And I don't want you to be," he told her. "What can I do to help you feel better?" he asked, reaching down to fondle her crotch.

Tamera's eyes closed briefly, moaning in pleasure as she ran her hands through his fur. "Just make it feel good," she murmured, honestly at a loss to offer anything better.

"I'll do my best," he purred, twisting so he was on top of her, rubbing himself against her slick pussy as she spread her legs, exposing herself fully to him despite her nerves.

"Do it," she moaned in hunger, pressing into his hands as he fondled her breasts.

He slipped down, kissing her deeply as he slid his barbed, throbbing cock up into her sex with a low groan. Despite his desires, the instincts telling him to pull back and thrust again, he only buried himself up to the sheath and stilled, waiting for her.

"Ohhh," Tamera moaned, squeezing down around the intruder into her body, but she didn't want to push it out. Even without understanding how, her body tried to pull him in deeper.

Slowly, he started to thrust, sliding himself out of her, sinking his cock back into her hot, hungry sex. He moaned deeply, savoring the feel of it, of being with a lover who was more than just an acquaintance normally.

With every movement he heard his teachers remind him that the first time was something to be treated with care and focus on their pleasure. It was too easy to scar someone who didn't know differently if it didn't go well.

Tamera's reactions were nearly enough to drown out those cautionary words. For all her previous nerves, she was openly hungry now and fearless.

He still focused on making her feel good ... it wasn't hard. Her first time, she wasn't sure what it was supposed to feel like yet. He shifted the angle of his thrusts, searching for her G-spot or anything else that would make her enjoy this more. He reached between them with one hand, fondling her breasts as they kissed and made love on the couch, purring and moaning into her mouth the entire time.

When he felt her body begin to tighten and pulse he shifted his focus a bit so they would come together, his seed feeding her body at the moment it wanted it most.

They cried out together, his semen pouring into her hungry, pulsing sex as pleasure washed through both of them.

"Mmm ... good?" He asked her with a low, sated purr, both of them starting to relax.

"Oh yeah," she murred, nuzzling him affectionately. "Very good."

"Mmm ... think your folks would kill me if I stayed the rest of the night?" He asked her with a happy rumble, returning the nuzzle and kissing her lightly. "Assuming you want me to stick around, of course."

"I doubt it, and I'd like that," she smiled and stroked the soft fur of his back. "But maybe in bed, instead of on the couch."

"Of course," he chuckled. "I'll call the Temple and let them know while you get ready?" He offered. "Maybe we can... ah... review the lessons," he winked, pulling out of her with a low groan.

"Given what Midnight thinks of you, often and with parental support," she giggled and kissed him as they stood hand in hand. "I think I want a shower now, though. Do a little anatomy lesson while cleaning up."

"Sounds good to me," he grinned, following her out of the living room.

Janet drifted towards consciousness, still sore in wonderful ways. She knew her father had done very well to work her so hard in bed. Even with all the preparation, Ulysses had fucked her near enough to unconsciousness that she truly was helpless to his desires.

It was only after she was mostly awake that she realized the intense arousal in her body had less to do with memories and dreams and more to do with the active vibrator he'd secured inside her sex with a strap between her legs attached to a thin one around her waist.

As she shifted, a moan was torn from her throat as the device inside her changed its direction of rotation. When her leg moved the clit stimulator pressed against her, pulsing warm against her hard, slick clit.

"Mmnn, fuck, that thing's still on?" She moaned softly, vaguely remembering having it pushed into her the night before. She turned, pressing up against Ulysses' warm, massive body, using his leg to work the stimulator against her clit, shivering at the waves of pleasure it sent through her.

As her breath hitched, right on the edge of an orgasm, she felt his arm move, pulling her against him. His mouth claimed hers as her body exploded in a release from hours of slowly building arousal.

"Ooh... even when you're asleep you're incredible," she purred. She shifted a bit, pressing the vibe against her clit up against his morning wood, kissing him back as he started to wake up.

"Flattery will get you a great deal," he chuckled deeply as he began to rub against her and the vibration while his fingers trailed down her body until his fingers slipped between her legs and began to push the dildo into her body, pulsing it's presence as it moved against her slick inner walls. "What are your desires this morning?"

"Mmm ... I want to taste you again," she moaned softly, reaching down to fondle his shaft. "Sixty-nine?" She offered.

"With or without this still in you?" he grinned as he moved the dildo a bit.

"Mmm ... with, for now," she grinned back. "I've got other ideas for afterwards," she purred hotly, spreading her legs for his massive hand.

"Good," Ulysses shifted around to nuzzle her wet sex, his nose moving the dildo around before he ran his tongue along the entire length of her slit.

She moaned deeply, muffling herself with his cock as she stretched her jaw to take his entire tip into her mouth, lapping at it with her tongue. She could taste herself on him, and his seed from who knew how many orgasms buried in her body last night. It was erotic in it's own right, realizing how completely he had used her and just as sure that she'd come hard each time.

She wondered just how many times he'd come inside of her after she'd passed out... the thought of being with him when she was in heat was absolutely mind-blowing. She whimpered around his cock, wrapping her legs around his neck and pushing her sex into his muzzle.

It was half surprising that he didn't object; Dark Kat wouldn't have tolerated such a move. She lowered her head to take him all the way down into her open throat when he nosed the clit stimulator out of the way and began to suckle and lick her clit aggressively.

Damn Kat had a fixation on making her come harder than she ever had before every time they mated.

She started purring, vibrating the muscles of her throat around his cock, fixated on getting him off first this time; she wanted to taste him, and to show that she could be in control when she wanted to ... to herself, if not to him!

A grin crossed her face when he began to thrust into her mouth and groaned against her clit.

His will was strong, but hers was stronger. She was sure of it.

She pulled back, running her tongue up the throbbing length of his urethra before he roared against her sex, pumping thick, hot, bittersweet ropes of come down her throat! She drank it down greedily, her own body tightening around his tongue as she came with him.

At the same moment, right when she knew most would never notice, she reached out with her mind and drew a bit of his life energy to her. It was delicious ... both feeding, and knowing that she was doing it on a tom who was so important to the city, and such a thorn in her Father's side. The temptation to drain him dry was there ... but she knew there was much more damage they could do if she took her time.

"Mmm ... tasty," she grinned, licking him clean. Her lips and muzzle were sticky from where she hadn't been able to swallow everything.

"Very," he agreed, slightly winded and content to relax in the afterglow of their pleasure. "You actually make me want to stay in bed all day," he smiled and turned around to hold her close. "Do you remember the first time we slept together?"

"Mhm," she purred, snuggling up tightly against him. "And I certainly wouldn't complain if we did," she grinned.

"Anytime you want," Ulysses ran his hands down her flanks, enjoying the simple pleasure of touching her supple body, feeling her warmth and softness.

"How about now then?" She purred, rolling up on top of him with a grin. "Up for it?" She rumbled teasingly, flicking her tail against his balls and sheath.

"Yes," he grinned right back up as he relaxed on his back, willingly giving her control.

"Where do you keep your cuffs?" She asked him with a lusty rumble.

"In the nightstand," he nodded towards the top drawer and raised his hands above his head.

"Good," she grinned down at him, shifting with a groan to pull the vibrator out of her sex, rubbing it against his balls lightly. "So ... would you like this inside you?"

She watched as his gut reaction of a vehement denial, something learned young and not challenged until recently, was stopped before he said anything. She waited for him to consider it, her, and what it was going to mean.

"Not today, Janet," he decided, giving in to the old uneasiness.

"All right," she smiled, getting the cuffs and fastening his wrists to the headboard. "I've got other ways I can play with you," she grinned playfully, watching in delight as he shifted to stretch his body out, displaying the powerful musculature he had spent a lifetime developing.

"Such a handsome tom," she purred, nuzzling and licking his collarbone. "Mmm ... I don't suppose you have any cock rings around here?"

"In the closet, third drawer up on the left side." He shivered slightly at the implications of both the question and his answer.

"What other goodies do you have?" She asked him with a grin as she went to retrieve a cock-ring, looking through the small selection of them. None of them were all that extreme to her, though they were athletically stunning pieces of craftsmanship. Much was the same with the small selection of dildos, vibrators, and restraining straps that she was sure were intended for females, not him.

"Very few," he admitted to what she could already see. "I do not submit often."

"I'll consider myself to be among an honored few then," she rumbled hotly, pulling out the one that looked the most interesting. "Maybe some time I'll bring over some of my own toys?" She offered, turning back to him with a grin, walking over to put him into the cock ring.

"If you want, we'll see what we can do with them," he drew a deep breath as the blood was trapped in his cock, making it stand even harder than before. "I want you right now."

"Then you can have me... on my terms," she grinned, exposing her sharp teeth as she rubbed herself against him. "Mmm ... love how your cock feels in my pussy, but I think I want it somewhere else for now." She turned around, raising her tail. "Why don't you work on prepping my ass, lover?"

"Like I didn't last night," he rumbled in amusement before putting his tongue to work on the well-used pucker, taking his own seed more than her there.

"I was a little out of it for a good part of the night," she grinned back at him cheekily, groaning as his tongue worked her ass. "Mmm ... this morning I'll be sure to remember it though."

"I want you to," he purred against her ass, absently wondering how long he'd find her more interesting than work.

She was wondering something similar, but not letting on. While he licked at the stretched pucker of her ass, she reached down, stroking his cock and savoring the feel of his hard, restricted member in her hands.

"You're going to feel so good inside my ass," she rumbled hotly. "I'm going to ride you until you beg me to let you come!"

"Ambitious, aren't you?" he purred deeply, very much looking forward to her choice of games.

"You're just lucky I'm not in the mood for role-playing today," she giggled, turning around on top of him and sliding back so his cock rubbed between her buttocks. "It's something I've picked up a bit of a taste for, but not on the first date," she winked playfully.

"What kind do you like?" he asked around a moan at the sensations around his cock.

"Depends on the mood, and what my partner enjoys," she rumbled, rubbing her tail along his shaft, enjoying teasing him like this. "Mmm ... with you, I could really come up with a couple different ones, depending on who was on top. An interrogation gone seriously off the books, maybe?" She teased him lightly.

"Quite possibly," he rumbled, honestly turned on by the idea going either way. "That could be an interesting diversion."

"Later tonight maybe," she rumbled, kissing him hotly and moving to sink his cock deep into her ass, moaning as she stretched out around his throbbing member.

It was going to be incredible to break this powerful tom, take him down to the point where he submitted without playing at it.

It was a rush just to think about it.

Rock barely glanced up when Jake stood from the couch to accept a delivery. He half-listened to the exchange, and glanced over when it clearly wasn't a normal delivery.

The 'delivery person' were two large gray toms in a Enforcer uniforms, and very deferential to Jake as a they brought in a box that while it didn't seem heavy, was awkwardly large.

"Want some help with that?" Rock asked, getting up to give them what help he could.

"We're good," the Enforcers said before putting the box on the dining room table and heading out. "Thanks, though."

"Welcome," Rock nodded, Jake closing the door behind them. "The Enforcers are delivering bondage frames to round out the budget?" He joked, trying to think of what would fill a box that size.

"No, it's what I brought back from Lothos," Jake shook his head and picked up a knife to open the seals on the box. "The Ghosts just organized and packaged it for me."

"Lothos... that's the trip where you fought that other Champion, wasn't it?" Rock asked, trying to place the name. "What did you bring back from there?"

"Yes, his trophy collection," Jake said quietly as Rock caught a look at what was inside. "The beginning of mine."

"Those... are the hides of the Champions he killed, aren't they?" Rock asked, his stomach twisting a bit as he realized what he was looking at.

"Yes," Jake nodded. "The top one is his," he said as he brought out the half hide of a large Wolf. The top of the head from jaw line up, the neck, back, flanks and tail without the limbs were all carefully prepared to be supple and last a long time.

"Gods," Rock shuddered. "Uhm... where are you planning on keeping them all?"

He really hoped they weren't about to become a major part of the decor.

"Yes, but they can stay in a box somewhere," Jake offered, picking up on his mate's discomfort.

"Well ... somewhere they aren't out in the open all the time would probably be good at least," Rock murmured. "It's ... not exactly something that's easy to explain if company comes over, y'know?" He chuckled slightly, trying to downplay his uneasiness, for his own benefit as much as Jake's. This was not something he had realized was part of living with a champion of Bastet.

"They are for me, but I understand," Jake turned to give Rock a soft kiss. "It's creepy for you, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," Rock admitted, returning the kiss. "It's ... not exactly MegaKat City, y'know?"

"It's a warrior champion thing," Jake nodded. "Leaving enough for a funeral while taking proof of the kill home," he turned to do a quick count of the fifteen hides to see that they were all there and closed the box. "I'll look for their names when you aren't home."

"Thanks," Rock murmured. "Does it ... bother you?"

"No," Jake smiled reassuringly at him with a kiss. "It's still kind of weird that it seems so normal to me. Where's a place that you won't stumble on them?"

"Label the box and I'll know not to open it up," Rock chuckled. "Somewhere to store them ... you have space in the supply room off your workshop?"

"Yes," he nodded. "Help me put it away?"

"Of course," Rock smiled, helping him pick up the box. "I guess Dark Kat's going to be the pinnacle of the collection when all's said and done, huh?"

"Someone's at least," Jake agreed as he found a safe spot out of the way in his storeroom. "I'm not about to complain if someone else gets him first."

"Neither am I," Rock said honestly, helping get the box down and out of the way. "As long as they don't turn out to be nastier than he is, though I'm not sure there are any Champions who are."

Jake shuddered at the prospect. "It's hard to beat a champion of chaos."

"Dark Kat's chaos? I'd have thought more like evil," Rock murmured. "I don't suppose you know any other Champions you could team up with against him, who might have a chance?" He asked hopefully.

"Quite a few," he nodded. "Sheliel's comes to mind as a good combat-ally, but quite a few could be effective allies. I should probably start organizing it," he said with a deep sigh. "Any idea when Eshik and Marka might choose their champion?"

"Soon, I think," Rock murmured. "I get the feeling sometimes that if I'd just ask for the job, they'd give it to me ... but I'm still not sure," he admitted. "Some days I think I should, other days it worries me, especially knowing what I do about Tamorl."

Jake cocked his head and looked up at his mate. "What about him worries you?"

"There's an ... intensity there, that's just not quite right," Rock tried to explain. "When Henry and Jo have talked about him ... they let me get a feel for him, once. He's got a purity of purpose that Eshik and Marka just don't. He's shed more purposes than most gods have gained, and what's left is ... strange."

"He's of the first generation, love," Jake kissed him and drew him into the living room and their couch. "A prime, an elemental ... he's older than Aristal, much less life, but he's a healer these days."

"I know," Rock sighed. "It's just hard to get past the idea that, at the same time, he... and some of his followers... aren't entirely sure that the world couldn't use a few months of prolonged agony and suffering to teach people that they should respect what pleasures they have a bit more. Have you heard what some of his faithful advocate?"

"That the world needs to see another armageddon to cleanse society of it's bad elements? Yeah, I've heard them. I just give them as much credit as the nut-jobs who believe that any form of birth control is an affront to Bastet or that the Blue Moon Killer was a proper champion of Halikar," he shrugged. "There are whackos in every sect."

"I know," Rock nodded. "It's just... they, and he, scare me Jake," he admitted. "At this point, anyways. Maybe I'll be more comfortable with it after some more time."

"I don't suppose it has anything to do with my death-wish?" he asked softly.

"I ... maybe a bit," Rock admitted. "And the fact that I almost helped you carry it out."

"Ah, baby," Jake drew him close and kiss him gently. "You're the one who took the desire to die away. Please don't blame him for my weaknesses."

Rock hugged Jake close, nuzzling his neck.

"I'll do my best," he murmured, pulling Jake close to him on the couch. "Jake... if I do become their Champion, what happens if they don't stay allied with Bastet and Halikar?"

"Are you willing to say tough luck to them?" Jake looked at him seriously.

"To Eshik, Marka, and Tamorl?" He asked, leaning back and thinking about it. "Before, or after I become their Champion?"

"Yes and after," Jake said, all seriousness. "If their alliances change, are you willing to tell them that they're just out of luck because yours aren't."

"I am," Rock said after a moment. "I'm just not sure what the consequences would end up being ... for either of us," he admitted.

"The worst that has ever happened to me is a serious beating for insolence," Jake said with a somewhat playful smile. "Trust me, if they're pissed you'll hurt for it, but if they take you out or drive you away they loose a lot of influence for a dozen generations."

"True... and there was that agreement that Halikar and Bastet brought to the wedding," Rock murmured. "That should help, anyways... I'll talk to Henry and Jo about it see what's involved yet."

"Good," Jake smiled and nuzzled him affectionately. "Because I'm going to be seriously on edge if Max or Karetha gets the position. I really don't like how either one looks at me."

"Especially Karetha," Rock muttered. "She freaks me out, I don't mind telling you. Max ... I suppose it'd depend on what he's been up to before then. He seems to be able to behave well enough, but he could end up getting bad easy, I think."

"As it stands, he can't kill me for good," Jake pointed out. "He could honestly be fun when I'm in the right mood. As a champion he's going to go too far, I'm sure of it. I think he already has, though I couldn't prove it."

"Yeah ... though the fact that that Lisette girl's still in one piece says something," Rock murmured. "Come on ... let's not think about that any more," he said, giving Jake a lingering kiss. "Why don't we go relax a bit instead?" He offered.

"Works for me," Jake smiled before claiming a kiss of his own. "Enjoy our simple lives while they last."

Janet was humming quietly to herself, a day after her 'date' with Ulysses and the incredible day that had followed. She parked her car in front of Furlong's Firearms and Enforcer Surplus, climbing out and heading for the bar-covered door. She had her hand in her pocket, on the receipt for the new sidearm she was about to pick up.

It was going to be a delightful upgrade to the Enforcer one she'd had to turn in the other day. With her signing bonus, and a few other sacrifices she'd spotted around the house, she'd been able to afford to get a nice Tusandrin 75 customized to her specifications... expensive, but it would be worth it.

There were a few other people in the shop; Furlong's was known throughout the city's bounty hunter, P.I. and Enforcer population for its quality supplies and fair prices, and a not-so-quiet policy of not selling to a known criminal.

"Hey, Terrin, how's it going?" She said cheerfully to the gunsmith, a well-built shekat with the Furlong's distinctive build and tabby markings.

"It's good, Janet," she looked up from polishing a new acquisition behind the counter and smiled at the taller gray tabby. "Did you want to do any shopping before picking up your new piece?"

"Depends; you have any particular ammo you recommend, or should I see what you've got on the shelves?" Janet asked her easily.

"Recs depend on what you're expecting to shoot at," Terrin pointed out with a chuckle.

"Point," Janet chuckled back. "With what I'm doing now, I shouldn't be doing that much shooting at all, in the field," she admitted. "Most likely vehicles though ... something that'd be good for tires or back doors wouldn't be bad."

"Splinter ammo is good for tire shredding; they're small, low-power flechette rounds. Otherwise, it's hard to go wrong with the old standbys; hollow point, armor piercing, and incendiary."

"Mmm ... hollow point, AP, and splinter sounds good to me," Janet decided. "Don't suppose you have any T-Zaps in the right caliber for the 75? Always preferred those to standard hollow points, when I had a choice."

"I can have them special ordered for a premium, but they are not normally made in 9mm," Terrin said apologetically.

"Don't worry about it then," Janet said easily. "I'm not that likely to need them, really, I'm not a working Enforcer anymore after all."

"All right," she smiled with a nod as Janet turned to check out the supplies with an eye for possible uses when Uly was feeling like a kinky sub.

"I'd heard you'd gone civilian," a deep male voice caught her by surprise as she was inspecting the wide selection of handcuffs available.

"I have," she smiled, turning to Nick Bali, a lean dark-furred tom her height she knew from her Enforcer days. "There are other uses for these, you know," she winked. "So, how's the skip-trace business?" She asked him easily.

"Profitable," he grinned. "Still, I never thought you would leave. You seemed at least as dedicated as Commander Feral."

"I was," she admitted. "But... well, there are some things I'm just as dedicated to that just didn't mesh with it, so I've had to make some choices. I think I've made the right ones."

He cocked his head, his short rounded ears twitching in curiosity. "Just what would that be?"

"Mmm ... only tom who's more dedicated to his job than I was to mine," she chuckled. "I finally decided that, between Ulysses and the Enforcers ... the Enforcers were the part I could replace the most easily."

She watched him blink, the shock that most had displayed at the explanation evident, then it shifted to a sly expression as he leaned forward a bit closer to her and sniffed.

"I smell that he appreciated the sacrifice," Nick rumbled in a mixture of amusement and something she couldn't quite place.

"Oh, he appreciated it very much," she grinned slyly. "I'm glad I waited as long as I did though, all the same."

"Oh?" he raised an eyebrow as her nose and brain finally figured out what his reaction was; an odd mixture of arousal and jealousy.

"Mhm," she nodded. "This way, I was free and clear of my Enforcer obligations ... managed to get a few cases cleared that were old smudges... for the family, anyways," she added quickly. "Were you interested in him too, at one point?"

"Hu?" Nick striated a bit as he blinked. "Me, and Feral? No," he shook his head sharply. "He's not my type."

She blinked a bit herself.

"Me?" She asked, blushing slightly beneath her fur.

"Well, yeah," Nick nodded, blushing himself underneath his chocolate fur with black king cheetah markings as they stood in awkward stillness for a long moment. "When you said you were off the market, I never thought it was like this."

"When did I tell you that?" She asked, cocking her head slightly.

She searched Janet's memories... she'd never suspected anything like this.

But ... oh, Gods below, this gave her such ideas....

"You did make it pretty common knowledge in the bullpen," he pointed out with a bit of a shrug. "I like you too much to push the point."

"Well... maybe we can go somewhere and talk about it a bit?" She offered. "Generally I wasn't, but the Commander's hardly in a position to complain if I thought about looking around a little bit," she smiled slightly.

"Lunch when we finish shopping?" he suggested with a slightly uncertain smile. "You're sure he won't mind? Face it, he could make my life very difficult if he got ticked off."

"I'd have to check to be sure, but he's not monogamous himself," she pointed out with a reassuring smile. "Lunch sounds good; what else are you looking for?"

"Basic beginner's kit," he grinned, his ears sliding forward as he relaxed. "I've got a cousin joining the team. Need to get her outfitted right."

"Well then, good luck to both of you," she grinned back, passing him one of the pairs of cuffs she'd been looking at.

"Thanks," he picked up a mesh harness from the next rack. "What brought you in today?"

"Picking up my new piece," she explained easily. "Nice little upgrade from an Enforcer special," she grinned.

"They usually are," he grinned back as they moved on together to finish collecting what he needed and up to the counter to check out.

"So, where do you want to have lunch?" She asked him easily. "My treat," she added as Terrin rang up Nick's order.

"The Grillhouse?" he suggested as he handed a card over to pay for his supplies.

"Sounds good," she purred. "Been a while since I've been there, and I should be up to the dress code."

"You are," he grinned and took the large bag of supplies while Terrin went to get Janet's new pistol.

"Did you find everything you need?" she asked Janet as she handed over the case for her inspection.

"Yep," Janet nodded easily, inspecting the case and contents quickly. "Thanks; I'll take this and the ammo we talked about," she said, nodding towards the boxes behind the counter. "I'll be down to the target range some time tomorrow, if I get the chance."

"Always a good way to relax," Terrin grinned and rang up and totaled the order and ran Janet's card.

"Especially with a work of art like this," Janet grinned back, taking her card back and holstering her new sidearm. "Thanks Terrin; have a good one!"

"See you both soon," she waved the pair off.

"See you later, Terrin," Nick waved back. "So, my car, meet there or walk?" he asked as they left the shop.

"How about we walk?" She offered. "It's not that far, and I could stand the exercise. Besides," she chuckled, "nobody in their right mind would try stealing either of our cars, especially not here!"

"Not if they want to live," he laughed as he put his bag in the back of his steel gray SUV. "So what's happened in the last few months that changed your goals?" he asked as they walked towards The Grillhouse a few blocks away.

"Opportunities, mostly," she admitted. "I found out that I wasn't going to be totally out of my league, and I had a shot at an opening with Kahrin Securities, so I could resign without going bankrupt ... step up in the world, really," she admitted. "Financially anyways."

"How much of one?" he asked in real curiosity.

"Moving up from Enforcer detective pay to working as a consultant for Kahrin?" She asked him. "For this job, just about doubled my take-home pay and got a damn nice signing bonus out of it. Had an acquaintance who occasionally sleeps with one of the owners; he tipped me off to a new position they hadn't even listed yet."

"Lucky you," he grinned at her. "Score another one for social networking. So just how long have you been hot for the Commander?"

"Oh, just about since the first time I saw him," she chuckled. "It's a long story ... come on, it's not like I'm the only person who is interested in him. Just about anybody who's into Xanith toms is, I think. I was just putting it on the back burner until now... figured there wasn't any chance he'd be interested back."

"Not everybody," Nick chuckled. "I may like Xanith well enough, but he's got one hell of a dominating personality that just rubs me the wrong way. So how did you manage to get in bed with him?"

"I talked to him," she chuckled. "He's... there's some background there. My aunt was his partner, before she died, so he knows the family... I look a lot like her too, so that might have helped."

"Has he said anything that makes you think it might be you or her he's really interested in?"

"It's... complicated, Nick," she admitted. "Like I said, there's a long story there, and not one that you're all that likely to understand, but it's very definitely both."

"So is he good in bed?" he asked with a grin and wink.

"Oh you'd better believe it," she purred, shivering pleasantly at the memories. "And no, you don't get details today," she winked, earning an understanding pout and huff. "I also found out that the rumors are true, he is very close to Shier Khan. So, like I said, monogamy isn't really his thing."

"Have they shared you yet?" he asked with a lecherous grin as they reached The Grillhouse.

"I'd have to stretch all the way to Tusandrin for that!" She protested playfully, swatting his rump with her tail as they walked in. "One of these days though," she winked.

"Sounds like you're looking forward to it too," Nick slid his tail along her leg as the followed the host to a booth and sat across from her.

"Take the personalities out of the equation, and wouldn't you be too?" She purred, looking the menu over. "Mmm ... if you wouldn't be, I think you need to have yourself checked out," she smirked at him over the top of it.

"True enough," he laughed easily as he skimmed the menu he was half-familiar with. "Especially Khan. That Kat is built."

"Mmm ... I'm not entirely sure if I'd want to be between them or have them both on top of me ... either way, it'll be amazing," she purred, making her choice and putting the menu down. "So ... how about you? What are you interested in? Have you gone and gotten yourself hitched since the last time I saw you?" She asked him with a wry grin.

"Not hitched, but my primary employer is making a determined effort that she's winning," he admitted with something of a blush. "Stacy's making quite the argument for it, and she's fun in bed."

"So, I guess the next question is if she minds you playing around," Janet grinned. "T-Bone steak and chicken fingers with honey-mustard," she told the waitress when she came over. "And Kat Cola to drink, please."

"Full order of ribs, backed potato with all the fixings, baked beans and garlic bread with a chocolate milkshake," Nick ordered and waited for their server to leave. "Her only rules are that she gets to meet anyone I intend to sleep with more than a couple times."

"You're hungry," she chuckled. "And I can live with that. Anything interesting going on professionally, besides bringing your cousin onto the team?"

"Business is good," he said. "Opal will be the fifth hunter in the team, and if I could find them, I could easily take on two or three others. I'm having to turn away business right now, and my track record stands with only two lost hunts."

"You're still one of the best," she grinned. "At finding them, and knowing which jobs to take," she added with a wink. "If you got the chance to close those old ones some time, you still interested in them?" She asked him curiously.

"Oh yeah," he nodded. "It would be great to close those cases even if the statute of limitations is well over with."

"Well, if I hear anything about 'em, I'll let you know," she promised.

"Thanks," Nick reached over to squeeze her hand. "So what's been up in your life in the last few months?"

"Nothing much that made the news... you hear about the McClusky bust?" She asked him, leaning back with a grin. "Nailed them to the wall last month, it's in the lawyer's hands now. Should have enough to get 'em for Becka Holmes too."

"I heard," he grinned, dark golden eyes glittering in appreciation. "That was damn good work. I'm half hoping he jumps bail so I can arrange to not take him in live."

"I don't blame you," she said, shaking her head. "He and his gang... their idea of how to handle informers was royally fucked up, no way around it. Whatever he ends up getting, he deserves it. Beyond that... oh, let's see here, I tell you about Lieutenant Kanderlin last time we talked?" She asked.

"Nope," he focused on her as their food arrived, though he happily started in on his ribs.

"Well, that's not as nice a case I'm afraid," she admitted. "Turns out that Kanderlin was in on one of the precinct 'pad' deals the Manges had going. They're still trying to get him to 'fess up to who all else was involved, but we got him... I was in on it because of the Mange connection; caught some of their boys taking in the payment. We're hoping he'll admit to who was actually taking the money, but for now he's staying quiet... IA's ball now, of course."

"Damn," Nick's ears flattened in displeasure. "I hate it when an Enforcer goes bad. Soils everybody's name and badge."

"Tell me about it," she muttered. "And there's more of 'em out there... think I'm glad I never did sign on with IA, honestly. They say the Enforcers does enough for making people cynical," she chuckled slightly, starting to cut her steak.

"It does, but nothing compared to bounty hunting," he said. "At least Enforcers solve cases. I just put folks back in jail when they run."

"You ever consider going into a different line afterwards?" Janet asked him. "Leaving bounty hunting, going into something else?"

"I have," he admitted. "But I'm good at this, beyond knowing what cases not to take. If they aren't caught, they commit more crimes. It always ends up that I do a lot of good, even if it is just cleaning up the mess."

"I know you do," she smiled. "Wouldn't dream of saying otherwise. Just don't you forget, hmm? You might not be solving cases, but if it weren't for folks like you it'd be useless to catch a lot of these guys... staying out of prison's worth losing their bail to a lot of 'em."

"I won't forget," he smiled at her. "Thanks."

"Good," she smiled back, then grinned slyly as she teased her tail up his leg. "So, how about we talk about a few things we haven't discussed before," she purred.

"Such as?" he leaned forward a bit and licked the BBQ sauce from his lips.

"Mmm ... such as, what you like in a lover?" She asked him, working on her steak, licking some of the dark sauce from her whiskers. "And what you've got lined up after lunch," she added with a wink.

"I like a female who can put me on my back and keep me there," he admitted with a low, deep rumble. "And I'm free after lunch."

"Now I never would have guessed that one," she grinned. "Mmm ... maybe we can test out those cuffs you've got for your cousin?" She purred conspiratorially, leaning close.

"Now that sounds fun," he shivered slightly, his tail flicking quickly at her crotch. "I take it you like being on top?"

"I like both," she rumbled, curling her tail around his a bit. "But I particularly like being on top... especially since the Commander meets the other need quite admirably. He'll let me be on top... but it's so much better with somebody who's really into it, don't you agree?"

"Oh, very much," he agreed, then flattened his ears when a quiet beeping began. "Sounds like our date will have to wait," he said apologetically as he looked at the message on the small screen and stood. "Just got a hot lead on a perp. Sorry," he leaned over to kiss her. "I'll get back to you when I'm clear again."

"My number's in the book; leave a message if you can't find me somewhere," she told him as she returned the kiss. "Good luck!"

"Thanks," he nodded and hurried out, then back to his vehicle at a dead run, leaving Janet to ponder the possibilities and finish lunch alone. She was still eating when she glanced up on reflex to see who was approaching.

The curvy blond with fine peach and cream fur stopped at her table with a smile. "I saw your friend bolted," she began. "Still looking for company?"

"Oh, I think I could be talked into it," Janet smiled. "Want to sit down and chat a bit?" She asked, nodding towards Nick's abandoned chair.

"Thank you," she smiled and sat down, pushing his abandoned meal to the inside of the table. "My name's Franie."

"Glad to meet you, Franie; I'm Janet," she smiled. Franie was certainly attractive ... she looked good enough to eat, Janet decided with an inward chuckle. "What sort of company are you interested in?" She asked with a purr.

"Well, given the way you two were acting, I was rather hoping for a bit of fun in bed this afternoon," Franie winked at her with a grin. "You do look delicious."

"I was hoping you'd say that," Janet rumbled, already planning to feed on her life-force and her body. "And you do too... my place?" She suggested.

"Sounds good to me," Franie purred back, her blue eyes darkening with desire. "Whenever you're done with lunch."

"Then while I finish up, why don't you tell me what you're interested in?" Janet offered as she ate, looking forward to the far more satisfying meal that Franie represented.

"Mmm ... Uly?" Janet snuggled up against her lover, nuzzling his neck as they relaxed in bed after a long, very pleasant, sixth date. "How are things at HQ lately?"

"Quiet, amazingly enough," he answered, lazily content and worn out.

"Mmm ... hence the early late night?" She guessed, chuckling and snuggling up. "So, how would you feel about being katnapped off to Tusandrin for a few days, maybe a week?"

"On our own, or in a palace?" he smiled down at her affectionately.

"A little of both, but if we don't spend a lot of it in the palace, then somebody who's in on the katnapping is going to be very, very cross with me," she giggled, scritching his chest.

"I think I can arrange the time off," he kissed her softly. "Though I do wish to spend at least one night with you alone."

"I'll leave it up to you and Shier Khan to debate that," she purred, returning the kiss happily. "Mmm ... you know I don't have any issues with being both you at once," she winked and got the desired rumbled of appreciation.

"I think you will annoy his wives greatly," Ulysses chuckled with real amusement. "Between the two of you, you are making it quite difficult to stay until Felina is ready to take command."

"Mmm ... maybe you'll find out that she's more ready than you think?" Janet suggested. "At any rate, she'll get some time to show what she can do."

"Not a bad thing," he rumbled and rolled over to claim a hard, demanding kiss and spreading her legs with his knee. "So when have you planned this little outing?"

"Mmm ... just as soon as we can both arrange the time off," she purred hotly, spreading her legs for him. "Khan says we can have a plane to Tusandrin within hours of letting him know we're on the way."

"Being a ruler and corporate titan has its perks," he chuckled before thrusting into her, not holding back a bit. "Have you thought about what it may be like to take us both in?"

"Ooh! Mmm, I've dreamed about it," she grinned up at him, tightening herself around his cock. "It'll be incredible, and I figure I'll have to arrange for desk duty for the next week!"

"Especially if we both take one hole," he growled lustfully as he pounded into her eager body. "He's bigger than I am."

"Mmmph! Fuck, Uly," she whimpered happily, "you'll rip me apart!"

She didn't sound at all like she'd mind though.

"He can fix that when we finish," he grinned down and grabbed her thighs, pulling her knees up near his head. "You feel so good."

"Then I'll.. ooph! Leave you two to your pleasures," she grinned up at him, groaning as his cock slammed into her cervix. "Mmmn, fuck Uly, you're so good at this!" She whimpered.

"Keep telling me your fantasies and I'll keep it up," he promised hotly, rolling both their hips so each thrust rubbed his long cock against her clit and g-spot before hilting inside her body and drawing out again. "I love fucking you."

"Mmm!" She grunted as his cock knocked the wind out of her, pushing against her cervix. "Nngh ... go over to Tusandrin with you," she whimpered softly. "Dressed up like I'm your wife, or maybe your slave. Go to the palace with you, and ... mmm ... let Khan look me over like he wants to buy me, before you give him a demo of what I can do," she grinned up at him, panting hard as he fucked her with all the might in his massive frame.

"What do you think of a drink that will make you burn like you're heat, and we turn you over to the palace guard to warm up before we sate ourselves with your pleading body?" he growled, turned on incredibly by the idea. "Shier would be so hard after watching you fucked that well by so many."

"Ooh...." She blushed deeply at the thought that came to her mind, her body clenching down around Feral's throbbing cock. "Don't think I'd want to go as your wife for that," she rumbled hotly. "Pretending to be your daughter...." She blushed even more deeply, even as she privately scolded herself for the slip.

That wasn't something she should have said ... it didn't fit, not quite, even if nobody would know it. That was her, not Janet.

"Mmm ... your wife or slave would still be hot though," she groaned, trying to get Ulysses to snap out of his shocked freeze.

"Ohh-ugg," he grunted and hilted himself in her body. "So how long have you followed Eshik and Marka?" he asked seriously even as he kissed her.

"I don't," she groaned when he picked up his rhythm again. "Just kinky, when it's pretend," she moaned into another hot, lingering kiss. "Wouldn't do it for real... oh, Uly, fill me," she whimpered softly.

"Until you're ready to burst," he promised as he relaxed his self control and mated her hard and fast until he emptied his balls into her body.

"Are you sure we should be doing this?" Jordan asked Henrietta as they parked outside the building they knew Rock was busily setting up. From the outside, it still looked normal ... a quiet, two-story house, normal except for the small dumpster outside and the handful of vehicles there. Most of those were delivery or work vehicles ... except for Rock's car.

"Jo, we can't afford to let him wait much longer," the female Dachshund pointed out. "Either we need to give up on him, and start trying to groom one of the others, or we need to focus on him, and get him to give us an answer one way or the other. The signs are all there ... they're going to choose soon, and right now there's no clear winner if it's left to a matter of choice. Tamorl could pick Max or Karetha ... and I don't want them as the Champion representing our Gods."

"I don't either," Jordan pointed out, a little defensively. "I'm just not sure we should be rushing him like this ... well, let's go," he sighed, walking up to the door with his sister, ringing the doorbell.

After several moments Rock's muffled voice called out that he was coming, and the door opened a bit later.

"Oh, hi," he blinked at his two friends, then grinned in a warm welcome. "What brings you here?"

"Two things," Jo smiled. "First off, we were wondering if you'd be willing to show us around your club, give us a sneak-peak of what you're setting up here."

"And second," Henrietta continued, "we have to talk business ... our business, I'm afraid," she added apologetically.

"Any time, and of course," he inclined his head to them. "Business or tour first?"

"How about the tour, we can cover the business later?" Jordan suggested. "We're not on that tight a schedule," he chuckled, "and we'd like to meet your workers too, if they're around."

"The three already hired are," he nodded and went into tour guide mode. "This is the main socializing and clubbing room. A space for meet and greets, dancing, casual sex, and selecting a pet. It encompasses two-thirds of the first floor."

"Nicely done," Henrietta nodded. "What's your capacity? Putting it in a building this size, seems you wouldn't have too much room."

"Legal capacity is nearly three hundred for the building; two floors, a finished attic and basement, but I'm looking to have thirty to thirty-five people here most of the time as a top end. This is more brothel than club after all."

"We'll be getting to the attic and basement in due time, I hope?" Jordan grinned.

"Of course," Rock grinned as they walked to the staircase towards the back of the house and headed up. "The second floor is the living quarters; four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a communal space for simple cooking and hanging out. Right now everyone has their own room, but when I actually open they will be doubling up, possibly three to a room at times. Customers can come up here with an employee for an extra fee if they want a bit more privacy."

"Looks comfortable; you got lucky to find a place this big in this city," Henrietta smiled. "Especially without going to the suburbs."

"It used to be a duplex," Rock explained. "But the old owners passed away and their heirs couldn't find anybody to rent out the top half, so they weren't against selling."

"Which worked out well for you," she nodded. "Are your employees working on setting the place up at the moment? I don't see anybody else up here."

"Yes," he nodded. "The tabby is Conner and the black Kat is Shadow. Emmas is the Wolf, she's probably downstairs in the employee lounge and medical area. That's off-limits to non-employees."

"It's good that they have an area to themselves ... how much do you know about them, before they came to you?" Jordan asked him. "Their backgrounds, what put them on the streets?"

"I ask them, have a priest of Lyris check them out and I do a reasonably extensive background check courtesy of Jake's connections," Rock said as they continued up to the attic. "I'll be the first to admit it isn't flawless, but I'm confident in weeding out the psychotics and those who really aren't up for this life."

"Are you considering getting any of them help, while they work here?" Jordan continued. "I'm not sure if any of them would benefit from it, but I'm sure the Temple would be willing to provide counseling services if needed."

"Yes, and I'm pointing those who don't belong here to other options," he nodded and took out a key open the entrance to the attic, leading the two tall, lean Dachshunds up after him.

"This place would be scary, if I didn't know who owned the house," Henrietta murmured. The attic wouldn't have been out of place in a collection of torture chambers; racks and frames and various implements available for easy use. There was a mini-fridge in the corner, plugged in, and a finely crafted display case with blades, dildos, cockrings, whips and other toys.

When Rock turned on the light, it was less imposing, but darkened the way it had been at first ... or the way it could be easily, to judge by the shades near the lights ... the room was frightening.

"I know what you mean," Jordan nodded. "Or at least if we didn't know that it was only used with consent."

"No one comes up here without management consent," Rock added. "If Jake or I aren't here, it's not used. There are also alarms for the pet to use if it goes badly."

"A good precaution, but won't that hurt business some?" Henrietta asked, cocking her head. "The management bit, the alarm's a real good idea if it'll work regardless of the pet being gagged or tied up somehow... a deadman switch or something?"

"Something," Rock winced slightly at his own lack of understanding. "Jake created this neural scanner system that can read the brain waves of a real 'stop' even if the subject is drugged or otherwise not fully conscious. I've seen it work, and I still can't explain much better than that. As for this hurting business, it's an acceptable price for me. The bulk of the money will come from the main dungeon in the basement and cover charges of those who want to watch but not play. This really is for very select customers who want complete privacy.

"For people who want to be entirely alone while they play, in a way they usually can't somewhere like this," Jordan nodded. "The dungeon in the basement is set up so people can watch what's going on then?"

"Yes," Rock nodded and turned the light off before guiding them down. "There is a charge to go down without a pet, but not as much as one to have a pet. While I will lets folks bring their own pet, it won't be any cheaper than to rent one here. I expect the business to be providing for my employees, not a furnished dungeon for those who don't want to rent."

"That's more than fair, I think," Jordan chuckled as they started down. "Anything else you'd like to show us?" He asked curiously.

"There's nothing particularly special about the basement dungeon, though we can discuss your business while you look around if you want, or we can go to my office on the first floor."

"Whichever is more private," Henrietta said seriously. "I don't know that we want your employees overhearing some of this."

That earned her a curious look and a nod. "My office, then," Rock said as he led the way to the small but efficiently set up office near the back door of the building.

"Thank you," she nodded, following him back into his office, waiting for the door to be closed before she explained herself. "Have you put any more thought into becoming the Champion of the Gods of Pain?" She asked him.

"Yes," he nodded seriously and leaned against his desk. "Jake and I have both discussed it at length. I was going to ask you how to proceed with accepting the nomination formally after this place opened next month. Will it need to be sooner?"

"If we're going to be sure of it, yes," she said apologetically. "It's complicated, but there are preparations we need to make to be certain. I don't know why, but the other candidates have made a surge in influence. If we're going to get you chosen, we need to make sure that Tamorl, as well as Eshik and Marka, feels you are the best choice ... we can't afford a split down the middle, and we don't want Max or Karetha to take the role."

"Agreed," Rock nodded grimily. "When do we need to leave?"

"As soon as possible," Jordan explained. "We suspect that the selection will be happening within a month, maybe two, and the preparations to make you appeal suitably to Tamorl will be long and painful. You know the Ceremony of Rebirth, of course ... it won't be that agonizing, but there's a good chance it won't be far off at points. You'll be getting a crash course in His priesthood ... you won't become one, but you'll be initiated into His circles in the fastest way possible."

"We think that will tip the scales in your favor," Henrietta nodded. "Can you leave a note for Jake, so he won't go on the warpath hunting for us?"

"I have to leave a message for him," Rock actually chuckled and shifted to leave. "I can be ready in an hour or two, depending on how long it takes to get home. Jake and Midnight can handle the construction and what business we have. Coming with me, or should I meet you somewhere?"

"If you're comfortable with us coming along, we'd rather... not that we think you'd run," Jordan chuckled. "But we'd really, really hate for you to get in a car crash right now."

"You're welcome in our home, Jake's calmed down a lot in a decade," Rock said firmly as they walked out. "Seriously, it was just really bad timing that first time. We should probably take both vehicles."

"I'm sure he has, but this is an unusual situation," Henrietta pointed out. "This time, we're coming to take you away. Thank you though; we'll follow you there, and then drive you to Tamorl's Temple."

"How long should I pack for?" Rock asked when they stepped outside.

"Anything you'll want to bring along for at least a month ... I'd strongly recommend a picture or two of Jake, anything else you've got that'll remind you of what you're doing this for," Jordan told him. "You'll be given anything you need while you're there, so clothes are optional."

"I understand," Rock nodded, reflexively touching the serpentine armband with its seven stones and the lessons they represented. "Will I be expected to not wear our wedding band?"

"It'll be perfectly fine for you to wear it," they both smiled.

"You're not expected to take a vow of poverty or anything, or to act like you have," Jordan chuckled. "You'll hardly be the first married person to show up."

"Good," Rock nodded and opened the door to his car, turning his mind to what he did want to bring with him, and what to say in the note to Jake.

The trip home was largely uneventful; despite Henrietta and Jordan's concerns, there weren't any serious car crashes, let alone involving them or Rock.

They reached the condo, and the Dachshunds followed Rock on up, comfortable in the nicely decorated building.

"How are Queen and her pack doing, by the way?" They asked. "Haven't heard about them since we went back to Sayden Bay a few years back."

"Strong and growing stronger," he grinned at them. "She has a clear heir in her oldest daughter that is as skilled at business as her mother, and with similar tastes. Only she prefers male Wolf to fems."

"I'm sure she'll be a fine, and quite possibly prolific, Alpha when the time comes," Henrietta grinned, following Rock into the apartment. Her gaze fell almost immediately on the painting that was so dear to the both of them; the moment they first met captured on canvass.

For all they barely knew each other's names when it was created, it was still incredible to look at a decade later in how well it summarized their feelings and relationship.

"It's still beautiful," she smiled at the image.

"I smile every time I look at it," Rock purred softly. "Okay, what am I not allowed to tell him?"

"You can't tell him where you'll be, unless you're confident that he won't try to visit you," Henrietta told him gently. "You can be reminded of him, but you can't see or talk to him, not even by writing, until Tamorl's priests feel it is time."

She could see that rattle him a bit, but he nodded. "Is there anywhere for him to go for whatever they will tell him about this, or does he need to live with knowing I'm still alive and when I'm hurt?"

"The less, the better ... but let him know that if he comes to the temple, we'll tell him everything we're allowed to. I just don't know how much that will be," Henrietta said apologetically. "The priests of Tamorl ... they tend to consider us subordinates, more than their equals. The relationship isn't wholly inaccurate, but it means they can be damned cryptic when we're trying to figure out exactly what they want. On the plus side, they're honest with what they do tell us. Which is that you will be hurt, but they'll take care of you ... they need you, as the Champion. They can't do too much of a number on you, but it will be painful, in ways that we normally wouldn't use. Like separating you from Jake."

"I understand," he nodded and picked up the phone to call Jake's lab, more than half surprised when a female voice answered after he was bumped to another phone.

"Enforcer Headquarters, R&D division, Misha Granwood speaking," the voice told him. "Who is this, please?"

"Rock Furlong. I need to speak with Jake Clawson immediately," he told her.

"I'm sorry, sir, but he's left strict instructions not to be disturbed," Misha said. "Can I take a message for him?"

"That ... never mind. Tell him I called and I'll leave a more detailed message at home," he tried not to growl.

"Yes sir," she replied easily.

Rock hung up with a little more force than necessary and turned to find a pad of paper and pen. He put his full knowledge of his mate to good use in how to phrase things so Jake would take the next few weeks with as little psychotic behavior as possible. "I think Feral is going to be the one I feel most sorry for. Jake is not going to be stable for a while."

"Do you want to give your cousin a call, give him a head's up?" Jordan suggested. "He'll have the first batch of fallout, I'm sure."

"And his mate is the best stabilizing influence for Jake I know of," he nodded before finishing the note and picking up the phone nearby. "Hi Chance," he said when his cousin answered the phone.

"Rock? What's up?" Chance asked on the other end. "Need some help at the club?"

"Eventually, yeah, but what I'm really going to need is a lot of help keeping Jake stable. I'm going to be gone for a few weeks, maybe longer, and he's going to know how much pain I'll be in. It's not going to go over well that he can't even call."

"What's going on, Rock?" Chance asked, sounding concerned. "That's the sort of thing that happens with Jake, not you."

"Yeah, I know, and I can't say much about it," he apologized. "I'm taking the next step to become a champion, and that means impressing Tamorl. It's not going to be fun for anyone, but it will be over with eventually. I just need you to keep Jake from hunting me down before that."

"I'll do my best, but you know how he gets when he gets focused ... I'll let Midnight know, she's the best bet of calming him down."

"Or at least distracted," Rock agreed. "Thanks, cousin. He won't be clueless, but he won't know enough to keep him happy. I'll see you when I'm back, and Jake's done greeting me," he added with a chuckle.

"I'll expect to hear you're back, and not see you for another week then," Chance snickered, then turned serious. "Rock ... be careful, okay?"

"I will," he promised. "See you when I can," he said before hanging up and turning to collect a few items he would want to bring with him. "Any idea on how much down time I'm likely to have?" he asked as he considered the book he was currently reading.

"At least a few hours a day, beyond your sleep time ... they're more likely to try and cut back on your sleep than on leisure time," Jordan admitted. "But I wouldn't count on more than a few hours a day."

"Still more than enough to finish my current book," he said and added two books to the pile that contained three framed pictures; a photo of Jake, a photo of them together and a print of their first meeting painting. "I don't usually have twenty minutes these days," he chuckled and tossed a digital music player and its charger to the pile. "Any suggesting for things to bring? Reminder of home, entertainment, though I am assuming I can buy or otherwise get another book if I finish those two, you said clothes and such would be provided."

"You can; you'll also have access to the Temple's library, though that might not be your style as much ... I suspect you'll come home with some new tricks for Jake, at any rate," Jordan chuckled. "They'll provide clothes, room, and board, though not necessarily a particularly comfortable room. What would you want with you if you were trying to become a priest?" He suggested.

"More information than I'm going to have," he said first, looking at the small pile. "A lot more information, really. I wouldn't bring much anyway, though. I wouldn't expect to have free time to speak of, and that I'd devote to learning more than I was taught." He hesitated, then glanced at his friends. "The laptop? I'll ask them, but I'm not expecting to be able to e-mail folks, but there is a lot more on there."

"I doubt you'd be allowed online, but for things you have on there ... I think they'd allow it," Jordan nodded.

"If not, would you return it to Jake?" he asked even as he went to fetch the laptop's case that included everything he needed for it.

"Of course," the Dachshund. "Thank you for being willing to do this, Rock. It'll make things go much more smoothly for all of us, if you can stick it out until they finally choose."

"I'll be honest, a lot of my willingness comes from being scared shitless of what is likely to happen to Jake if either of the other likely choices are picked," Rock said quietly as he put the few items he'd be bringing into a backpack. "What about Viln?"

"Any of the gifts you want to bring with you like that, feel free," Henrietta said easily. "It may be used against you, if possible, but I imagine you've felt its sting before?"

"Oh yes," he shivered in a memory of that exquisite evening. "Not nearly as much as Jake, but I know her well. Sometimes I swear she's aware, even talking in a way. She's felt ... like she's excited ever since we agreed that I'd try to become their champion."

"I wouldn't be surprised if she was, given she was crafted by Sheliel," Jordan chuckled. "Though I admit, magic can be something of a cheat at times... we've heard about a knife one of Fahik's followers crafted that's a true piece of art."

"Fahik ... God of Master Crafters, right?" Rock asked as he placed the name of the relatively minor god.

"Yes," Henrietta nodded. "There are spreading rumors about a knife he gave to Eshik and Marka ... quite a piece of work, and made without any magic according to what we've heard. Seems it was a gift for attending the wedding," she smiled.

"I guess we weren't the only ones to receive gifts then," Rock smiled back with a nod and lifted his backpack and laptop case. "I'm as ready as I'm likely to be," he said with only a trace of nerves. "I just hope Jake takes it the right way."

"So do we, Rock ... more than you do, I'm sure," Jordan chuckled slightly as they started out to their car.

"So, what do you think, Master?" Janet asked with sultry submission in her voice and body as she stepped into Ulysses' view from the back of the private jet passenger compartment.

"It does you justice," he said, his eyes roaming her translucent silk covered body that did nothing to reduce access to her sex, ass, breasts or mouth. "Sexy even for a harem dancer."

"Thank you, Master," she purred, taking her seat next to him. "Would you like to sample your concubine's skill before we're at the palace?" She suggested with a sultry rumble.

"I believe I will," he chuckled and unzipped his slacks. "Show me how well you use your tits."

She slid down between his legs, purring all the time as she coaxed his cock out, sliding it up between her full, silk-covered breasts.

"Would my Master want me to swallow when he is finished, or will we let Master Khan see how much you enjoy me?" She asked him with a sly grin.

"I want you to stay clean until he can see your full beauty for himself," Ulysses instructed with a grin. "I'll fill your belly before his guards fill you up completely."

"Yes Master," she grinned back up at him, taking his cock in her mouth as she rubbed him with her full, silk-clad tits, purring around the smooth, conical tip. It was little effort to get him hard, and next to none before he moaned her name and reached out to rub her ears as she worked.

She'd already learned most of his quirks, how to make him enjoy this as much as possible without pushing him over the edge. She suckled his barbs, teasing them with tongue and teeth as she stroked her breasts along his throbbing length. Her eyes rolled up to meet his, and she savored his taste, how it changed as he came closer and closer to an orgasm.

She could feel how little he was putting into holding back, but he was also making no effort to come faster. It was delicious, utterly delicious, how she could act so submissive and be in such complete control. It was even better that she knew that very mix turned him on so much.

She took him for as long as she could; there was a quarter hour left for the trip, and she waited until the captain's announcement to take their seats again to really work on pushing him over.

They both knew the pilot and stewardess wouldn't even blink when he roared and pumped her mouth full of seed, the scent of sex thick in the recycled air of the cabin. Shier Khan's pilots were used to that sort of thing on these chartered flights.

Janet licked her lips, slipping up into her seat and buckling in as the light came on.

"Am I suitably presentable?" She asked Ulysses with a grin as she tucked his cock back into his pants.

"Yes, you are, my pet," he purred deeply in approval of her looks as they settled down for the landing.

The jet touched down gently, more than any other plane Janet could remember being on, and she privately wondered if the pilot thought she might still be pleasuring the Commander.

Not that the idea was strictly unappealing.

They came to a stop, and after a few moments for the jet to be cleared, they started off, servants already coming for their luggage.

"Wow," Janet murmured, looking up at the fine palace decked out and prepared to greet the visitors, or visitor, so important to it's master.

"It is quite impressive," Ulysses nodded, his gaze flicking across the gathering. Khan's wives, both pregnant and not, were in their finest saris. The pregnant ones were displaying their status by showing off their swelling bellies.

Important functionaries of the palace stood next to them flanked by guards, and at the head of the party was Shier Khan himself dressed in his finest traditional robes.

"Welcome to Tusandrin, Ulysses Feral, Janet Mercer," Shier said with formal respect that included no trace of submission. It was hard to doubt he was in complete charge of life and death in this land, and took his rights seriously.

"Thank you for your hospitality, Lord Khan," Ulysses bowed to him, though not nearly as deeply as Janet.

She knew in her gut that this was not a person to anger any more than her father was. Not from any of the information she had on him, but from his presence.

"Please come and relax in the baths, irauhli," Shier smiled and stepped forward. "You can introduce me to this pretty thing you have brought to entertain us."

Janet followed quietly and obediently, conscious of her surroundings in a way that she hoped would be passed off as her Enforcer background. She hadn't expected this place to be so ... aware. Khan and those around him were dangerous; if they recognized her power, what she was, this trip could end up destroying everything.

She couldn't let that happen, that was all there was to it. Later on she might have better control over Ulysses, but this early on he still had honeymoon eyes for her. She would have to use it to the fullest and walk very carefully around Shier Khan. Damn, why did Ulysses have to have a champion with magic at his command as a long-term lover?

She'd known about it before, of course, but she hadn't expected that he'd be this well organized. The place just reeked of ancient power and a system inherited by countless generations that he could and had counted by name.

But why weren't they more of a power on the global scene?

Polished white marble, gold gilt and exquisite carvings abounded. Then her nose caught the heavy scent of water in the air and the excitement as Ulysses and Shier's conversations shifted from the dull catching up she already knew to plans for her use.

She waited until they were ready, then took her place in the room with them, watching the two handsome, heavily built toms snuggle and consider the show she was about to put on for them. While she knew the basics, Ulysses had made them sound incredible enough, the specifics were still a little uncertain.

"Dance, little one," Shier ordered her. "Show you are worth something out of bed."

"Yes sir," she purred, standing up to begin dancing, starting to sway as she searched her memory for one of the Tusandrin harem dances she'd been taught. She was hardly perfect at it, or even good by harem standards, but she was as good as she could credibly be given her actual background.

The real Janet barely had a clue if you were kind about it.

"Mmm, she could be better," Shier commented, though it didn't sound like much of a complaint with Ulysses' hand playing with his sheath.

"She just needs practice," Feral chuckled, kissing the Tiger, but keeping his eyes on Janet and the dance as she moved sensually, using her silks to show her well-muscled body off, concealing and revealing glimpses of her best features.

"Are there any skills she knows better?" Khan raised an eyebrow at his lover, only just resisting a deep moan Ulysses' fingers were trying to draw out.

"She puts on an incredible show, if you have a few guards who can perform as well," Ulysses purred deeply. "She loves the feel of come dripping down her legs."

Janet purred, grinning at the description, glancing at the guards who were watching her, raising her tail and flirting a bit more with them as well as her more intended audience. It never hurt to make sure the hired help was into playing along as well.

She really shouldn't have worried, the Tigers, some even bigger than Shier Khan, were already interested. They had probably been told what was going to happen. She was sure they did not typically watch their lord and his powerful lover in the bath, at least not so obviously as they were right now.

"Guards, sate yourselves with her," Shier ordered. "Show me how good she is."

Janet dropped to her knees, turning to face the guards as she pulled her silks aside to expose her breasts, sex, ass, and face fully for all to enjoy.

"Yes, Lord Khan," the five said in something close to unison as they quickly stripped down to display powerfully muscular bodies as fit as any Enforcer.

She tried not to shiver in anticipation of such a feast for her body and soul. Even just a small feeding from each of these Tigers would sate her needs for a week.

The first lay down with his side to the pair bathing and pulled her on top of him. She straddled his hips, raising her tail as she nuzzled his chest with a submissive eagerness. She threw her head back, rowling eagerly before her ass and mouth were filled with the same willingness. The other two Tiger toms stroked themselves, waiting for their turn, until she reached over to fondle their balls, letting the three toms fucking her hold her up as she took over the job of masturbating the Tigers and keeping everybody involved in the display.

"She gets points for eagerness," Shier rumbled, pressing into Ulysses' nuzzling kisses as his breath quickened from the stroking of his cock. "I like her so far," he added before turning into a hungry kiss.

"You'll like her better before they're done," Ulysses promised, purring into the kiss and stroking Shier Khan's sheath and shaft. "And she is definitely eager, more than I'd ever thought she was before."

"A long absence can do that," Shier said quietly before reaching over to stroke his lover and enjoy the show and the attention. "I know it does for us as often as not."

"And I see no good reason this time should be any different," Feral purred, kissing Shier deeply and spreading his legs, rolling the Tiger's heavy orbs over his fingers beneath the water. "I've missed you both terribly," he admitted.

"Soon, love," Shier moaned into his mouth. "Soon your niece will be ready to take command and we can stay together, my warrior at my side for the rest of our time."

"Any messages, Misha?" Jake asked as walked passed his new secretary's desk on his way home.

"No messages, but there were calls from Rock and Chance Furlong. When I told them you'd left instructions not to be disturbed, they just hung up," the sable-furred Burmese told him with a slight shrug.

"Misha, before I get back, read the survival guide you got with this job," he flicked his ears back in clear annoyance. "They're among those who always go through."

"I'm sorry, sir," she said, lowering her ears apologetically. "I thought it was a joke Becky'd left for me," she admitted, though she pulled open the drawer she'd put it in and pulled it out. "If it was anything serious, I'm sure they'd have left a message," she offered.

"I'll find out soon enough," he nodded and headed to the elevator as he pulled out his cell phone and called Rock's cell, then his home number. By the time he reached the parking level Chance's cell phone was ringing.

"Jake?" His partner's familiar voice greeted him when it was picked up ... at least somebody was answering their phone. He'd gotten the voicemail on Rock's cell and the home phone; he was at the point where the club would have been his last resort pretty soon.

"Yes, what is going on?" he all but demanded as he got on his motorcycle and quickly transferred the call to his helmet.

"I'm not entirely sure," Chance admitted. "Rock called and said he had to leave town for a few weeks without telling us where ... think it's something related to that Champion stuff that's going on."

"Did he say anything else?" Jake asked as he pulled out of the parking level and turned to go home.

"Well, he wanted Midnight and I to be ready for you," Chance admitted with a slight chuckle. "He probably left a note to explain everything he could. Want us to head over, we can meet you when you get there?"

"Sure," he signed, taking a corner above the speed limit. "It's going to be a long month. See you there, buddy," he said before hanging up and driving a little faster, darting between cars who weren't going quite fast enough as his mind raced as to what could be going on and creating all new curses to inflict on Misha when he got back to work.

He swung his bike into its parking spot and hopped off, only just managing not to run full speed up the stairs and to his front door.

"Hey Jake - uhm, I'll talk later," Mike decided as he spotted Jake on the way up, just about to get on the elevator himself. Seeing his neighbor's expression, he changed his mind about waiting to talk and went on down.

The door was locked, but that didn't slow Jake down for long before he burst into the room, quickly spotting the note by the phone. He didn't bother locking the door as he went to read its contents, and slowly began to curse as it sank just what it meant.

His mate was in the hands of the priests of Tamorl, and would be for weeks.

There was a knock at his door, before it opened.

"Are you all right, Jake?" Queen asked him, the alpha Wolf sticking her head in slightly. "You usually don't slam your door like that."

"Sorry, Queenie," he ducked his head in reflexive submission to her. "Rock went on a rather abrupt sabbatical with the priests of Tamorl. I'm probably going to be on edge until it's over."

"Depending on what he's doing, you might find yourself needing new furniture too," she mused. "Given what happens when one of you is in pain. Do you want somebody to stay with you until he's back?" She offered.

"My partner and Midnight are coming over right now," he focused on the immediate future. "I'll let you know if I need company. I might stick to hunting."

"Also an option," she nodded. "I just want to let you know, we're willing to help. If he comes back while you're out, we'll get word to you as soon as we can," she promised him as Jake heard the elevator open outside.

"Thanks, Queenie," he nodded and put the note down. "I will keep it in mind while I figure out what I'm going to do."

"All I ask," she smiled, glancing back. "Your partner and sister are here, I'll leave you be for now," she said, stepping out gracefully and walking back to her apartment as Chance and Midnight hurried in.

"Hi guys," Jake let out a small breath of relief. "I don't think he wrote much more than he told you, but here," he offered the note to Chance while Midnight closed and locked the door.

"Doesn't look like it," Chance agreed, skimming the note. "You gonna be okay, buddy?" He asked, looking into his partner's eyes seriously. "First time he's the one who's had to go off without leaving any news about it."

"That I can deal with. I know why, I can find out where, and I have a good idea what is going to happen," Jake drew a deep breath as the first tingle of power made itself, and Rock's condition, known. "The part I'm worried about is burning off the energy I'm going to be getting. They're going to make what he does to me seem like beginner's games, and it'll last for weeks."

"Oh brother ... yeah, that is going to be trouble," Chance murmured. "Well... we could head down to the sparring ring, I suppose... is Kyale in town?"

"Yes," he nodded. "Arrived last week. The other options I see are to go hunting bad guys or spend most of my time with Emiss and Matark."

"It might be a good time to go after the champions you know you'll have to face eventually," Midnight said quietly, not at all comfortable with what she was saying. "This is as strong as you'll get anytime soon."

"She's right, much as I hate to say it," Chance admitted. "This'd be a good time to take out Dark Kat, if we knew where to find the bastard. Unfortunately, we don't know where a lot of them are," he pointed out.

"You might be surprised what I can find out if I ask the right way," Jake's tail swished in agitation as he fought to control the unusual sensations of being on the receiving end of the strength boost. "Champions are supposed to find and fight each other. Probably not Dark Krud yet, but quite a few others."

"Jake, that's all well and good, but tonight's not the time," Chance told him firmly, a hand on the lean tom's shoulder to reinforce the near-order. "You're not ready for it right now."

"Kyale," Jake nodded in acceptance of the statement he didn't really agree with. "Or the Killhearts. Hopefully they'll let up on Rock in a few hours and I can catch some sleep before planning a few hunts."

"Kyale's probably your best bet," Chance decided. "Want us to stick around until you know if she's available? Oh ... and what happens if you're both hurt?" He asked, swishing his tail as he realized it was likely to be going both ways while Rock was missing.

"The feedback hits us both," Jake said with a slight smile.

"Do not get yourself hurt to try and help him," Midnight growled, her ears flattening and tail lashing.

"I'm not going to try," he shot back, an unusual temper already getting the better of him. "It'll happen, but I won't try for it."

"Jake, Midnight, both of you relax," Chance said firmly. "Midnight, he'll have somebody with him who'll keep him from getting worked over too much, whatever he does. Jake, Midnight was just worried about you... if you thought it would help him, you'd try it," he pointed out, clearly believing it.

"Yes, I would,' Jake acknowledged without the slightest question. "I'd also already be hunting him down. Come on, I probably shouldn't drive right now."

"No, you shouldn't," Midnight agreed.

"Come on, we'll get you somewhere to burn some of this off," Chance promised him, patting Jake's shoulder and guiding him out of the apartment.

Rock felt like he'd been in the car for most of his life. He was hot, his muscles ached, and the backs of his legs in particular were tight enough he wasn't sure if he wanted to get out of the car and stretch them, or stay in one place and keep the muscles from cramping. It wasn't helped by the fact that he was sitting next to a Wolf in the black-and-red of Tamorl's priests, or that they hadn't stopped since filling up the gas tank some six hours before.

The stinking, sweltering swamp they were driving through was just the icing on the cake. The whole place smelled faintly of bleach or ammonia, the trees looked sickly and let enough sun through that the place was like a sauna. The occasional animals he glimpsed looked ... alien, like they'd been changed by something in the land.

Henrietta and Jordan, in the front seat, didn't look all that much happier with the place than he did.

"We're almost there," Mikala, the Wolf, told them all. "The temple should be visible once we round the next bend."

"Well I certainly hope so," Jordan grumbled. His shoulders ached from the long drive, the tension of trying to keep a close eye on the sometimes nearly impassable road. His sensitive nose burned from the smell of the alkalis in the water and air here ... he had a feeling that, some days, the air itself could be toxic out here.

"It will be," Mikala chuckled, leaning his head back in the seat. He was just as uncomfortable as the other three, but unlike the two priests in the front, he had an appreciation for pain without pleasure to accompany it. It lent an edge to the senses, clarity to the world around you. All they could have said was that they were sore and wanted out of the car. He could have told them exactly what it was that created each and every pain they felt in clinical detail, and how best to push on through it.

For all that they suffered quite eagerly for their pleasures, they were more like initiates, acolytes at best, in terms of what they were willing to endure when they didn't want to feel that way.

They rounded the bend, and passed through the edge of the filtering spells that protected the Great Temple from prying eyes. Henrietta looked up, whistling lowly as she took in the massive structure.

It was like something out of a movie ... streaks of red rock wound down the sides of massive black spires, almost like dripping blood. The stone jutted up into the sky for hundreds of feat, occasionally breaking off into separate spires that had to be supported by magic; no mortal engineering could have kept the chambers supported the way they were.

"It must be boiling in there," she murmured. "It rises up above the swamps."

"It's quite hot," Mikala agreed. "Though not so ostentatious inside."

"This is going to be interesting," Rock murmured, taking in as much as he could as quickly as he could. As uneasy as his friends were, at least they didn't have to stay for long.

"If it isn't, somebody's not doing their job," Mikala chuckled. "It's exceedingly rare for anybody but high-ranking priests to come here ... practically unheard of for the uninitiated. Three of you in one day, that's quite unusual, even if only one of you is staying. You're getting an honor usually reserved for the crown princes and princesses of Salucia," the Wolf said seriously, looking over at Rock. "I hope you appreciate it."

Rock blinked in surprise. "I wasn't expecting anything so special," he said quietly, his brain kicking this into the 'very, very special attention' category, even for the mate of the champion of Bastet and ranking Enforcer Ghost. "I do appreciate it."

"I had a feeling you might not know," the Wolf said easily. "Normally, this Temple is reserved for ranking priests on sabbaticals or spirit journeys, or for Tamorl's highest rites. The heirs to the throne of Salucia are trained here by our highest priest, thanks to our close relationship with that country. If there's anywhere that we could train somebody to appeal to Tamorl in the time left to us, it would be here."

"Thank you," Rock inclined his head slightly before looking back towards the utterly unique spired building. "Though I understand I'll likely question the wisdom of accepting a few times before this is over."

"Unless you are a die-hard masochist," Mikala agreed with a nod.

"That would be my mate, not me," Rock chuckled softly.

"We've heard of him," Mikala chuckled. "Had he not already been spoken for, and turned out the same way, you'd likely be out of the running. At any rate, one of Tamorl's tenets is that we achieve clarity, vision, through pain. We learn to understand ourselves, the world and the universe more clearly, to say nothing of our God's existence. You have seen him before, I understand, in his ceremonial armor?"

"Yes," Rock nodded solemnly. "He appeared at my wedding. It was impressive at say the least."

"Yes, it is. The armor itself is designed so that the interior constantly cuts and claws at the wearer ... there's a replica for the Inflictor's ceremonial use, but even with magic he can only wear it for a few hours before the blood loss gets to be too much for him. Many of our priests have adopted similar methods ... particular little touches they use that make it virtually impossible to be truly comfortable as most people describe it. I follow a slightly different path myself ... you become numb to any suffering after enduring it for long. Not a bad thing though; it is what many of our parishioners come to us for."

"A different way to end hurting," Rock murmured, not sure what he thought about the fact that it really did make good sense to him. "Is it true that Tamorl Himself built this temple?" he asked as they pulled to a stop.

"Ah, so you have done some studying," he said approvingly. "That is true ... the first temple to be built after the last Godswar, when Tamorl introduced the contests you will become a part of. It remains one of our holiest places on Aristal."

"Not many followers can claim their deity has created a physical temple for them anywhere," Rock said, a bit of awe creeping into his voice as they got out of the car. "I doubt I know as much as a new Initiate, but since I learned I was a potential champion I have studied what I can."

Henrietta and Jordan groaned as they got out, but Rock did his best to keep his relief and distress at moving again silent.

He won an approving look from the Wolf as he followed Rock out, taking the long way out of the car and not bothering to stretch the way the two Dachshunds did. Rock couldn't help but wince slightly as he heard their long backs crackling, or the usual awe he felt when they bent nearly in half in the process, their balance good enough that they could still stand back up from it.

"Not many faiths can claim their deity pre-dates their existence," Mikala pointed out. "Tamorl's existence can be traced back to the dawn of life on Aristal, at the least. He has dropped hints that he is far older. He is one of the few Primals to maintain a strong following in this day and age," he said, no small amount of pride in his voice as he led the way to the Temple door through the stinking, weltering swamp, mosquitoes ... or something like them ... buzzing in the air.

"From what I have gathered, not many retain such a close relationship to those they gave birth to either," Rock tried to sound intelligent in a conversation he knew could quickly get out of his depth. "Or have children as varied as Bastet and Marka. Lord Mikala, what happened here, beyond the war? It's like everything is mutated."

"The war isn't enough?" The Wolf asked with a low chuckle. "The entire swamp is still infused with a blend of magics. The Godswar, the Soulstorm ... the magics that have been wielded here, even before you count the deaths and rebirths of deities, were ancient and powerful, and have left their stain here. This is the heart of the Badlands, and will be the last place that heals, when the time comes, if it ever does. The creatures that live here evolved in a place that is very harsh, and not subject to quite the same rules the rest of Aristal is. The influence that Tamorl has had here has further changed them; the mosquitoes here do not have painless bites, I should warn you. Fortunately, they also find regular Kat or Kantin blood largely unpalatable, unless we ask them to feel otherwise.

"You can control the animals here?" Rock asked in a bit of surprise, even as he scolded himself for being surprised. "What do they usually feed on then?"

"Magically, we can," Mikala explained. "It's not just a matter of asking them, but there is a spell in place that allows the priests inside to marshal the local wildlife to defend or feed the temple. Or for ritual use," he mused as they reached the door and he knocked on the heavy stone. "We've used them in the Rite of Blood before. They usually feed on the other animals around here ... like the skunks you saw on the way in," he offered. "The occasional mule deer or hamster as well."

"Not much of a meal for them," Jordan chuckled.

"The local hamsters can be as large as woodchucks," Mikala smirked, turning back to the door as it opened to reveal an ancient Tigress. She looked between them, inclining her head politely.

"Greetings, Lord Mikala ... you've brought more guests than we expected," she observed.

"Only Rock is planning to stay, Tanna," he reassured her. "Rock, Lady Henrietta, Lord Jordan, this is Tanna. For all intents and purposes, she came with the Temple," he chuckled.

"And I'll be here until it falls," the Tigress grinned back at him, revealing sharp metal teeth.

"Then may you have a very long life yet to lead," Rock bowed to her with polite respect that was not faked, the two Dachshunds mirroring the gesture, though not as deeply.

"A gentleman," the old Tigress smiled, stepping back. "Please, come in; be welcome in Tamorl's domain."

"Thank you, Tanna," Jordan said as they stood and walked in. It was little cooler inside; the black stone of the spires transferred the sun's heat throughout the entire structure. At least it wasn't as stiflingly wet and humid.

"Would you like me to show Rock around, Lord Mikala, or do you wish to finish it yourself?" She asked him politely.

"If you would, I will prepare for his initiation," Mikala inclined his head slightly to her. "You do know this place better than any."

"Yes, my Lord," she said, bowing her own head more deeply. "Come along; if you have any questions, feel free to ask," she said, turning around and leading the way inside, the heavy outer doors closing themselves as she led the way deeper into the temple, away from the door that Mikala was walking towards.

Old as she was, she walked without cane or walking stick; she seemed to support herself with sheer determination instead.

"If you have been here so long, why does another outrank you?" Rock asked, taking in everything around him with keen awareness of their value to hurt or heal.

Everywhere, he could see edges or points. Not every surface, of course, but it would be possible to hurt himself anywhere if he wasn't careful. The floor was mostly clear, at least.

"I'm not a priestess," Tanna explained. "Not officially, at least. I was never initiated, certainly never trained. Seniority loses out to ambition and training, here," she chuckled slightly. "Besides, I'm happy with things the way they are. I'll warn you all now; the infirmary here is perfectly capable, but uses methods that are considered barbaric on the outside. Cauterizations, stitching wounds, no anesthetic ... we do have magic, but it saves little of the pain. It is Tamorl's way."

"Just how bad will the reaction be if Jake does show up?" Rock asked. "I told him not to look for me, but he'll feel it when I'm hurt. For all he's usually my sub, he's not all that submissive outside the bedroom."

"It is up to the priests, but he will almost certainly be turned away. You may see him, but he will not be allowed to stay here with you for any appreciable time," Tanna explained. "Assuming he even could find the Temple, the best he would manage is proving the will to wait outside until you were ready... though if he managed it, he would impress everybody here greatly. The priests mean well, but as hard as they can seem, they respect that sort of bond between two people. And so do I," she added with a smile.

"Thank you," he let out a worried breath. "I'm trying to go by the rules I know, but I know him, and just how much the pain-feedback can drive me. He's not nearly as well equipped to deal with the energy. Eventually he's going to try, even if just to prove to himself that he can find me if he really needs to."

"If he needs to, from what I understand of your mate, it will be Tamorl's choice how far he gets," Tanna explained. "He may allow it, just as a small gift to his daughter." She stopped in front of a small room, opening the door to show a spartan room with three beds and a small chamber pot in it.

Or, at least, almost beds. They were wooden boards, studded throughout with an interwoven network of angled nails.

"Your quarters; you'll share it with two others," she explained to Rock. "I believe the plan is that you'll stay with Lord Mikala and Bloody Lady Kiera, though that may change if he has another room offered to him. If that's the case, then you may only be staying with the Bloody Lady until there is a new arrival. And you may sleep on the floor, if you prefer it to the beds."

"I'll keep that in mind," Rock murmured as he considered the choices, and wondered how anyone actually managed to rest on the beds. The floor would be hard, but if he chose correctly, not sharp.

But he was here to learn there ways, and he'd be damned if he didn't try to sleep the way they did.

He dropped his light backpack off his shoulder. "Which bed will be mine?"

"By plan, the one on the left," she told him, indicating the bed nearest the pot. "You'll be best off leaving your things in your bag; we don't have places to store much in the way of personal belongings," she admitted. "I should tell you; if you can come up with a way to make things more comfortable for yourself, it will be accepted. Not everybody is cut out for the way Tamorl's priests live, and this place is where most of them go when they want to go through more punishment than they usually do."

"Thank you for the advice," he nodded and slid his backpack under his bed before turning to join them again. "I'm sure I will, when I start hitting my limits."

"Letting yourself hit them is all they're likely to ask of you," she smiled. "Tamorl may be a different matter, but I'm sure you'll do your best to impress him as well."

"I wouldn't be here at all if I wasn't going to do my best," Rock nodded as the tour continued. "If you are not even an initiate, Lady Tanna, why are you here?"

"Just Tanna," she corrected him easily. "As you said, I'm not an initiate; we're equals, and before you leave I'll be calling you my Lord," she chuckled. "As for why, it's a personal favor from Tamorl. When I was much, much younger, he took me as one of his few mortal lovers. After I carried one of his children to term, he brought me here to live with him, somewhere between the mortal realm and the divine one. When I die, I will join him, but until then, I remain here."

"Wow," Rock breathed, absorbing not only the concept that he was talking to the long-time lover of a Primal god, but that she was far more modest about it and her place in the hierarchy than he was as the mate of the champion of Bastet.

Of course... she'd had how long to get used to it? He doubted the joke about her 'coming with the Temple' was anything more than a joke, but it sounded like she'd come here decades ago, at the very least.

He didn't know about any demigods Tamorl had sired, but that alone was a fairly strong argument that it had happened a very, very long time ago.

"Just how long have you been here?" Henrietta asked curiously.

"Longer than I can remember," Tanna admitted. "Especially living here. I haven't left the Temple in centuries; its magic keeps me alive, if not young."

"Centuries?" Rock blinked, then nodded. "Would I be right that you don't particularly care how old you actually are?"

"Not any more," she chuckled slightly. "You reach a point when it doesn't really matter any more... all you can do is let the years go by, and live life from day to day the best you can. One of these days, my time will be up, and I'll join Tamorl in His realm. Until then, I serve His priests."

"Are you his only former lover here?" Rock asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.

"Who isn't a priest or priestess, yes," she chuckled. "He very, very rarely takes mortal partners for more than a brief time. The Inflictor has been with him, but only as part of his promotion to the rank."

"Will I have a schedule of sorts most days, or will it be up in the air?" Rock asked as they passed a room that looked to be a torture chamber even by local standards.

"There will be a schedule of sorts, but what specifically you will be doing at any given time will vary," she explained. "Meals are on a schedule, you'll have a few hours at dawn and dusk for hunting or other chores, and ten to twelve hours a day around meals will be spent studying with the Priests. What in particular they teach you will vary from one priest and day to the next."

"How much time to sleep or do as I wish?" he asked next.

"Should be eight to ten hours for the two of them," she said after a few moments to think about it. "Depending on how long your studies run. Few people around here sleep for a full eight hours... seeing the beds, you might imagine why," she chuckled deeply.

"Very easily," he nodded with a slight smile for her humor. "I honestly can't imagine how one could sleep well on one of them."

"You adjust to it, or you learn to sleep despite pain," she said easily. "It's one of the hardest parts to adjust to though, and likely always will be for most. If you really want something to think about," she grinned, "imagine trying to have sex on one of those."

"Very carefully, it might not be half-bad," Henrietta mused.

"I think this is where, for my back's sake, we should move on," Jordan said in a deadpan tone of voice.

"Her legs would fare worse than your back," Rock chuckled. "Higher surface to weight ratio."

"I think I could live with that," Henrietta chuckled as her brother swatted her with his tail.

"Why don't we move on," Tanna chuckled. "I forget, sometimes, that Eshik and Marka's followers can be almost as bad as Tamorl's."

"If you're talking pain with pleasure, oh yeah," Rock laughed deeply. "Some might even be worse," he added, thinking of his mate and Barbara.

"Very difficult; you saw one of the meditation chambers before," Tanna chuckled. "This is another one, a bit more normal," she added, indicating a largely empty room with a handful of cabinets around the outside. "For those who want to meditate on their own, without having to find a partner or stay in shape to take their place later on."

"Meditation in pain ... is the idea to meditate through the pain, or to focus on it?" Rock asked, trying to wrap his brain around it and finding either method viable.

"A bit of both, depending on school of thought," she said easily. "Most start trying to meditate through it, then focus more on the pain itself ... first on how it affects the body, then on its role in life and the universe."

"I think I'm glad Jake didn't manage to find a way here," Rock shook his head. "He'd go way overboard."

"It is difficult to go too far here," she reassured him. "Not impossible, but it takes quite a bit of effort, as long as you have somebody with you to stop you from going too far. He's a masochist, or finds pain interesting on a more academic level?"

"I know him as a masochist, one whose fantasies were heavy in being dead side of snuff," Rock said quietly. "I'm not sure it's occurred to him yet that there is an academic side to it, or at least he doesn't bring it up around me."

"Mmm ... well, if nothing else, you should be able to take home quite a few pieces of information that will be helpful," she offered. "This is the library," she said, indicating a large room lined with books, some modern, some ancient. It was unique of the rooms that he'd seen that it actually looked fairly comfortable ... the straight, wooden-backed chairs actually looked like they had cushions on them.

"That's different," Rock actually commented.

"Reading is still more effective without pain," Tanna grinned at him with a wink, a move that put her steel teeth on display. "We do want the material learned when you are trying."

"It does make sense," Jordan nodded. "At least there'll be somewhere you can go with a reasonably comfortable place to sit."

"The books we have here are fairly well split between scriptural works, philosophical texts, and classic works on pain and torture," Tanna explained. "You'll read some of all three, I'm sure, but most of the time you spend in here will probably be with a Priest to guide your reading and discuss the material. How much reading for debate do you do?" She asked him curiously.

"Not that much, usually," Rock admitted. "More lately than usual, though."

"Understandable," she nodded. "The dining hall is nearby," she told him, moving on to the next rooms. "Do you have any particular foods that you cannot eat?"

"Not that I've found," he said, wondering just how far this would go into things he would seriously consider going hungry to avoid eating.

"Good," she nodded. "Meals here usually tend towards the spicy; it's the easiest way to cover the bitterness of the meats and vegetables from the swamp. However, we do make adjustments for people with allergies or philosophical objections. It's uncommon, but there are vegetarians among the priests."

"Spicy is good," he smiled in a bit of relief. "I'm considered a respectable cook if that's on the chore rotation."

"Do you prefer cooking, or hunting?" Tanna asked him easily, cocking her head slightly as she looked back and down at him.

"I've never hunted before, so I guess I prefer cooking," he told her a touch sheepishly. "I'm a city Kat."

"Just as well; we've got plenty of priests who do know how to hunt here, so you can help more in the kitchen. It'll mean more chores, but for shorter stretches most likely," she told him easily, leading the way to the primitive but sizeable kitchen.

"Not the tech I'm used to, but I think I understand enough of the basic to be useful quickly enough," Rock nodded as he checked the place out.

"If you're any good at grilling meats, you'll be fine," she reassured him, indicating the stone stove. "The herbs are fresh, with a few exceptions that we get imported from various cities and countries. Salucia in particular; they send us supplies regularly. Are you at all familiar with their cooking?" She asked, opening up a cabinet to show jars of fresh herbs and a handful of smaller containers of dried and ground spices.

"Unfortunately not," he admitted, opening various jars and sniffing to get a feel for the taste they would impart.

She'd been right about the spicy part; Rock had a feeling that Jake would have loved half of these. The peppers they usually cooked with had nothing on some of the rubs; one of them burned to the tips of his whiskers when he got a whiff of it.

"You think you'll be able to work with them?" She asked him easily.

"Definitely," he nodded. "The peppers are hotter than what I usually use, but you have a good variety of my mainstays. Are the veggies from a garden or wild?"

"A bit of both; we cultivate some of them within the Temple's walls, in the upper levels, but most of them we gather from the outside. The mainstays of our diet are from there," she said, opening up a large refrigerator that seemed to be one of the few concessions to the modern age, artfully concealed in the room. "We keep enough for a full day's meals stored in here," she told him. "In case of bad hunting."

"Does anyone go longer range hunting for bigger game?" Rock asked as he checked out what he expected would be typical of a day's rations for the temple. "How many will I be cooking for, and is anyone in charge of the kitchen?"

"Some of them do, but most stay within short range of the Temple, it's safer," Tanna told him. "We have about a dozen at this point that we'll be cooking for ... and you're looking at her," Tanna chuckled. "You and I, at this point, are the only people here who aren't at least initiated into the faith, and they'll be initiating you shortly. At the moment, we've got another ten priests in the Temple, counting the Inflictor. He has his own private chambers, but he does eat with the rest of us."

"Most would rather hunt than cook?" Rock asked curiously as he finished checking out the kitchen.

"They feel it's a more active way of contributing," she chuckled. "Besides, the better they hunt, the more meat there is at the table."

"True enough, though it's not nearly as good if no one cooks," he pointed out with a snicker. "If I was staying long, I'd probably try to learn, but for a month or two it seems that I'd be more use in the kitchen."

"Believe me, your help will be most welcome... if I end up needing something else replaced, they'll be glad there's a backup cook. So, should I show you the way to the ceremonial chambers?"

Rock nodded even as he did a bit of mental math in his head. "Jake should be clued in by now, even if my cousin had to break into the workshop to do it," he chuckled to himself at the mental image that had come from more than one recounting of such occasions.

"Is there some particular reason that you had to wait until then?" She asked him curiously as they left the kitchen.

"Because of Tamorl's wedding gift to us. When one of us is hurt or in pain, the other grows stronger. If Jake gets that boost with no idea why, he's likely to take it very much the wrong way. Likely would guess that Dark Kat or the like had me."

"Can he locate you through that bond?" She asked, her long tail switching slightly as she thought it over. "One of Tamorl's gifts against another could have unusual results."

"He should be able to, though the temple's protection might block it," Rock said uncertainly.

"That's what I'm wondering about. Well, what happens will happen. As long as he doesn't try to take you from here by force it will work out."

"I seriously doubt that will happen. Chance has had hours to get a hold of him."

"Hopefully," she nodded as they reached the door they had passed at first. "Here we are; will the two of you want to stay through the initiation?" She asked the two Dachshunds following them.

"If we'll be allowed to," Henrietta nodded.

Tanna smiled in understanding and slipped inside to find out.

A few moments later, the doors opened to let the three of them into a large, dark, almost cavernous room lit by torches. The smell of smoke was heavy, the chamber draped in red and black silks.

"You are welcome for the ceremony," Mikala told them. "You have been allowed to come so far," he pointed out as Tanna left the darkened ceremonial room. "This is little more, compared to knowing where the Temple is."

As they walked in, Rock could make out a Panther in the replica armor that they had mentioned at the far end of the room. He also couldn't help but note that this room had been made for far more than a dozen people; he wondered just what sort of ritual they called more of them together for.

He'd probably learn before he left.

Henrietta and Jordan took seats among the watchers, and Rock turned to face the Inflictor for some guidance as to what would come next. This was one ritual that they were even more secretive about than most when it came to outsiders.

The Panther stood regally at the altar, holding as still as he could for the moment.

"Rock Furlong; we have been told you have come here to prove your loyalty to Tamorl, your willingness to serve His cause. If this is true, remove your clothes and prepare for the initiation."

Rock nodded and stripped, folding and stacking his clothing quickly but neatly on an empty pew. He looked up for further instructions.

"Approach the altar," the Inflictor ordered. "Make it as close as you can without falling, no further and no less."

Rock nodded. He was sure something was coming just from the language but with no clue as to what. As he stepped past the front row of pews and into the central alter area, he rocked back on his hind foot at a sharp pain in his front foot and looked at the floor.

This close he could see the nails, or possibly short spikes, in the darkness of the floor and understood.

He moved his head, looking from where his feet were to the top of the alter. His mind turned to what Jake had taught him about how to work through pain when it wasn't for pleasure. It had been a lesson his mate had insisted on, though Rock hadn't understood its value at the time.

Or more accurately, he had refused to accept that he would ever be in a situation where it was valuable.

Chalk another one up for Jake.

It had been a simple lesson even with the variations, each based on physics and biochemical fundamentals. Well-meant but a hard reminder of just how brilliant his mate was.

Calculate the distance, accept the damage, accept the pain. Relax. Move in a way that reduces both without worrying about it.

Rock took a breath and did his best to follow that training as he stepped forward, keeping his weight as evenly distributed as he could while moving forward.

The first steps weren't so bad ... the spikes hurt, but by distributing his weight properly they didn't pierce his foot. It wasn't long before that changed, before they started to sink into the muscle of his foot. He bit back the pain, ignoring it as best he could as he took the next step.

He was peripherally aware of the priests watching him, of the growing sense of respect as he took another step, and another, blood staining the spikes behind him as he sat foot on another set, slightly longer than the last.

He was sweating heavily, his fur on end as he took the next step, only two thirds of the way to the altar, and felt the next set of spikes curling up into his foot ... the damned things were twisted, like screws, sinking into his flesh and twisting in.

He let out a gasping cry of pain, but still took one more step, quietly praying that they'd heal him after this ... and wondering, if they didn't, if the result would be permanent damage.

He tried to lift his foot, but as he felt the spines ripping at his flesh and stopped, standing as still as he could, panting and trying not to think about how much blood he had to be losing like this.

"You have done well, Rock Furlong," the Inflictor observed, finally starting to walk away from the altar. His own motions were obviously painful, though he controlled it well. As he stepped down the aisle, the spikes crumbling beneath the heavy metal boots of his armor Rock could smell blood and pain, not his own, and saw it leaking from some of the joints between the plates.

Standing in front of Rock, he held out a small amulet.

"Take it," he told the much smaller tabby. "Take it, and clasp it in your hand tightly."

Rock nodded, most of his mind past the ability to question, and did as he was told. Gripped tightly in his hand, the amulet was soon held close to his chest to help keep his balance.

He was grateful when it didn't bite him, suddenly turn red hot, or otherwise try to hurt him ... the spikes were bad enough.

"He has accepted the mark of Tamorl," the Inflictor said, raising his arms. "Are you ready to begin your training?"

"Yes," Rock nodded. He was distantly aware that he was on his feet for no reason other than his refusal to move, though he was having a harder time remembering why he wasn't to move.

A slight shift in his weight brought a sharp reminder of the reason not to move and he stilled again. It wouldn't last long, he was sure, and he would either have to retreat, or more likely he'd fall into the armored Panther's arms.

The other Priests stood, stepping forward to help him. He was faintly aware that they weren't shy of stepping onto the spikes themselves as they took his arms.

"Stay awake," he heard Mikala tell him. "You'll be better shortly," the Wolf promised him.

"All right," Rock managed to say before the involuntary scream when he was pulled off the long mental screws imbedded in his feet. It was a struggle, but he kept his eyes open and his brain aware, if not able to focus too well.

He was quickly pulled into one of the pews, Jordan close behind one of Tamorl's priests in case they weren't able to do the job well enough. He was shrugged back by the lean Serval in front of him, who focused and spoke the words to a healing spell. Rock felt the pain lessen, but it still hurt like Hell as they stopped the bleeding, the spell leaving him a bit more aware and able to focus.

"Things are under control, Priest of Eshik and Marka," the Inflictor told Jordan.

"Rock?" The Dachshund asked him.

"It hurts, but I think I'm okay," he nodded to his friend. Both of them knew it was more a show of faith in those he now had to trust his life with than being sure it was true. Still, it served its purpose on all sides.

"All right," Jordan nodded. "Thank you for letting us see this ... I can say I've seen a lot worse than ours now," he murmured, stepping back.

"You're welcome ... just don't tell anybody what you have seen here," Mikala cautioned him. "Can you find your way back to the city without help?"

"I think we're good," Henrietta murmured. "Thank you again ... we should be leaving."

"Yes, you should be," the Inflictor agreed. "Don't worry ... you've seen that we can heal him, and I can tell you myself that we can heal him from worse, if it becomes necessary. To be honest, I'm surprised that he went that far; most Initiates stop after the first two or three steps that break the skin."

Rock watched his friends leave, severing his last obvious tie with the outside world and his past, and something inside him relaxed. Now it was just him and people he didn't know, and there was something calming in knowing that whatever came, no one here would interrupt at a bad moment.

Make it or not, it was up to him now.

Shier Khan rose early the next morning, rubbing Ulysses' shoulder lightly as he got up, looking down at the young half-Xanith female between them, snuggled up against Ulysses' massive, muscular frame. Her fur was matted all over her body, and he purred lowly as he remembered the night before, how thoroughly he and his lover had used her after the guards had been finished.

It had been quite a night ... but there was still something about her that unsettled him slightly. How quickly this had all come around, how clearly Ulysses adored her already.

He wondered, in part, if he might be jealous ... but he had a suspicion that it was something more. He had been raised from birth to know his emotions and not to allow them to interfere with his judgment.

Walking over to his desk, he quickly worked through the brief documents that had been delivered to explain the day's scheduled business. Fortunately, there wasn't much of it. His advisors knew his lover was coming and only put the items on his agenda that he really did have to handle personally.

Top of the list, his newest wife had entered her heat cycle in the night. Normally they wouldn't bother him with Ulysses here about such a thing, but producing a kitten with her quickly was important to the alliance the wedding with her had sealed.

After that were reminders of two video conferences in the evening shortly before dinner. Then he got to the more interesting parts; the intelligence reports. Nothing new on Janet, though his intelligence minister agreed with him that it was uncharacteristically abrupt from appearances.

He raised an eyebrow at the next report.

*Champion Updates*

Those didn't come all that often, not like this.

Rock Furlong had dropped off the radar, quite literally, somewhere in the MegaKat City Badlands with three priests, and left his mate behind. All signs were that he would be the Champion of Tamorl when he appeared again.

Jake Clawson had gone hunting, and he hadn't gone alone.

Two other champions and two high priests were with him, and according to the Enforcer files, they had a kill list of fifteen names and Felina Feral had authorized his extended absence for the hunt.

"Anything interesting?" Janet asked him, just a little sleepily, and politely standing far enough back he could be sure she wasn't reading over his shoulder.

Politely, or intelligently; she would have been flat on her ass by now if she'd gotten his attention from any closer.

"Yes," he regarded her with calculated interest as he thought about his newest wife's stated preferences. "Much of it not for Ulysses to hear yet. Do you have much experience pleasuring a female?"

"Not much," she admitted honestly. "Some during my heats, but not as much as some fems. Something you'd like to see before we go?" She asked him.

"My newest wife is in heat, and while we will try for a kitten, she prefers females," he said simply. "It will give us some time together while you are here."

"I would be honored, Lord Khan," she said, blinking a bit at the suggestion. "Assuming that it wouldn't bother him?" She asked, nodding back towards Feral slightly.

"I would be very surprised if it did," Shier chuckled deeply. "You can wake him and ask if you wish."

"As long as you think he'll be okay with it, I'll let him rest," she smiled. "He gets too little sleep as it is. Do you want to lead the way, or should we clean up first?"

"There is little need to clean up," he pointed out with a low chuckle and stood. "Though it would be polite to wear a robe."

"I'd expected to put some clothes on before leaving," she giggled slightly, heading for her bags before Shier offered her one of the silken bathrobes kept in the room. "Thank you, Lord Khan," she smiled, accepting it and tying the dark blue silk around her waist.

She kept her eyes open she as was guided through the palace to a well-guarded portion that had a decidedly more feminine feel. Soon it was cooler and the scent of flowers and water was in the air. She could hear kittens playing and the laughter of large females.

"How has your family been, since the attack?" She asked Khan quietly.

"We have done well," he said a bit stiffly. "It is an important reminder that every time one believes one's defenses have been perfected, something will get through."

"I'm sorry for bringing back bad memories," she said apologetically even as she took in the measure of the Tigresses, from those who looked to be Shier's mother's age to those who hadn't reached adolescence yet, as they took hers. "I didn't mean any harm."

"I understand," Shier nodded his acceptance and led her to a curtained door, one of many that were along the inside wall of the grand indoor courtyard. He pushed it aside and stepped forward to allow Janet to join him before the decorative curtain dropped back into place.

"My lord," the youthful Tigress stood from her pillow nest to kneel before her husband. Her breath was quick from the effort of her fingers, and it turned into a nervous rumble when he let his rope slide from his powerful shoulders to display himself to her.

"I thought you might enjoy a female's attentions to relax you, Nemisha," he put a hand under her chin and drew her to her feet before kissing her gently. "Fan your fires to forget your nervousness."

Janet slipped her own robes off, drawing close but waiting for permission to do anything. All the same, she looked Nemisha over, purring lowly as she took in the cinnamon Tigress not yet out of her teens.

"Thank you, my lord," Nemisha moaned softly, her instincts to mate making her tremble at being so close to such a strong, aroused male in his early prime.

"Then call to me when you are ready for me," he rumbled deeply and turned her slightly towards the gray tabby her height.

"You've never been with a male before, have you?" Janet asked, stepping up to Nemisha and reaching up to caress her cheek lightly. "Any rules, for either of us?" She asked, glancing between the two Tigers.

"No," Nemisha pressed into the more familiar contact.

"Only that we do need a kitten this year," Shier chuckled as he relaxed on the pillows near one wall, giving the two females plenty of space.

"That's up to you," Janet winked at him, turning to kiss Nemisha tenderly. "So, have you been all alone waiting for him?" She purred lowly, reaching down to massage her breasts lightly.

"Yes," she pressed into the contact eagerly even as she returned it. "No one helps relieve it when you are expected to breed."

"Not my rule," Shier commented, his arousal hard and full just from her scent.

"Poor thing ... well, we have permission to change that now," Janet purred lowly, running her hands down the young woman's sides, cupping her sex and stroking it lightly. "Do you want to be in control of this?"

"No need," Nemisha moaned, rocking her hips against Janet's hand eagerly, her fur already slick with the juices of her hunger.

"Good," Janet rumbled deep in her throat, kissing the young shekat before turning her to face Shier Khan and pull her close, slipping a finger up into her dripping sex to see how much of a virgin she really was.

The startled gasp Nemisha made before she tried to relax and the incredible tightness around her finger was more than enough clue that toys hadn't been on the Tigresses list of experiences either.

"Shh ... don't worry, I'll be gentle," Janet promised. "But if you can't take this, you'll never be able to properly appreciate your husband," she rumbled, working her finger in and out of her sex slowly, leaning up to lick the edge of one rounded ear. "Just relax, and let me prepare you for him, for the kittens you'll have together."

Nemisha nodded and slowly unwound her tension as Janet's fingers between her legs and hand on her breast worked to take her mind off the sight of what would soon be thrust inside her.

"Don't worry, it'll be wonderful when the time comes," Janet promised her, squeezing her breasts, rubbing her own breasts against her back. "He's an incredible lover, and you're not his first who hasn't had a tom before, I'm sure."

"You are not," he confirmed, privately enjoying the extra test of his will to lay back and watch this without touching himself or them. It would definitely make filling Nemisha with his seed all the more enjoyable; an unusual anticipation for a mating that was out of duty and not desire. Though she had an exotic beauty compared to most of his wives that made it just a bit easier.

Janet carefully slipped a second finger up into Nemisha's sex, rubbing her clit with the heel of her hand as she nuzzled and kissed the Tigress' neck, slowly working her way down her back and to her knees, giving the base of her tail a light lick as she shifted her grip so that she could pleasure her more easily.

"Raise your tail and spread your legs," she rumbled. She felt Nemisha's willing compliance in the shift of their weight, and the heat of Shier Khan's eyes on them. She doubted that the trembling Tigress would last much longer before she called him to mate her.

Janet pushed three fingers up into the Tigress' sex, stretching her out for the massive, throbbing cock that was waiting for her. Slipping her head up under her tail, she gave the tight pink pucker of her anus a light lick, testing her response to that sort of attention and backed off almost immediately when Nemisha's tail tried to push her away.

"Sorry," she apologized quietly, redoubling her efforts with her fingers, nuzzling the insides of Nemishia's thigh and drinking in the scent of her arousal. It wasn't hard, and very soon Nemishia's body tightened around her fingers.

"Ohh, my Lord," Nemishia moaned, looking directly at Shier.

He rumbled and grinned as he stood to join them, his hands caressing her breasts and stomach as she came around Janet's fingers and slowly came down.

"Should I stay here?" Janet asked as she stood behind Nemishia, nuzzling her neck as Shier Khan brought Nemishia to her back on the cushions. "Or find some other way to amuse myself for a while?" She winked.

"Stay or go, it is your choice," he told her as he sank into Nemishia's body for the first time, his focus on her and breeding her.

Ulysses Feral stretched luxuriously, relishing in the lack of concerns he had here. While it wasn't completely unusual to wake up in the bed by himself, it was notable that Shier wasn't in the room at all. That Janet was also missing made an eyebrow rise as he got up.

Even so, he stretched and walked to the adjoining bathroom, a blue tiled and glass space larger than his entire apartment in MegaKat City. He breathed deeply of the warm air and slid into the smallest of the pools, one only large enough for one Tiger to relax fully submerged. It's clear, liquid contents were likely worth more than the entire building he lived in.

He shivered slightly in the memories of the first time he had spent time in this small pool as he slid into the cooling, enveloping waters. No matter how many times he did this, that first deep breath under the surface was a test of will, but it was the second one that was always the hardest. The liquid flooded his lungs; his body screamed that he was drowning, even though he knew his lungs could extract plenty of oxygen from the liquid.

By the fifth breath the Liquid Air had saturated his lungs and everything settled to the calmness of breathing thick air. He purred, a vibration that traveled along his entire body with a ripple of pleasure. He couldn't really feel it, but he knew it was working wonders on healing months of abuse on his muscles and strengthening his bones.

To him, it just felt incredibly good to relax in a completely weightless environment held at the perfect temperature.

As he relaxed, Janet was brushing out her hair on the way in to clean up, leaving Shier and his wife to their own devices for a while. She wasn't paying particularly close attention to anybody else in the room, not being shy about her body.

When she did look around, to see if there were any showers available, she noticed Ulysses' still body beneath the liquid surface, eyes closed, and realized there weren't any bubbles rising.

"Shit," she swore under her breath, hurrying to the side of the pool he was in and reaching under to try and pull him out. Her mission wouldn't be a failure if he had drowned, but it was about the worst sort of success she could manage!

She just about jumped out of her skin when his eyes snapped opened and he grabbed her out of pure reflex and pulled her under the water that didn't feel quite like water.

He let go as soon as he realized who it was and stood, working the powerful muscles of his chest and diaphragm to force the liquid from his lugs before he could speak.

"What the Hell?" She sputtered, looking up at him as he finished spitting up the fluid. "What is this stuff?"

"Liquid Air," he said simply. "You can breathe it."

"Oh... sorry I... woke you up?" She murmured, trying to relax a bit. "It looked like you'd drowned."

"No, I was merely relaxing," Ulysses shrugged. "I smell you had an energetic morning," he chuckled and drew her close for a kiss. "Up for finding out how much of your willpower survived?"

"Mmm ... Khan's newest wife went into heat... poor dear never had a male before, prefers fems, so he asked for some help," she chuckled, kissing him back. "I didn't think you'd mind. So... what are you thinking of?"

"I don't," he chuckled. "A good use of your morning. Come with me," he rumbled and pulled down, taking her under the surface with him.

On instinct, she tried to hold her breath, resisting the idea of inhaling the water until Ulysses lips against hers and the burning pressure in her lungs were too much. She opened her mouth, a bubble of air escaping from her lungs and rupturing the surface as she had no choice but to swallow the Liquid Air. It took an incredible act of will to keep from trying to force it back out ... she did once, but it rushed back in immediately.

After a few breaths through it, her body convinced itself that it was safe, and she was able to try and relax, her diaphragm aching from the first few tortured spasms.

The sensation of breathing water was indescribable. Her muscles weren't meant for it, this thicker medium, yet she wasn't lacking for oxygen. She really didn't know what to make of the intoxicating sensation that was creeping around her brain.

Ulysses' hands left her sides for a moment, but she didn't try to get above the surface yet, forcing herself to stay under with him. She wrapped her arms around him, kissing him deeply as she started to adjust.

A soundless moan escaped her as his fingers found her sex and the arousal that had gone largely unattended all morning.

She wrapped a leg around him, trying to purr, finding the sensation downright alien under here as she reached down to fondle his sheath lightly and found him eagerly responsive.

Soon he was on his back on the bottom with her held tightly against him as they rubbed together until he was hard. Janet's head threw back with a soundless cry when he drove his hard cock deep into her hungry body.

She felt her ears come out of the water, and lowered her head again, kissing him hungrily as she milked his shaft, rubbing against him and working him needily. She shifted to nuzzle his neck, nibbling it lightly as he wrapped his arms across her back and moved with her.

The pleasure built in her clit first and she welcomed the way it roiled up inside her, spreading until she lost control of her body and only her lovers arms around her kept her in place.

Without a pause, Ulysses continued to thrust through her orgasm, pushing it higher, pushing her through it and then up to another peak.

A part of her absently wondered about the wisdom of doing this here, of mating underwater when they were both breathing it, but after the morning she'd had she didn't really care. Khan and Numishia had both enjoyed themselves thoroughly, and still were... she was hungry for it to be her turn.

She nipped Feral's shoulder, panting as he pushed her up into a second orgasm, her body tightening and milking his barbed shaft. She was full of the Liquid Air, her juices leaking into it as she tried to get him to pump his into her.

It wasn't long before he obliged her, rolling them over and pinning her against the bottom as he drove into her with all his power. His seed pumped into her in bursts timed with his thrusts, but he didn't stop when it was over.

Janet moaned silently as he kept fucking her, one orgasm after another rushing through them both as he mated her until she passed out beneath the surface of the breathable pool.

Jake drummed his fingers on the steering wheel as he drove through the streets of Sayden Bay. The car blended in well in this neighborhood ... not too expensive, but in good shape. Just dirty enough that it looked like it was really his and not the Enforcer undercover loaner it really was. The only attention it would likely attract would be streetwalkers ... maybe a carjacker who was feeling his oats.

The first kind could be easily turned away unless it seemed likely to be informative. The second ... if it did get that sort of attention, the poor idiot would quickly find himself thinking the better of it. Assuming he lasted long enough to rethink it.

Behind the wheel was Jake, still more than a little pissed off about Rock's disappearing and the intense pain he felt his mate going through constantly since it had begun the day before. It was strongest shortly after it started and had soon leveled out, but Rock was still hurting a day later and it was doing a real number on Jake's temperament.

Between Kyale and Sheira Thalas he'd been pounded on and done enough damage that he could keep his claws sheathed, but it was a trial at best. He knew Rock could handle this kind of feedback; the magical strength, adrenaline and stress of not knowing what was going on, but Jake was quite willing to admit his painful lack of experience at it.

It was no accident that the battle-hardened, dark-furred and regal Lioness in the front passenger seat was Shiera, the Champion of the War-Goddess Sheliel, and the only one of his four companions that could drop him without breaking much of a sweat.

She'd proven twice already that she was quite willing to beat him into calmness when he got too uppity to. What no one but the two of them really got was that he honestly did appreciate it. It was why he'd sought her out once the first rush of power had tapered off. He knew he needed someone to control him when he lashed out in irritation and frustration. That was an incredibly short list to pick from.

The three in the back seat were mild in comparison, but all in all, the five looked more like a small gang than three champions and two priests ... which, in Sayden Bay, meant they fit right in.

"There she is," Hyretha said, nodding towards a young, attractive shekat; blonde, blue eyed and dark furred as she hurried down the streets, a purse hugged close to her side. "Any ideas how we should do this?"

"Does she prefer male or female attention?" Sheira asked, her finely tuned tactical mind running through every possible battle plan.

"A moment," the Hyena murmured, closing her eyes and thinking, viewing the shekat in her mind's eye, through Sulma's gaze. The mother-Goddess' matchmaking gift worked as well now as ever.

"Right now, female... she's still hurting from the attack," she murmured. "Males, especially a group ... bad idea."

"So I am likely to frighten her as well," Sheira nodded in understanding. "Perhaps you or Talos should be the first to approach her."

"Mmm ... both of us, possibly?" Hyretha suggested, looking at the Priestess. "She's more likely to trust you than me, but my gifts may help make her more comfortable."

"Agreed," the regal, platinum blond furred shekat nodded. "The Lady's aura can unsettle some people."

"Yes, yes, but why are we here, looking at her?" Jake grumbled, his tail flicking impatiently. "She doesn't even smell of Darkfur."

"Jake, as far as we know, she's the last one to have been helped by him," Hyretha pointed out. "Our best bet for getting close enough to sense him is to know where he's patrolling, find a place he's been recently. You heard the Sayden Bay police earlier; he used some very potent gifts when he was protecting her. That'll leave us something to follow if we can find the spot."

"Right," he sighed in pent-up frustration and watched from the side of his eyes as the two females got out.

"You're just miffed that your aerial patrol was vetoed," Sheira snickered before turning her attention to their allies and the shekat they were approaching.

She noticed them, looking between them a bit nervously before glancing at a door, seeming to be gauging if she could make the run to the door before they reached her. As Hyretha approached, though, she started to calm down visibly.

"She has some useful gifts, considering who her patron is," Sheira mused.

"Ones I would have, if I focused more on Bastet's path," Jake said absently.

Meanwhile, across the street, Hyretha and Talos approached the young woman.

"Miss? Can we speak with you?" Hyretha asked her as they walked up.

"Who are you?" She asked them guardedly.

"I am Talos, this is Hyretha," the pale, slender shekat introduced them calmly. "We understand that William Darkfur helped you recently."

"What about it?" She asked, edging slightly towards the door.

"He is the Protector of the Poor, Terra," Talos explained. "We wish to help him. We hoped you would tell us where you saw him last."

"How do you know my name?" Terra asked her with a frown. "I don't want to get anybody in trouble ... especially not him."

"We do not want to get him in trouble either," Talos assured her. "Jake," she nodded towards the car," is a skilled hacker. We found your name in the police files."

"So who are you working for?" The young shekat asked, looking between them, and back at the car. "You're a pretty strange group."

"We work for ourselves," Talos said simply. "Like minds and friends can sometimes make for an unusual group. It is important work, protecting those who can not protect themselves."

"All right," she said, still a little nervous. "How well do you know the neighborhood?"

"I know it well," she nodded. "Sheira has a good knowledge as well.

"The attack was in the alley on Gorham ... he walked me back here though. I let him borrow my first aid kit, and he said he was going to go back and clean up ... he was probably heading back to Gorham, but it was a few days ago."

"It will be a good start," Talos smiled her thanks before they turned to return to the car. "Stay safe."

"You guys too... he's not really the friendly sort," Terra pointed out before disappearing into her house.

"We've got a lead on him," Hyretha reassured Jake as they climbed back in the car. "Is there any particular place on Gorham Street around here that would be a likely alley?"

"Quite a few, but there's probably only one that has the right signature on it," Sheira said after a moment to think.

"I'll know it when we get there," Jake said before pulling onto the street.

"Then let's go," the Hyena nodded, settling in for the short trip. "I hope he's willing to talk ... this is one Champion who deserves to get back on track."

"If he does, he'd better be able to point me to a good fight," Jake growled, maneuvering through the largely deserted streets.

Sayden Bay was the best proof Manx could ask for that the Bars weren't urban decay at its worst. At least that was just a district, not an entire city. People were at work now ... and at night, it would only get worse. Even now, they could see streetwalkers here and there, keeping an eye out for any prospective johns. One of them, noticing their attention, stretched out her leg provocatively, but they drove on by, leaving her behind.

"Here," Sheira said quietly as they pulled by one of the alleys, one of the few that didn't have smoke rising from behind a dumpster or trashcan.

"Nobody's squatting here," Hyretha murmured. "Won't be sorry to leave this place behind, that's for damned sure."

"Agreed," Jake nodded and got out, sniffing at the air. "A champion was here, and free with power," he added as they spread out to explore the bloodstained and fire-scorched space.

"I'd kind of guessed that," Sheira murmured, looking around. "He'd get along well with Halikar, I suspect."

"In good times, we are close allies," Jake acknowledge, his bloodlust dimming for a moment as memories of a thousand lifetimes welled up unbidden.

"Jake, are you okay?" Sheira asked him quietly.

"Yes," he nodded quickly as he picked up the power trail and followed it. "Dynil gave me a few flashbacks of when Alexander was the Blue Moon Killer and taking him down."

"Just remember, this isn't personal," the Lioness warned him. "Even if he is doing the same thing. He can get better, if we find him before he does too much more. At least that's what Hyretha keeps on saying."

Jake nodded as he pushed the memories aside to analyze later. He was the Champion of the Defender and the Mother. He could not allow himself to forget that. The pain of his mate could not break that. He was not a killer, for all he killed.

The power-scent grew stronger as he got closer, but it was his target powering up that made it all the more urgent. Sheira had already called her armor. He envied her sometimes, with her ability to focus completely on her training and duties as a champion for only one god.

His best days were a headache, torn between three duties, and that wasn't counting his own duty to his missing mate.

Shots rang out, at least three of them though the last was so loud it could have been more than one. They hurried up, shots and shouts continuing to punctuate the still air of Sayden Bay.

Sheira manifested a long blade, rushing ahead of Jake with her long, powerful legs as somebody was hit. They rounded the corner to see a tom in a leather biker jacket and helmet facing off against two of Sayden Bay's finest, one of them on the ground, the other firing at their attacker.

The tom had a shotgun across his back and a pistol in one hand, trying to shoot down the other cop as the owner of a small store slammed the door shut.

"William Darkfur, halt your attack!" Sheira demanded.

The tom turned his head to see what was happening, and the cop took the opening. In the moment he had, he focused his aim, pulling the trigger until it clicked empty. The first three slugs slammed into Darkfur's chest, staggering him before the next caught his arm. He dropped his pistol, then went to the ground as the last shot ripped into his helmet.

The cop ejected his empty clip, starting forward as he replaced it.

"Damn idiot," Jake growled as he launched into the fray to body tackle the cop in a twisting roll that ended with him on top and the cop unconscious in cuffs.

Murin, the white-furred Persian tom, rushed forward to check the other cop. Turning him over, he inspected him quickly, then shook his head.

"He's already dead," he said softly as Sheira walked up to Darkfur, putting a foot between his shoulder blades.

"Don't try anything," the Lioness ordered him firmly, blade at the ready in case he did.

"I don't have any quarrel with you," her prisoner mumbled lowly. "Not yet. This isn't what it looks like," he told them.

"A champion of Vuf is trying to kill corrupt cops," Jake stood, his body fighting his gut as he walked up to his prisoner. "Am I close?"

"...Yes," Darkfur said, spreading his arms out on the ground, showing his hands were empty. "Ask the shop owner, but don't let him know the one's still alive if you want the truth. They were going to bust up his shop, and him, for not paying up."

"Let him up," Jake looked at Sheira, praying he was judging this right.

The Lioness stepped back warily, letting Darkfur up. As he stood painfully, Jake could see that he had a bulletproof vest on under his torn jacket.

"What are you three doing here?" He asked, backing up against a wall, looking between Jake, Hyretha, and Sheira nervously. A scarf hid his face, but it was clear that he was expecting another fight. All the same, he didn't make a move for his shotgun yet.

"Hunting, and trying to stop a repeat of the Blue Moon Killer," Jake told him, though his body language betrayed which method of stopping he preferred at the moment. "This city is in enough trouble without another champion going off the deep end."

"How else am I supposed to do my job?" Darkfur challenged him. "You can't help these people without stopping the ones making this city the hell-hole it is."

"Not easily," Jake acknowledged as he approached, though he kept a respectful distance from William and met the other champion's eyes. It was just too easy for him to see himself, his own potential future, looking at him in the dark tabby's face. "I came here to kill you, Darkfur," he said honestly. "You aren't that far gone yet, and neither is your city, if you can accept help."

"Help from who?" He asked, a bit of a bitter tone in his voice. "There's damned few people around here who'd offer it, and not many others willing to step in."

"Darkfur ... William, we can discuss this somewhere safer for all of us," Hyretha offered, extending her hand. "Trust me when I tell you that you can trust Jake to mean his offer ... if he was going to just kill you, he'd have done it by now. He's had me in a perfect spot to do it before, and hasn't. He isn't out to just take out every Champion he meets."

"Not even I do," Sheira pointed out. "Even the Goddess of War understands the value of allies. Vuf and Halikar have long been strong alies, and Bastet a friend to them both."

"What they're getting to is that we have pull in places that have the ability to send help here, if there is a local leader for it," Jake said before looking at the cop that was starting to stir. "Him ... do you have anything on him that could stand up in a fair court?"

"It depends on who's willing to testify ... I haven't really bothered with collecting evidence for other people, not around here at any rate," Darkfur admitted. "At least his partner won't be giving anybody any more grief," he said, with little regret in his voice.

Jake nodded. "Stay put," he ordered and turned to knock on the shot door. "I'm not a cop," he called out to the frightened person inside.

"So who are you?" The owner asked nervously.

"The champion of Bastet," he called back, sure it was the most likely of his titles to get a good response. "I just want to talk a bit."

"Right... I am armed in here now," the tom inside warned him before the door opened on the small grocery store and the Burmese tom inside, moving back behind the cash register quickly.

Jake nodded as he walked in. "The cops outside, they were shaking you down?"

"Me and pretty much everybody else on the block," he pointed out cautiously. "I'm not going to spread it around, if that's what you want to know."

"I just wanted to hear it from a victim," Jake said softly, channeling Bastet's aura as best he could. "They will not harass you again."

"What are you going to do with Darkfur? He's been cleaning up the neighborhood pretty well ... they started shooting first," the Burmese pointed out.

Jake wasn't sure if he could believe him or not ... it had been a close thing, at best, he was sure. Still, it didn't really matter. Corrupt cops had to be dealt with, one way or another, and it had to be done quickly and decisively.

"We are going to help him," Jake said simply as he turned to leave. "Vuf is a close ally of Bastet and Halikar."

He could feel the shock of the store owner as he left, the surprise that anybody who didn't already know the situation first-hand would want to help. The door closed behind him before he could hear any response though.

"So, what did he tell you?" Hyretha asked, standing next to the cop car, cell phone in one hand as she watched the captive cop in the back seat of his own squad car. "And should I call paramedics to pick him up?" She asked, nodding towards the dead officer.

"No real surprise, it's what Darkfur said, and don't call it in yet," Jake shook his head. "Bring his body, his partner, and the cruiser. I have a plan."

"Setting him up," Sheira asked as she moved to pick up the corpse.

"Yes, and worse," Jake agreed.

"Hyretha, get the trunk ... unless we need to let them sit next to each other?" She asked, looking at Jake.

"No need," he shook his head as they settled everyone into place between the two vehicles. "What's coming will be worse for him. Darkfur, what's a safe place for us to talk and set this up? A warehouse or the like."

"I've got a small storage area near here," he told them, walking over to a motorcycle leaning up against a wall and climbing on. "Follow me, I'll lead the way."

Jake nodded and the small caravan with the patrol car in the middle headed out in silence. Everyone was with their own thoughts, and wondering just what Jake had in mind for their captive.

"It's going to be my word against yours," the battered officer growled at Jake and Sheira.

"The word of a cop against the word of three Champions and two high-ranking priests?" Jake chuckled darkly. "Even the corrupt system here is likely to side with us. I'll probably manage to work up forensic evidence too if I need to. I have more than enough training for it."

"Forensic evidence of what?" The cop sneered up at him.

"Of any of a number of things ... you're not dealing with somebody who'll just send you up for a few months and a lost badge," Sheira pointed out. "Knowing him, that's what you'll want to plead down to."

"I wasn't thinking of giving him the option of pleading to anything," Jake said evenly.

"You wouldn't kill me," the cop countered, though he didn't sound too confident of it. "You guys don't play that way."

"We'll see, won't we?" Jake flashed him a brief but vicious grin. "Don't worry, you'll have choices in how this goes down."

The cop lapsed into a nervous silence as they followed Darkfur towards one of the city's warehouse districts. He was visibly distracted as he pulled up by a storage lot and pulled out the key to one of the better-secured sheds.

He complied with little resistance when Sheira pulled him from the back seat and towards the open door. The Lioness was a powerhouse, more than a match for him and he knew it. He glanced back as Hyretha pulled his partner's stiffening body out of the trunk.

"Not a bad setup," Jake commented as he took in the space.

"Thanks," Darkfur said as they hurried their prisoners inside and he closed the door behind them. "Needed somewhere to store my gear where it wouldn't be spotted too easily," he pointed out. Along one wall, he had a spare 'uniform,' along with a replacement ball bat and spare guns and ammo. There was also a punching bag in one corner, and a closed box next to a simple wooden slab with restraints on it.

"Put him on the slab, unless you need him somewhere else," he added.

"That'll work fine for now," Jake nodded. "So is there anything that would be particularly appropriate for his fate, or can I just set him up?"

"What have you got in mind?" Darkfur asked him. "As long as he's not threatening good people any more, Vuf's satisfied."

"I came for a fight," he chuckled. "He's going to provide it instead of you. If he wins, he gets charged with attempted murder of a champion. If he looses, he's dead."

"It's not attempted murder when that bastard drew on us first!" The cop roared. "Or when you're doing it like this!"

"Then I guess if you win, I'll have to make sure you can't say that," Sheira cracked a deadly smile.

"That is not a choice," the cop growled, desperately trying to think of a way out of getting killed. "You said I'd have a choice."

"You did say that," Sheira admitted, looking at Jake, who snorted.

"Fine," Jake shrugged. "You can create any scenario you care to where you admit what you did and that your partner died trying to shake somebody down. That comes with a catch. If you don't go to prison for life, you will help Darkfur and the good guys track down and pin their crimes on crooked cops."

"Either way I'll be dead," he growled lowly.

"Your alternative is that they strap you down the rest of the way and I get what I can about who you know that has to go down yet," Darkfur said calmly. "Aren't you curious what I've got in the box, and why I need a table like that?"

The glance the cop gave the box in question said that, while he was curious, he didn't really want to know.

"And I know more about inflicting pain that doesn't kill than those," Jake purred deeply. "I use it for pleasure, but that doesn't mean I'm opposed to using it for business."

"If it'd satisfy your interest in getting a fight, the intel would probably be more useful than the corpse," William pointed out. "It might not stand up in court, but you already know I don't think too much of them. If we could figure out how to get at his superiors, it'd clean up a lot, send a message."

"It wouldn't, but I'm counting on you being able to direct me somewhere I can make a mess for a good cause," Jake chuckled softly. "Though if you really want the intel, the best way is to call in a favor from Izaris' local priesthood."

"They don't owe me one," Darkfur pointed out, heading over to open up the box, revealing an assortment of cattle prods, knives, and other instruments, including a corkscrew.

"You've got to be kidding me," the white-furred Persian murmured from the back, looking paler than normal.

"You so shouldn't come to my house when Rock and I are fooling around," Jake chuckled as he checked out the options. "I wish Rock hadn't taken Viln with him. She'd be so useful right now. Have you asked for their help?" he looked over at Darkfur.

"I hadn't really thought they'd want to help a vigilante, particularly not one who's as rough as I can be. Did you hear about the rapist I caught a couple days ago?"

"Shit, that was you?" The cop asked, blanching beneath his fur.

"His last vic is how we found you," Jake nodded.

"Vuf's gift is the ability to protect the poor, the innocent. The people you've been victimizing," Darkfur purred lowly. "He wouldn't have been hurt so badly if I hadn't caught him in the act."

"You burned his fucking balls off!"

"I let him live," William pointed out, though Jake could pick up a hint of his own conflicted feelings about what he did, something he very carefully didn't let the cop in on.

"I don't know if they'd help you before, but Izaris came to my wedding. I'm pretty sure that if I ask them to help you, they will to the extent they are allowed to," Jake suggested.

"In which case, we don't particularly need him, do we?" William chuckled slightly, looking up and off into the distance. "If you want to finish him off, do you need me around for a while? I think there's something I need to take care of."

"You're going to have to stick around," Sheira said, quickly but firmly. "That, or we'll have to go with you."

"We do need him, for when as ask for Izaris' help," Jake shook his head. "We'll go with you. Talos, you guard our prisoner. We'll be back soon."

"Good hunting," Talos said, inclining her head politely as Darkfur, Jake, and Sheira started out.

"How good are you at restraint?" Darkfur asked Jake as he headed for his bike. "I can tell that one of the crooks we'll be meeting is who I'm supposed to protect," he explained as he started the engine.

"I'm and Enforcer Ghost and ranking MMA fighter," Jake cracked a cocky grin at him as they got in the loaned undercover car with Darkfur at the wheel. "Champion of Bastet and Halikar. I'm very good at non-lethal."

"I'm just a champion of Sheliel," Sheira said. "Not so good at non-lethal, but I can if it's not a close contest."

"I'll point out who needs to live through this when I see him," Darkfur said easily as they pulled out. "Jake, if you could replace the clip in my gun I'd appreciate it; we've got about a five minute drive, and that's about how much warning I can usually get."

"Sure," he nodded and made short work of it, his experienced hand with so many weapons showing when the modified design didn't even cause a moment of hesitation. "Your work?"

"Yeah," William nodded. "My Dad was a gunsmith, taught me the basics before I enlisted. After my tour was up I tried going to school, but it's hard to ignore the calls. How do you do it?" He asked, glancing at Jake when the moment offered itself.

"Bastet and Halikar are focused on a larger scale. When I get a call, I don't ignore it, but I tend not to get one for anything short of a pending Omega attack, major natural disaster or invasion," Jake tried to explain. "How do you sleep, when you hear every person in trouble?"

"I don't, very often," he admitted. "It's been about two days since the last time I got a nap ... and it's not everybody in the city, I'd have gone crazy a long time ago if it was," he chuckled grimly. "Just people within a couple miles, usually."

"When was the last vacation you took to somewhere that didn't have many people?" Jake asked softly, his mind going over options and details.

"Intentionally?" He asked as they took a corner at speed. "I've only been the Champion for about six months, so I haven't really had the chance. In a way... I almost think it'd be worse than knowing about them and trying to ignore it. I mean... it's a purpose I've been given, and I'd be walking away from it."

"Sometimes you have to, in order to not go crazy," Sheira pointed out. "Or to stay alive. Something you learn very quickly as a Champion of War, not everybody's that understanding of your calling."

"Six months," Jake murmured in a bit of shock. "How much training did his temple give you?"

"Just enough to realize that coming out of the military gives you a more active idea of the word 'defense' than they were comfortable with," William muttered. "When they started spending their time preaching that I should be working on being a symbol of hope and work at charity functions instead of protecting people, I took a different path. Vuf wouldn't let me set people on fire if he wanted me helping out at job centers."

"You are taking Halikar's approach to the idea of defense," Jake nodded in complete understanding. "We definitely need to talk when this is attack settled."

"Sounds good to me," Darkfur nodded as they pulled up in front of a bank, just one other car in front of it running. "That's the one ... if the driver comes in the bank, keep him out of the line of fire," he said, taking his gun back from Jake and racking the slide to load a round into the chamber.

"Will, you protect him," Jake suggested as he got out of the car with Sheira. "Let us pound the crap out of the bad guys."

"I'll watch for him," Darkfur nodded. "Just wanted you two to know not to shoot if he came running to see what was happening. I don't particularly want to get in a fight with either of you, and it'd happen if you did." He climbed out, stashing his gun in his waistband for the moment. "So, ready to become hostages?"

"You have to give him points for being willing," Sheira mused as she climbed out.

"And very few for tactics," Jake shook his head. "Will, wait up. There are better ways to do this," he reached out to stop the other Kat. "Call the cops, get the guy you need to protect out of here and let Sheira and me deal with the robbers. We're trained for it and we've done it before."

"I... all right," William nodded, turning to the car. He hurried over to a pay phone outside the bank and placed a call before going back to the car. He quickly climbed in and said something to the driver before he closed the door.

"I really hope we're right about him," Sheira murmured. "Okay, what's the plan?"

"I am," Jake said with conviction. "Sneak and snipe with non-lethals," he suggested.

"I've got just the thing," Sheira grinned. "You have a silencer?" She asked him. "Or are we not worried about noise? I'm pretty good with a blowgun, though I'd prefer a sling if attention's acceptable."

"I'm fine with attention, though if we can take a couple out first it would be best," he said as he armed his glovatrix to shoot knockout gas. "Be ready for whoever the gas doesn't get."

"No problem," she nodded, manifesting a sling, pulling it up so it wasn't too obvious yet. "On your mark."

Jake nodded and slipped around the front of the building, taking in the situation inside while keeping himself as hidden as possible.

Inside, it looked like there were about a dozen customers and half that many employees up against the wall ... one elderly tom, that might be a problem with the knockout gas. Fortunately, the Manges inside were conspicuous from their hostages, and two of them were near the middle of the room. The third was in the back, presumably stuffing money into something for their getaway.

"You take the one in back," Jake whispered to Sheira as he shifted to an electrified net and aimed for the two Manges. "Three, two, one," he said before bolting into the entrance and firing. The pair went down with a mixture of screams of surprise and pain.

He had his arm up to take out the third robber on the off chance that Sheira missed.

It wasn't something he had to do though. The Lioness had already stepped in, swinging her sling above Jake's head. With a low whistle, she released it, sending the glowing stone inside hurtling across the bank and unerringly smashing into the robber's shoulder. He howled as the bone was shattered, and a second shot knocked him flat to the ground.

"Should we wait for the police?" She asked Jake as they moved in to make sure it was secure and he got all three cuffed.

"At least I should," he nodded. "If you want to head back you can."

"I will then," she said easily. "Make sure our other friend is still in one piece, and that William comes home safely. Good luck, and remember that the local cops might not be on your side when they get here."

"I know," he nodded grimily. "Hopefully they won't be that stupid."

Moments before, Will was thinking fast as he walked towards the car. The door would be open, he was sure. He just had to figure out how to get the driver to go. His gut said to hijack the car, but he had a feeling that Jake and Sheira wouldn't approve all that much.

Normally, he wouldn't have cared, but they were offering to help him ... he had to make some effort.

Instead, he opened the door and slid into the seat.

"You've been lied to," he told the startled driver even as he moved in, hand near his gun in case he needed to fall back on the carjacking. "Your employers are robbing that bank right now, and unless you want us in the crossfire, you need to drive, now."

He watched as panic caused the teenaged dark tabby tom to freeze up briefly, then glance at the bank where Jake and Sheira were getting ready to move, then back at him.

"Where to?" he asked, openly frightened as he put the vehicle in gear and hit the gas.

"Just follow my directions... how'd you get mixed up in this?" Will asked as they pulled out. He took a moment to fasten his seat belt. "Turn left up here."

"I'm just a driver for the day," he said, following the directions as well as traffic laws. "Forty bucks to take them around town until five pm."

"My guess is that if things had gone bad, you'd have ended up being a forty-dollar fall guy," Will explained. "Do you know who they were, or are they just customers?"

"I know first names," he mumbled. "At least what they said they were. I was looking for work, cash or food, anything. We need to eat. It wasn't much for a day's work, but it sounded a lot better than turning tricks for the day."

"I know what you mean, Hue," William said softly, noting how the teen jumped at his name. "And you did good... just a lousy time to be handy. Nobody's going to hold this against you, I promise," he said, putting a hand on the tom's shoulder, his palm glowing faintly as he touched him.

"How ... how do you know my name?" Hue nearly lost track of the road.

"Turn left up here, and keep your eyes on the road," Darkfur warned him. "This might sound a little crazy, but I'm the Champion of Vuf... it's how I found you before things got bad at the bank. I don't know that much about you, but I know your name, and I know what happened to lead me to you. The guys who hired you were some thugs working for the Mange family, but you're not going to have to worry about them again. Did they already pay you?"

"Y-yes," Hue nodded. "So who are those other two?"

"The Champions of Bastet and Halikar, and Sheliel, as I understand it," Darkfur said easily. "Are you going to want to keep your head out of the way on the fallout, or will you be willing to go to the police with what you know? I know some of the more honest cops in town."

Hue flicked a glance at Darkfur, then focused on the road again as he thought about it. He swallowed, fidgeted, then nodded reluctantly.

"Yeah, I'll talk."

"I'll put you in touch with the right ones," Darkfur promised him. "There are cash rewards out for most of the Manges. If you can help them put them behind bars it'll be better than the money you'd get for the driving."

"It'll make a welcome bonus," Hue admitted. "It's not easy keeping four siblings fed, much less rent and clothes."

"Have you gone to the Temple of Vuf for help?" Darkfur asked him gently. He wasn't sure why he was looking for ways to help so much more for Hue than he had for the others ... maybe because Hue was one of the first people he'd helped who he'd seen needed more than their immediate problem solved.

Maybe because, after solving the problem, he was still around and hadn't gotten another Call.

He tried not to think it was because Hue was cute.

"Um, no," Hue admitted. "Bastet's and soup kitchens and such make sure we don't starve and have enough to get by, especially my youngest sisters, but, well, it stings," he murmured. "I don't want to need the help."

"I understand," he nodded. "You want to work, to earn it. And that's why I suggested Vuf's temple. Bastet focuses on providing what Her children need, but Vuf's priests ... they'll try to help you find work."

Hue nodded. "Where is one?"

"I have... turn right up here," William said, cutting himself off. "There's one about three blocks up, they can tell you where the one closest to your home is from there. Actually, if you'll just drop me off there, I can get back to where I have to be after explaining the situation."

"All right," Hue nodded. "What should I do with the car?" he asked, looking a bit lost.

"Let the cops know about it when they come here; explain the situation to the Priests, and they'll smooth things over for you," Darkfur told him. "Who knows, you might get to keep it after the case is over," he shrugged a bit. "Wouldn't bet on it though."

"I couldn't afford the gas, much less the parking fees and insurance," Hue pointed out with a weak chuckle as he searched for a parking spot near a small gray temple with a dingy metal spire on the roof. The barred windows making it seem as forbidding as the open door made it seem welcoming.

"Fair enough," William chuckled, climbing out once they'd parked. "They'll know that we've spoken, so don't worry about that ... it'll probably work better if you go in alone anyways. Stay safe, Hue. Things'll start looking up sooner, rather than later, I'm sure of it," he smiled warmly.

"Thank you," the dark tabby nodded and watched as Darkfur walked into the temple. He did his best not to fidget too much until it seemed like a good time to go inside.

Jake twitched in excitement when he felt William Darkfur approaching. He desperately hoped that the dark tom would go along with his plans, even if just for a few days. He also hoped that he could keep himself on track too. It wasn't likely to be easy.

"Jake? Where are Sheira and Hyretha?" Darkfur asked as he walked in through the door, looking around and seeing that their prisoner was gone. "Temple of Izaris?"

"Yes," Jake nodded and shifted to walk forward. "We got good information from him too, and it was still coming when I left to meet you. Ready to have that talk with me?"

"I think so... how'd it go in the bank? I've spent the last two hours talking with the priests I took Hue to... Hue's the guy who was driving," he added, remembering that Jake wouldn't know. "Good guy ... supporting a brother and three sisters with no parents and no job."

"He's doing good if all he's gotten into is a bad gig as a driver," Jake said in appreciation for such a strong spirit and put an arm on William's shoulder. "Come on, you can tell me on the way."

"Where are we going?" William asked with a blink, the dark-furred tom following Jake out.

"The airport and one of my jets," Jake flashed him a grin as he opened the driver's side door to his borrowed car. "You need to rest, and that means no calls for a while."

"I... guess that works," William decided, climbing into the car. "I could certainly use a break," he admitted and buckled his seatbelt. "You've been through this sort of thing too, haven't you?"

"I've been through damn near everything," Jake chuckled in a mixture of humor and acknowledgement of a very painful truth as he started the car and pulled into the traffic lane. "Death, breakups, suicide, got decked by Halikar once for being a disrespectful brat. I tried to become one of subjects of Tamorl's Rebirth Ceremony, but my status as a champion got that nixed."

"That must have hurt ... in a lot of ways," William murmured, leaning his head back against the seat as Jake drove, ignoring the city around him. "Haven't really dated since I got out of the military, so I lucked out there. Can't imagine what my schedule would do to a love life," he chuckled.

"With the right lover, make your schedulable easier to bear," Jake smiled softly, the reality of his current life in abrupt contrast to what he had just described. "This is my wedding band," he touched the copper inlaid with silver clouds and his first fighter reproduced with carefully placed ruby and jet. "The things he didn't want me to forget I dreamed of, what I'd strived for, because I was with him or anything else. I was born a champion. I resented it most of my life. I'm still coming to terms with what it means for me. Even more now that my mate is away becoming the champion of Tamorl."

"You seem to attract powerful people's attention," William chuckled. "Two Champions, two ranking priests, mated to another Champion ... of course, you're from MegaKat City, aren't you? Weird things tend to gather there it seems."

"That's one way to put it," Jake nodded. "We are also of the Twelve Generation, the one that will determine the fate of the world for the next thousand years. How up on your history of Saydan Bay are you?"

"Not very," he admitted. "I know the basics; how it came up from a pirate and shipping port to what it is now, but that's about it. Kinda surprised I haven't heard from the Champion of Xylus if you're right about the timing."

"Likely has bigger fish to fry," Jake said simply. "He's in MegaKat City if my senses are right. Saydan Bay has always been rough on the poor, but it wasn't always this bad. Last generation the Champion of Halikar went off the deep end here, started killing far too fast, for far too little cause. A lot of good champions died taking him down. City hasn't been the same since."

"The Blue Moon Killer," William guessed. "And the reason you guys came after me. Honestly, Jake, I don't have any interest in taking out Champions, except for Xylus' or others threatening the poor of the city," he said sincerely.

"Neither did he. But by then he couldn't see that killing a purse-snatcher wasn't wrong. You've only taken a couple steps down that path. He'd gone miles."

"I don't... think I'd have gone that far," Darkfur said. "For one thing, often as not, somebody at that level of crime would be somebody I was supposed to protect, like Hue. In crime because they were desperate, rather than just plan wicked. The rapists, that was another issue. Drug dealers... ones who threatened to kill people or worse, those were the ones I was willing to kill. But you're right, down the line... I suppose I could have gone too far."

"What about the drug dealers who are just trying to feed their families, or the rapist who doesn't understand they're hurting someone?" Jake asked softly, only half an eye on the road. "I'm not preaching no killing here, just learning both sides before you judge."

"Some of them are trying to feed their families and improve their lives, but most I've dealt with are violent, willing to kill to protect their businesses and making more money than they need. Even if they don't, they harm far more than they help. The rapists... that's an entirely different set of issues. I'm not talking about bedding somebody who's had too much to drink, I'm talking about taking somebody who's screaming, or only not doing it because they're too scared of you and your gang. You can make a mistake picking somebody up in a bar, but when you attack somebody like that.... I don't like it, Jake," he told him seriously. "I don't kill somebody for selling a dime-bag of catnip, but the gang-bangers who ruin lives and kill their competitors, not to mention the families of those competitors...."

"If you can keep things at that level, you aren't about to have problems with me," Jake nodded and turned onto the road to one of the smaller airports mostly used for police and military craft. "You wouldn't have landed on the hunting list I was given if you weren't already ready to go too far."

"The cops, for example?" William guessed with a sigh. "Some of them are good around here, but too many aren't. I had to be sure I got a very specific list of people for Hue to talk to before I left."

"The first example, but that list was created by a High Priest of Halikar and Bastet. It's mystic. I asked for a list of champions I could hunt down. I need a hard fight bad to wind down thanks to what Rock is going through. I'm pretty sure they stuck you at the top of the list as a test for me as much as to rescue you from a bad train of logic."

"That sounds like priests," William chuckled slightly, getting out of the car and followed Jake to the sleek flying wing that seemed far too large to be a personal fighter. "Glad you passed that one; I don't think I'd have been much of a fight for you, especially not with your friends."

"That was the general idea," Jake admitted with a low chuckle and opened the door with a palm-scan. "I'm not much on fighting fair."

"Hey, nothing much wrong with that," Darkfur half-laughed. "You live longer that way. I've gotten by with a vest and the fact that they can't actually kill me pretty well, myself. So, what's going to happen to that cop after they're done with him?" He asked, following Jake in.

"That depends on him, but there is a solid chance that Sheira will find a way to kill him," he said evenly as Darkfur took in the interior. Military but padded. A pilot and co-pilot seat up front with six passenger seats in two rows behind them. "Grab a seat and strap in," Jake said as he took the pilot's chair and began the pre-flight check.

William took the co-pilot's seat, strapping in and letting Jake work.

"Do they know you're taking me up here?" He asked Jake once he'd finished the pre-flight checks.

"Yap," he nodded easily as the engines came on line and they began to roll.

"Anywhere you're planning on going, or just going for a spin for a while?"

"Depends on you," Jake gave him a smile before turning his attention to getting them in the air. "What do you like; tropical island, snowy slopes, stormy seashores, tropical or evergreen forests, something else?"

"Anything that doesn't have a city or people around too close," he chuckled. "Stormy sounds good, if you've got something in mind ... been a while since I've been somewhere that smells clean that way. Around here, it just stirs up everything that's settled out of the air."

Jake tapped something into a touch screen and nodded. "Do you get calls for animals in trouble?"

"They're outside of Vuf's purview, normally," William said, shaking his head before he was plastered into his seat by the force of takeoff. "If they're the only support for somebody, I suppose I might, but it's kind of an indirect approach."

"Then there is a rocking storm about to hit Induquantal Island," Jake purred as he set course.

"Right," Darkfur got out as he adjusted to the takeoff and acceleration. "So, how long are we going to be gone?"

"As long as it takes for you to loose the dark rings under your eyes," Jake said firmly.

"I hope they're not waiting for you to get back and take them home some time tonight," Darkfur chuckled, closing his eyes. "How long is the trip going to be?"

"They aren't," Jake chuckled. "It'll be a couple hours. I'm taking the long way around the major population centers."

"If you don't mind, I think I'll take a nap until we get there," he murmured, settling back into the seat and falling asleep almost immediately.

Two days without getting any, Jake wasn't that surprised. He could easily remember the days when he'd manage the same thing, even if it was for different reasons. For all William was in one of the places he was most needed, it was probably also the worst he could be in, as far as his mental health was concerned.

It was going to be a long, hard road to keep this Kat on the right path.

Jake set his jaw grimly and turned his mind to what he needed to do. He knew better than anyone that the autopilot would handle such a simple trip easily enough.

He was still trying to work on it beyond the fact he'd need help when the auto-pilot beeped at him to get his attention. The noise also made William jump as his body and brain startled awake.

"Ten minutes and we'll be on the ground," Jake told him as they looked out on blue skies and open ocean with a small green island below them.

"You ever been out here before?" Darkfur asked as he started to gradually wake up.

"Not in this life, but the ship carries everything we'll need to stay out the storm in safe comfort," he promised.

"Sounds good to me," William smiled slightly as they started to come down for their landing. "Maybe you can tell me a bit about yourself while we're here?"

"Sure," Jake nodded before he focused briefly for the landing on the high point of the island. "Anywhere you want me to start?"

"Well, you said you had a mate who's becoming the Champion of Tamorl ... why don't you start there?" He suggested as the jet touched down to a VOLT stop.

"I guess that one starts with me being a very hard-core masochist," Jake chuckled and unbuckled his safety harness to stand. "Part two is me getting very lucky about the sadist I got together with first. He's was one of the three finalists, and the other two are scary enough that he's doing what he has to to secure the nomination."

"Sounds like he's running for public office," William chuckled, checking around for something like shelter or camping supplies. "We're staying in the jet?"

"No," Jake grinned as he pulled out a set of stakes from a bag labeled 'shelter' and leapt to the ground. "It's a force-field tent. One for us, one for the jet, and a tunnel between them."

"Who invented those?" William asked him with a blink, following him down as the rain from the storm started to fall. "Never heard of anything like 'em."

"I did," Jake winked as he began to set up the camp and it's protective shield. "The jet's one of my early designs too."

"Well, aren't you just a bundle of surprises," the other Champion chuckled. "Anything I can help with?"

"Grab ten spikes and put them in a circle around the jet," Jake suggested.

"Should I leave a break for the tunnel?" He asked, taking the spikes from Jake and getting started placing them.

"No need," Jake called back to him as he finished the smaller circle for their campsite. "I'll put those in."

"All right," William nodded, putting his own stakes in. "We have to turn these on somehow?"

"Yes," Jake smiled to himself as he set up the smaller spikes of the corridor. "I'll show you how once it's ready."

"Just as well, I'd rather not get locked in with the jet," William smiled. "Thanks for the nap earlier, think I needed it."

"You're welcome. You'll get a lot more of that before it's over," Jake smiled and moved around the inside of the circle, turning the spikes on as he went. Nothing happened until he was finished and touched a spot on his metallic wrist-band. Then the entire field came to life, creating two domes with a tunnel between them. "Storm-watching at it's very best.

"Wow... I guess so!" William grinned. "It doesn't attract lightning?"

"Any strikes are absorbed by the batteries," Jake walked by him and patted his shoulders. "Now ... sleep under the stars, or do you want a tent?"

"I'm good with the stars for now," he said, glancing back at Jake before turning to follow him as the lean tom pulled out a thin rolled mat from the supplies. "You... have anything you have to do, for a while?"

"I'm officially on a self-guided special project until Rock comes back," he said and turned to lay the mat out on one side of the smaller energy dome. "Grab the sleeping bag, or two, as you prefer."

As William watched, the thin mat swelled into a respectable-looking mattress for two.

"Will do," he nodded, heading back. He thought for a moment, then just grabbed one of the sleeping bags, heading back towards the mattress. "I'd meant while I was sleeping," he explained. "Instead of just keeping me company," he blushed slightly.

Jake smiled gently and stepped up to him, giving him a kiss on the cheek even as his fingers caressed William's throat. "I'd welcome either way. Holding you while you get some rest is where to start."

"That's what I'd been hoping for, really," he admitted, turning to return the kiss lightly. "I'm too tired for anything else," he chuckled deeply, starting to undress for bed. "You don't mind if I sleep nude, do you?"

"Not at all," Jake smiled with a stretch and began to undress himself. "It's what I'm used to. Storm will be here soon," he added with a glance at the graying sky and retreating water line.

"Good ... looks like it'll be a big one," William mused, crawling into the sleeping bag, waiting for Jake to join him before snuggling up and waiting for the storm.

"It will be," Jake nuzzled him, holding the exhausted Kat close as he got much needed sleep.

"What the hell? Status report!" Felina Feral snarled a demand at everyone in the commander center as the tall building rocked from an explosion nearby.

"Missiles shot down by tower defenses ... still not sure where they came from," came the reply.

"Command, are you all right?" A voice asked over the radio. "Repeat, this is Red Dawn leader; is everything okay in there, Command? We have visual on a small Dreadnought-style attack vessel."

"HQ is under attack," she shot back over the general broadcast so it reached everyone. "Black Knights, Red Dawn, Blackshade, Unity Star converge on HQ. Take down that ship. Everyone else stay on patrol. This may not be the only attacker."

"Understood, Command," the voice responded.

"Black Knights and Unity Star are scrambling," somebody told her as another pair of explosions rocked the tower.

"We have radar contact ... this can't be a Dark Kat job, it's not big enough."

"Put it on screen," she ordered, suddenly understanding fully why her uncle as always so unsettled. It sucked to be stuck in headquarters while there was a battle going on.

The screen crackled, zooming in on the subject. They were right; it was a small Dreadnought, barely half the size of the ships that Dark Kat attacked the city with. But the red and black coloration, the scorpionoid design... it was definitely his style.

The Red Dawn advanced, firing on the ship with their machine guns and missiles. The tail of the ship swung around, unleashing a massive blaster bolt. The jets broke formation to avoid it, but that didn't keep the blast from carving an apartment-sized hole out of the first building it hit.

"Any readings to indicate who that is?" Felina asked sharply. "Any insignia on the hull?"

A fluffy Calico looked back at her from her monitor. "We're running everything we can find through the database," she said. "So far, everything looks like corporate marks for sources of parts. We have had thefts at Pumadyne lately; they reported Creepling prints, we were still looking for signs of where the loot was."

"Well, I think we found them," Deathwalker broke in over the radio.

"So blast them," Felina growled, her tail swishing in agitation. "Any sign of other forces?"

"Not yet, Ma'am," a voice in the command center answered her.

"Focus your fire on that tail and the missiles," Rumble told them, an explosion going off behind her voice.

"Yes, Ma'am!" Chance Furlong's voice sounded utterly relieved to join the action.

"About time you got here, Sundance," Shark teased his teammate. "Raven with you?"

"Afraid not, he's got other business tonight. I'll try and keep it busy though; you guys have any of the tunneller missiles loaded?"

"Always," Chocolate laughed even as the tail went crashing to the streets below. "Though I did just use it."

"Hey, it went to a good cause, cuz," Chance chuckled grimly. "Anybody with cement slugs, I see the missile tubes," he told them, pulling around to face the damaged Dreadnought, firing his own cannon at the port he saw inside the claws. "Seal 'em up and this thing should be stuck with ramming things to break 'em!"

"Working on it," Rumble said, a sentiment that was echoed by several others in the air as whoever was in line with a cement gun or glue gun aimed to gum up it's weapons options.

"We've got it!" Six Shot announced over the air as the last missile ports were plugged. "Sun Dancer, you have anything more to get through those claws?"

"Just the thing," the tabby grinned, bringing himself around for another pass. He launched a pair of missiles that split mid-flight, wrapping the claws in a heavy net. The pilot tried to expand the claws, but as soon as the net detected the attempt to break it, the capacitors in the missile discharged, pumping hundreds of thousands of volts through the Dreadnought. One engine flared out, crippling the ship as it tried to turn and escape.

"Oh no you don't," Chance growled eagerly, diving for the crippled ship to shoot out it's second engine. "You are under arrest."

"Careful, Sundancer, don't want him to crash too hard," Paladin chided him as the rest of the Black Knights hurried up above the Dreadnought, launching grapple cables to keep it from crashing into the streets as Chance annihilated the second engine, disabling the vehicle.

"Just keep an eye and gun open for escape pods," he teased back. "Don't want this one to get away."

"Don't worry, we're - ah hah, gotcha!" Chocolate grinned as her jet broke away to follow after the head as it broke free from the Dreadnought. A second later, and the secondary engines were gummed up with cement, the pod crashing into the street and digging a trough through the pavement. "Too bad Raven's not here for this one!"

"Oh yeah, he's going to regret it when he gets back," Chance laughed with her. "He better have some killer stories for ditching me."

"Come on down here and help me pry this guy's tin-can open," she told him. "Maybe we'll be able to gift-wrap Dark Kat for him when he gets back."

"That would just be too sweet," the big tabby shivered at the kind of relief that would be to them all and nosed down to land. "Not likely, but sweet."

"Well, whoever it is it's a good collar ... not that much damage, either, except that building."

"And paramedics are on the scene there for anybody who was hurt," Command alerted them. "Be careful, this might be a trap yet."

"Isn't it always?" Chance quipped back and leapt up to the hatch to use his glovatrix to cut it open.

They were lucky that the main access hatch had buried itself beneath the dirt; it meant that whoever was inside probably still was. Chance stepped back as he got a large enough hole cut through to peel open the back. A blaster bolt came through from the inside from whoever was in there.

"Big mistake," Chance growled, firing the Glovatrix's taser attachment, electrifying the entire pod until the shouting inside stopped. It only took a few seconds and he was inside.

"Well?" his cousin demanded from just outside.

"One very immobilized Cheetah," he called back with a grin in his voice, then handed the limp but conscious Xanith up to Chocolate.

"Well who are you?" She asked with a grin of her own, hefting him up. "Think he's too small, cous - Xanith Omegas have to weigh at least as much as me, or they're not legal," she winked.

"Shut up, bitch," he muttered weakly, trying to get enough control of his body to take a swing at her. He was wearing something resembling a costume, but it was clear that he hadn't put too much thought into all this just yet.

How he'd gotten the Dreadnought ... well, Chance had a few ideas.

"Explains why this thing went down so easy," Stacy mused, "probably swiped it from Dark Kat before he was finished."

"Or Dark Krud gave it to him to test it, or him, out," Chance suggested as he climbed out and nodded to the Omega Cleanup Unit that had arrived to gather all the pieces. "Either way, this is one interrogation I'm looking forward too," he cracked his knuckles for emphasis.

"Watch it, cous, you don't want to get put on desk duty again," the dark-furred Tabby grinned as the Cheetah cringed at the sound of Chance's heavy fists getting ready to work. "Let's hand him over to the detectives, they'll call you if they need you."

"As if they ever don't," Chance winked at her as the Cheetah was cuffed and handed off. "Come on, let's burn off the adrenaline."

"Sure thing, before the Commander calls us in," she winked, heading back for her jet as the rest of the Knights began the task of maneuvering the full Dreadnought to the research facility on the edge of town, then on to the badland canyons to push their jets to the limit.

Chance drew in a deep breath and let it go. He hated these meetings when he had just been a pilot in a team. Now he was one of the ranking officers anywhere he went outside of these meeting, and they sucked even more. Now he was expected to talk and make sense.

"Captain Furlong, Glad you made it back," Felina nodded to him as he entered the secure meeting room.

"Always, Lt Commander," he inclined his head to her. He knew everyone here, some better than others. Two other Ghosts and two former homicide detectives who'd moved up in the force to more specialized jobs. He took his seat, near Lieutenant Commander McKysn, and waited for things to start.

"Since we all know each other, Detective Captain Swift Wind will begin with what he's learned from the dreadnought's pilot," Felina nodded to the older Cheetah in full dress uniform.

"Thank you, sir," the Cheetah nodded, standing up to deliver his report. "Our perp is one Daryl Hunt. It was actually kind of refreshing speaking with him; he's not nearly as warped as most Omegas we capture," he explained, passing around copies of Daryl's record and his profile. "Fairly standard; record as long as my tail, mostly robbery and assault. He admits to being one of Dark Kat's underlings, but has refused to give us any more concrete information on his whereabouts."

"Figures," Chance grumbled to Lt. Raman Firewalker's snicker.

"Have you brought in a mage, psi or priestess of Izaris to question him?" Detective Captain Rashee Seriad asked.

"I was going to bring Sashari or Toama in on it, but I wanted to check if you thought I should first," he explained, looking between Rashee and Felina. "I know they're busy with other cases, and if this is anything like the other Dark Kat goons we've picked up they won't know much that's useful. He'll already have evacuated his lab, and if we're looking to clean up after him we can wait on conventional interrogation to do the trick."

"Likely not, since Dark Kat will be gone," Felina nodded in agreement. "There is no indication he is more than a minor underling?"

"Not enough more to know about more than one location," Swift Wind explained. "Based on what I was able to get out of him, it sounds like he was second in command of his facility. Dark Kat offered him a chance to jump to the head of the class, so to speak, and he took it."

"Right into life in prison," Firewalker quipped before Chance could, earning a playful dirty look from the tabby.

"Yes, well, it certainly didn't work out the way he'd expected," Swift Wind chuckled. "He was willing to say what he was trying to do; he was supposed to test out the new Dreadnought and loot Megakat Biochemical when he got there. Obviously, DK didn't get what he wanted from there, though he didn't give any specific item."

"Robbing the place with something that big, he probably hoped to hide what he was really after in the mix of everything that was taken," Chance pointed out. "That, or it was a grocery trip, so to speak."

"Either way, it didn't work," Felina said. "Which means he'll likely lay low for a few weeks as he recovers from the loss. I'll alert Megakat Biochemical and increase paroles in the area, unless Hunt provides something to indicate otherwise."

"That would have been my recommendation," Rashee nodded. "However, there is one other thing. I would like to get a look at the report on the Dreadnought as soon as possible. If we can get a feel for the resources Dark Kat lost with this one, I can better judge how long it will take him to get back on his feet."

"I'll get a priority on it," Felina nodded to her. "Anything else?" she asked, looking around at the group.

Everybody shook their heads as Swift Wind gathered up his papers. "I'll see that we get Toama on the case if Hunt doesn't crack within forty-eight hours. I don't think it'll take that long to get through to him. He's been in prison before, a life sentence won't set well with him."

"Good," Felina nodded. "Everyone is dismissed."

"Were you ever trained as a cook, or is this something you learned for fun?" Tanna asked as Rock helped her clean up after breakfast.

"A bit of both ... I started learning when I had some clients who wanted somebody to cook as well as sleep with," he explained easily. "More of a paid pet than a hooker."

"Do you cook for your mate?" she cocked her head slightly as they finished putting the cleaned dishes away.

"Not often; I can cook, but he enjoys it more," Rock smiled fondly. "He's taught me a few things too. Still, I do cook every once in a while, just to keep up at it."

"A good practice," she nodded. "Being able to feed oneself is a useful skill anywhere."

"I've always thought so... it makes poverty rations a lot more appealing," he chuckled, looking over to the door as Mikala knocked on it.

"If you're finished cleaning up, it is time to begin your lessons," the Wolf told him.

"Yes, Lord Mikala," Rock bowed his head and turned to go with him.

"So, how did you sleep last night?" The Wolf asked him as they walked out.

"Poorly, for the most part," he admitted evenly. "It's been a long time since I was accustomed to living with pain."

"You might get used to it, with a full month to do so," Mikala chuckled. "The floor isn't that much more comfortable, just not as pointy," he offered. "Most of us try it at one point or another in our training."

"I'm sure I will at some point," Rock nodded, wondering how long it would be before he decided to and mulling over options for making it less irritating.

"Well, for now, we'll start with something a bit different," Mikala said as he led the way to one of the torture chambers, opening the door. "Up on the rack, and I suggest you undress. It's easier on your clothes."

Rock nodded and stripped without hesitation before he lay down on the solid bed of wood and lifted his arms, ready for a form of pain he didn't have much experience with.

Mikala fastened old, sturdy, metal manacles around Rock's wrists and ankles. The tabby was a little surprised that they were leather-lined, to make them a bit more comfortable.

Then the Wolf took the crank attached to the rack, starting to turn it and stretch Rock out to a fully spread-eagled position. The heavy clank of the chains turning beneath the table was an ominous sound, especially knowing what was coming. It gave Rock a whole new appreciation of the nasty side of anticipation before he reached his full length, and Mikala turned the crank one more notch to start the pain.

It drew little more than a mildly surprised grunt as Rock fell back on very old lessons from his days turning tricks and more recent ones from Jake about, well, staying alive.

Mikala stretched him out another notch, then let the crank rest for a few minutes while he talked.

"So, let's get started on your training. You have a good relationship with the church of Eshik and Marka ... you understand their appreciation of pain well?"

"I believe so, yes," Rock answered, the pain in his joints and strained muscles mild compared to what he'd done to himself working out.

"All right. Tell me how it differs from what you've gone through since you've come here," the Wolf said as he went to a stone cupboard, opening it to reveal an array of tools that looked strikingly like the sort of things he and Jake played with.

Just made more obviously with pain in mind, rather than pleasure, and he was on the receiving end now.

"It is more balanced; soft with the hard, pleasure with the pain, and until now, more focused on working with a partner, not what is done to yourself," Rock correlated the most glaring differences to him. "They are sensual. This is not."

"What is Tamorl's pain about?" Mikala asked him, returning with a feather and a long, sharp claw that fit over one of his fingers. He waited while he could see his student correlating experience and the statements of others into his own words.

"Pushing yourself," Rock started with what was most clear to him. "Knowledge of self from going beyond the pain."

"That is a start," Mikala nodded. "It is also about knowing the rest of the world, the people and things around you. Awareness. Of these," he said, raising the feather and claw, "which do you think you'd be more likely to beg me to stop using on you first?"

"The feather," Rock answered evenly, all too aware of the torturous capabilities of the soft object in the hands of a skilled wielder.

"Any particular reason?" The Wolf chuckled slightly, brushing the pads of Rock's feet with it and noting how quickly the buff tabby tensed.

"It's far harder to ignore," Rock fought down the whimper and let his feet try to curl to protect themselves, though he knew it wouldn't help.

"Most would have said the claw, or the feather because they were trying to outguess me, but you seem to have a better understanding than most. Is it a particular issue of yours?" Mikala asked, repeating the stroke along Rock's heels, where he couldn't cover them.

"No," he shuddered as much as he stretched body could. While he was aware that it was drawing a trace of arousal that would only get stronger before it went over the edge and became agony he didn't pay it much mind. "I've had it used on me to the point I did beg," his breath caught as the feather played between his toes and down the front pad again. "Pain can knock you out. This won't."

"Very true. However, given time, do you think you would grow used to it? Learn to tolerate it, and the pain that goes with it?"

"Yes," Rock nodded slightly, sure of that much. "Anything can be tolerated, even enjoyed," his throat tightened in a choked sound as the feather danced across his ankle. "With exposure and the will to."

"And would you be stronger for the experience, or weaker for it?" Mikala asked as the feather snaked up the back of one leg, and Rock's knee.

It stole Rock's voice for a moment as his body nearly tore itself out of the rack in the effort to escape before he got himself under control again.

"Stronger," he answered with a near-growl for his inability to control his reaction.

"Ticklish, Rock?" He chuckled, apparently amused by it. "A good thing to recognize though. And why would you be stronger for the experience?"

"I didn't think so," Rock panted in the brief reprieve before the feather caressed the way up his other leg. "Stronger ... for overcoming something that ... had control," he got out between spasms.

"That would be one way," Mikala nodded. "You are also better prepared for other things that you will face ... your tolerance to pain in general is toughened, strengthened. You learn to function in spite of wanting to give up, to push on and accomplish what has to be done. As you said, all forms of pain can be tolerated with time; any suffering that is endured is another step towards new strength and will." He gave the crank another twist, stretching Rock's arms and legs out farther before he started up with the feather again, the two forms of discomfort dueling for the tabby's attention.

"Long version ... of what I said," Rock gasped. He wondered, truly, what it would be like for Jake to be here. What Mikala would make of someone who had gone through what Jake had at their wedding, fought with Gods and never backed down. What would Jake make of Mikala?

Of course, Jake did know about the priests of Tamorl... as much as he did, maybe even more. He probably wouldn't be that surprised.

"Now, to the major point of what we're here to learn today. How can pain heal the sufferer?" Mikala asked him, using the feather and blade both on Rock's foot, drawing a thin line of blood from the pads that had been so thoroughly pierced the day before.

"I don't know," he admitted, his body nearing the point of rebellion far too soon.

"For the most part, it helps with mental pain," the Wolf explained, reaching up to lessen the pressure of the rack slightly before he went back to work with the feather and blade. "Have you ever lost a loved one, or known somebody who has?"

"Yes," Rock groaned. "Too many."

"Does it ever help to ignore the grief and the pain, to bottle it up?"

"Not in the long run," Rock answered, trying to focus on the questions, the lesson, and not his body.

"That's right. Just as you can't become stronger without enduring physical pain, you can never resolve the issues causing you mental pain without confronting them. Only by enduring and dealing with the pain can you work through it." He stopped cutting and tickling Rock for a few moments.

"Now, how can you turn that to use with somebody who doesn't want to endure the mental pain?"

"A way of converting mental pain to physical pain and pushing through that?" Rock asked, working hard to put something together that went against his upbringing.

"Something like that," Mikala nodded. "You should see such a case some time, I think it would be ... illuminating. Through physical pain, you can force a person to focus on fewer and fewer things, you can bring the issues to the forefront. Further, for some types of mental disorder, the sense of punishment helps them. People with an extreme sense of guilt, for example."

"Or anger," Rock's focus suddenly snapped onto the mind he knew best; his mate's. "Or vulnerability," he added, thinking of Chance after he'd been raped as a kitten. "It didn't work for either one I knew."

"Did they allow the pain to help them focus on what the root problem was?" The Wolf asked him.

"Chance didn't," Rock admitted. "He used it to push it away, bury it."

He had to really think about it with Jake, though. On one hand, his mate knew exactly what the problem was and pain was as expression of his anger with it. It didn't help, other than it gave him an outlet for his rage. What had the pain accomplished him? "Jake ... was an expression of inner pain, anger. He focused, but I'm not sure it helped."

"And what was the problem Jake was dealing with?" Mikala asked him as he removed the blade from his finger.

"Hating what he was; a champion, unable to die, expected to breed; the choices he didn't have that others did."

"That's a problem that is difficult to deal with in any way," Mikala admitted. "Especially since those behind him would be unlikely to want him to deal with it the way we would have suggested. Has he come to terms with it yet, in his own way?"

"Getting there," Rock said with the sense of relief he really felt. "I think Bastet and Halikar's appearance and Her gift at our wedding was a major turning point, but it's slow going at best. He's not nearly as angry anymore."

"That is good... ultimately, his problems stemmed from an interpersonal relationship," Mikala explained. "Pain is rarely the best way to bring about resolution with those. Further, in any case, it's best for somebody to direct the use of pain for that sort of healing. You might consider it a very extreme form of therapy," he chuckled slightly.

"One he tried to get, and was denied, much to his frustration," Rock nodded. "His pain shaped what he is so much I'm not sure he'd be recognizable if he hadn't gone through it."

"Likely not," the Wolf agreed. "He certainly wouldn't be the same Champion he is now. Is there anything you've been hoping to work through, yourself?"

Rock relaxed his body as best he could and tried to think. On a level he wanted to say yes, to have something so he could know, first hand, what it was. The reality was that he just didn't. He wasn't tormented by anything, not the way Jake or Chance were, or even bad enough to need regular therapy for.

"You don't," Mikala guessed. "You've had a fairly rough life, but not that has stuck with you in the same way ... would you like me to speak with the others, about bringing somebody here so you can see the process?"

"I would appreciate that, Lord Mikala," he was finally relaxed enough to remember his manners.

"I'll address it later then," the Wolf said easily. "Now, on to a different lesson, I think," he said, returning the rack to its neutral position and unfastening the manacles. "Turn over; we're going to go over some of the mechanics you might not be aware of yet."

Rock nodded and did as he was told, wondering just what was coming next, and sure he'd be screaming before it was over no matter what it was.

William woke to howling winds, thunder and lightning ripping the sky above him as rain poured down onto the force field around them and the jet.

"Holy... you weren't kidding," he murmured, looking up at the black skies. "Tell me we're not planning on leaving until after this thing's moved on?"

"Not unless absolutely required," Jake nuzzled him. "Class 4 hurricane. Massage?"

"Uhm ... yeah, sure," he murmured, still looking up at the forbidding skies, trying to comprehend being beneath them, in the open, without being annihilated by them.

"We can just watch the storm," Jake nuzzled him. "I just find it a nice way to relax."

"It's not that I mind, I'm just getting used to the storm yet," William smiled slightly, turning to return the nuzzle. "I would appreciate it, though I'm not that good at returning the favor."

"I don't mind," Jake smiled and held William, stroking his side as they watched the maelstrom flow around them without touching them. "It's incredible, being so safe in the middle of this," he murmured. "No matter how many times I camp out in a storm, I never tire of it. The raw energy and untempered nature of it."

"I'm still getting used to the idea we can do this at all," William chuckled, pressing against Jake some, reaching back to rub his leg lightly. "I mean... this sort of thing blows houses away. You've never had these fields give out?"

"Nope," Jake purred, then stiffened. "Have you gotten any practice IDing a champion by feel?"

"Not, not really ... why?" He asked, looking around, trying to get a feel for what Jake had noticed.

"Sadrula's champion is riding the storm," Jake nuzzled him. "She's not a hunter, but she's a good one to practice on."

"So that's the tingly feeling in the back of my head?" William guessed, trying to place anything that felt unusual. "She know that we're here?"

"Yes, and most likely," Jake nodded. "I likely sensed her before she sensed us, and she knew we were here before you felt anything. Range is a matter of practice and focus, as is identifying who they are."

"Don't think I've had that much opportunity to practice," William admitted. "Though I get the feeling I'll have more chances in the future?" He asked Jake with a bit of a smile.

"If you hang out around me, you will," he chuckled with an affectionate stroke down William's side, hip and thigh. "Like Bastet and Halikar, I have made many alliances with other champions."

Darkfur turned to face him a bit better.

"Like Hyretha and Sheira," he guessed. "Mostly local ones?"

"Except that neither of them are anything close to local for me," he chuckled softly. "Sheira spends time every so often, but Hyretha doesn't even visit. We have too many Wolves and Lions for her comfort."

"So I'll be the closest one, besides your mate?" William guessed. "How much do you actually end up dealing with Champions who want to take you out?"

"Most months," he shrugged. "I've got a persistent opponent who is one, and MegaKat City has more than it's share this round."

"MegaKat City always has more than it's share," William chuckled. "Of just about anything but pirates and crime lords."

"Largely because we have bigger fish to eat them," Jake winked at him, his hand trailing a little more intimately as it slid back up William's body. "There are nine champions in residence, though most are not fighters."

"Yeah, that will convince them to back off," he chuckled, purring a bit at Jake's touch. "Are you and your mate exclusive?"

"No," he murmured before turning William's chin for a kiss. "We'll probably be at least a triad before the war is over."

"Mmm ... I hope that's not an invitation just yet," William murmured, returning the kiss, wrapping an arm around Jake's back and snuggling up against him. "At least not for the long-term," he winked.

"No, number three has been close for years, as friend and lover," Jake murmured, his body hungry for release of any kind. "She started as an opponent too, though."

"Another Champion?" William asked him, sliding his hand down between their bodies, rubbing the inside of Jake's thigh.

"No," he moaned and pressed his hard cock against William's arm. "MMA fighter I went up against."

"You are multi-talented," William chuckled, kissing Jake and shifting his hand to stroke Jake's full sheath and hard shaft, pressing his own hips forward to rub his own filling member against the cinnamon-furred tom's. "Said earlier you were into pain... you like it without too?"

"Yes," he nodded, his eyes closing briefly in pleasure. "You have any preferences?"

"Bottom, when I'm with a tom," William purred, kissing Jake again and groaning into his mouth as their barbed shafts rubbed against each other. "I like topping too, but not as much. You?"

"The same," he claimed a hungry kiss. "I'm in the mood to top right now."

"Any time you're ready," William grinned, rolling to his back and pulling Jake up on top of him.

With a rumble Jake claimed his mouth and pulled William's legs up to expose his ass and pressed his way into the dark tabby's body.

William moaned deeply, wrapping his legs around Jake's waist and taking his shaft deep into his body.

"Been too long," he groaned, his ass stinging a bit from the unprepped entry. "Mmm ... good though," he added, squeezing down around the barbed member sliding in and out of him. It was exciting, having someone as important as the Champion of Bastet be so hungry for him; to see and feel the passion of live mirrored above by the wild passion of the storm.

His own cock throbbed between them, and he reached down to stroke it in time with Jake's thrusts as he leaned up to kiss him deeply. It had been the better part of six months since he'd done this, way too long. He moaned deeply, the shaft rubbing his prostate and making his pre drip from the tip of his own cock.

"Not gonna take long," he murmured into Jake's mouth.

He felt Jake nod in reply and pick up the speed of his thrusts, driving deep into his body until William cried out and grunting as his cock spurt come between them.

Above him Jake threw his head back with a roar and pumped his seed into his lover's body. He didn't slow down though. He kept thrusting, hungry and needy for release on a level he usually dealt with in battle.

"Been a while for you too, hasn't it?" William groaned, still working his body around Jake's shaft. "Nnngh ... if you want to trade places some time, I'm willing," he told him.

"Anytime you want," Jake panted, his teeth barred with the next kiss even while he stilled briefly to explain. "Tamorl's wedding gift ... when one of us is hurt, the other grows stronger. Right now Rock is being trained as a priest of Tamorl. They're torturing him for hours a day, and the pain doesn't end when the damage does. I'm wound up on a level I can't even explain."

"I'll bet you are," the tabby groaned. "How about one more go like this, then I take your place?"

"Deal," Jake kissed him and began to thrust his hips again, both of them groaning as their arousal built.

It wasn't long before they both came again, and Will rolled over on top of Jake, sliding off his cock and sinking his own into the cinnamon-furred tom's ass. The storm raged above them, thundering and howling around the fields protecting them. After another hour, Darkfur finally laid down on top of Jake, panting hard.

"Damn ... still ready to go?" He murmured, reaching between them and stroking Jake's still-rigid cock, their bodies both splattered with seed.

"Yeah," he chuckled, though he still relaxed under his lover. "I can do this for a long, long time."

"So if he's worn out, can I have some of that?" a playfully light female voice asked.

Jake and William both looked up, Will pulling out of Jake with a groan as they searched for the source of the voice. Jake spotted it first, homing in on her power signature as much as a sound or sight.

"That depends," Jake stood to go face to face with the young shekat, only the force field and her flowing clothes between them. "I'm not going to let the force field down while the storm is raging."

"Anything else?" she asked as the wind abruptly began to die down. "You looked like you were having a lot of fun."

"I don't know, a name would be nice," Jake chuckled as he took in the wild pattern of colors of her fur and guessed she dyed it regularly. "If you're planning on joining in, at any rate."

"Kymeil, Mistress of Storms," she grinned and set her bare feet on the ground. "Bastet and Halikar, if I'm correct. And Vuf, I believe," she nodded towards William.

"Right on both counts," the tired Tabby grinned up at her. Jake lowered the field to let her in, stepping back to give her space.

"If you want to let the storm start back up again, just let me get the field up first," he told her even as he knelt to do so, and she allowed her loose gown to flutter to the ground.

"Thank you," she turned to run her hands along Jake's back as he stood. "You are so warm."

"I'm wound up," he purred, running his fingers through her cool, wet fur, pulling her close to kiss her. "Let's see about getting you warmed up ... William?" He asked, glancing over at the tabby.

"You go ahead, I'll enjoy the show," he purred, settling in on the mattress again.

"I'm sure you will," Kymeil winked at him before nuzzling Jake's neck and running her hands down his sides. "So let's see if I can't wind you down a bit."

"Good luck, but I'll be I can keep you going as long as the storm is," he purred, returning the nuzzle before pressing her down into the grass, tracing along the lines of her wildly dyed fur with his fingers.

"We'll just have to see what lasts longer, the storm or the fires of Bastet and Halikar," she grinned cheekily and spread her legs invitingly for him.

He sank into her with a groan, not seeming at all like he'd just been rutting for over an hour as he thrust into her dripping, hot sex.

"My money's on the fires," William grinned as he watched them. Jake was lustful, she was playful; between them they were a sexy show that he still managed to drift off during.

His nose woke him up, right along with angry demands from his stomach. The air around him was fresh, clean in a way he'd never smelled before. The storm was gone, though he could see all around the parameter of their camp the havoc it had wrought.

It was the scent of cooking fish drifting his way from nearby that roused him to look over to see Jake. The freshly bathed and dry tom was kneeling by a small campfire, wearing a pair of light shorts and tending to two whole fish on a skewer above it.

"Thought this might get to up," Jake chuckled with a grin at him. "I hope you like fresh grilled fish."

"Who doesn't?" William chuckled. "Been a while, but I can still appreciate anything fresh-cooked. Your new girlfriend catch them?" He asked teasingly.

"No," Jake shook his head. "Storms are too wild to be bound to anyone or anything for long. I caught them."

"Definitely multi-talented," William smiled, getting up and stretching out with a groan. "Mmm ... have a good time last night?"

"Yap," he winked. "You must have been tired to sleep through all that."

"Like I said, two days without any decent sleep," he admitted sheepishly. "Time for me to go take a quick swim before breakfast, clean off? I enjoy getting dirty, but being that way afterwards gets old," he grinned.

"Go for it," Jake nodded. "Breakfast will be waiting."

William headed down for the shore, jumping into the sea and swimming around for a while, taking a break for a bit to wash up as he did so. After a few minutes, he headed back in, shaking his fur dry on the way back up.

"So, is your mate doing any better?" He asked as he got back up to Jake.

"I wish I could say yes, but it's only going to get worse until it's over," Jake sighed and offered up one of the skewered, gutted fish to him. "It's mainly a matter of not going ballistic before then."

"Well, if a bedmate helps ... it's a bit of a trip, but you'd be handy up in Sayden Bay," William said sincerely as he started to eat.

"You'd be a lot saner in MKC," Jake countered thoughtfully. "Or hunting with me. Most of my other targets aren't nearly as questionable as you as an opponent. They're standing enemies."

"I don't know how much help I'd be in a normal fight, Jake," William warned him. "Like I said ... I'm not really much for killing, in normal situations, and my gifts usually only really work when I'm protecting somebody suitable."

"You've also never fought a champion," he pointed out. "That is technically our primary purpose. We're stand-ins for the gods to settle their arguments."

"Bypassing the usual rules about when we can use our powers?" William asked him, considering it. "I'm still not sure I like the idea ... though MegaKat City has some appeal. What would I do there, though, besides my work?"

"You are kidding me, right?" Jake looked at him in real surprise.

"I earn my own keep," he pointed out between bites of fish.

"You're as much a masochist as I am," Jake muttered with a shake of his head. "At least I only need a couple hours sleep. Your temple is supposed to provide for you. We do a full-time job for them, in case you hadn't noticed."

"And do you take that support?" William asked him seriously. "I know I've heard about you working with the Enforcers, and that's usually considered a full-time job too."

"It is," Jake nodded. "I also only need a couple hours sleep and I was born a champion and fought it most of my life. If I wasn't a Ghost, I would have resigned a couple years ago when I accepted my fate."

"Is the Temple of Vuf in MegaKat City a little more understanding of an active approach to protecting people, as far as you know?" William asked him. "Or the Enforcers, for that matter?"

"The Enforcers know full well that Champions have their own set of laws. You'd be expected to show some kind of proof, even if it is by a priestess of (goddess of knowledge) after the fact, but neither of us are held to the same kind of legal standards the courts are.

"As for your temple there, I expect so, given how closely allied they are with the Aggressive Protector," Jake gave a slight smile. "Granted, I'm not quite the vigilante you are, but I'm not exactly big on 'cuffing and booking' folks either. If I can kill an enemy, I will."

"Might not be too bad," William mused. "Feel kinda bad, running away from Sayden Bay like that... but like you said, it's driving me around the bend. Wonder if there's some way...." He trailed off, thinking something over.

"Of?" Jake prompted him.

"Well, like I said, I'm not sure about leaving Sayden Bay in the shape that it's in," he explained. "If there was some way to leave... I don't know, I guess you might say an auxiliary force, sort of an anti-gang. If there were people I could trust to keep things straightened out, something like that might do more for the city than I ever could on my own."

Jake frowned. "The local temples don't train self-defence or work with the local cops who are trying?"

"They do, but I mean to take a more active view of it," William explained. "Even the people in Sayden Bay who can defend themselves aren't much on getting involved to protect anybody else who isn't important to them, and the cops... they've got roadblocks that get in their way that another group could get around."

"This is something I'd want to bring up with several temples in both cities on the best way to set it up," Jake said. "It could be politically ugly, if not outright dangerous for those doing the helping. There are way, protections for various groups, but it had to be done right."

"If you could help with something like that, it'd be one of the best things to hit Sayden Bay," William said seriously. "Or would that be putting the Enforcers in a position that's not really suitable?"

"I'm not sure," Jake told him. "That's a level of politics I haven't really dealt with. I'm willing to bring it up to the right people and see what can be done without a lot of flack."

"I'd appreciate it. I'm willing to spend some time in MegaKat City, but I'm not sure about moving there permanently yet."

"Fair enough," Jake nodded before finishing his fish. "I'll see about finding a job for you that doesn't leave you with no time to sleep."

"Thanks, for that and everything else," William said as he finished his own. "We should probably be heading back some time soon."

Jake nodded and began to clean up the small mess they had made at the campsite. "Will you pick up shield spikes?"

"Sure thing," Will nodded, starting to pull them up. "Think there's time to play around a bit more before we head back?" He asked with a bit of a grin.

"We have as much time as you want," Jake winked at him. "I have weeks free."

"As long as I've got an actual bed tonight, and know what happened with that cop, let's take a bit more time out here," Darkfur purred, pulling up another of the stakes and giving Jake a quick kiss before packing them away.

"What's going on out there?" Janet asked Ulysses as she dressed the next morning, fresh from the baths. She could hear a crowd outside; she just wasn't sure why they were gathered outside the palace in the main courtyard.

"There is an Noble execution today," he told her evenly as he walked to the balcony. "It should be quite the show."

"Khan does public executions?" She asked, raising an eyebrow and following him out. "Doesn't sound like his style."

"He does when he must, just as I do," Ulysses told her. "Though in this case it is to make a point that he is not to be ignored."

"So what happened?" She asked him as they looked down on the gathered crowd.

"As I understand it, the condemned killed his daughter and her lower-caste husband for marrying against his wishes. It was legal until twenty years ago when Shier Khan outlawed it."

"Long enough ago that everybody knows it's unacceptable, but not long enough that it changes their minds," she nodded slightly. "How do they do it here? Hanging, beheading?"

"For a noble, a fight against Shier Khan," Ulysses nodded as the Lord of Tusandrin made his appearance in the ancient battle armor of his title.

"And if they win?" She asked, raising an eyebrow. Champion or not, it was always possible.

"I'm not sure," he admitted. "The impression I got was that it just didn't happen."

"Well, let's hope this isn't an exception to that," she mused, her eyes on the powerful Lord of Tusandrin as he raised his arms to the sky. She wondered if it was coincidence or power that caused the wind to pick up.

Most likely power... he was the Champion of this land, after all. She had to wonder if he had the entire pantheon behind him, or just the chief deities ... if not the whole set, it was a risk facing condemned prisoners like this.

She jumped involuntarily when lightning crackled down from the clear sky and fire swirled up from the ground around him. Then the earth shook and the sun darkened from an apparent eclipse that was not natural.

"Kats!" Ulysses breathed, his eyes wide in a mixture of shock, awe and sudden comprehension of just what it meant to be a champion.

"No wonder they consider him one of the gods," she murmured, looking up and shrinking back from the display against her will.

At the same time, she couldn't help but crave that sort of power. Only the fact that she was sure she'd die before getting it checked the plotting she was already starting to do.

"And I command the champion of the two most powerful gods in MegaKat City," he murmured, the reality of the situation still sinking in.

"This is actually considered a fight?" Janet glanced between Ulysses and Shier Khan as the display continued into a very fine dance of elements as water and smoke joined the fire and lightning in a swirling display around him in the shaking darkness of the unnatural eclipse.

"It is an execution," he reminded her. "This is something to do with family honor and cultural beliefs I don't completely understand."

"I guess," she nodded. "I can see why he never loses though, especially if he does things like this during the fight. It'd be like rushing a Dreadnought with a blaster."

"Something like that," he nodded in agreement, his eyes fixed on his lover as the display ended and the sunlight returned.

"Vasuman, come forward," Shier Khan demanded with all his authority resonating in his voice. Even Janet felt the power behind the order that made it impossible for the other Tiger, one older than Shier Khan, to refuse.

He approached Khan, his face steady, or at least as steady as it could be. His rich, red-orange fur was smooth and his ceremonial armor and bladed pole axe were immaculate. He knew what was going to happen, and he was going to face it with dignity rather than fear.

Janet couldn't be sure, but she thought his face looked like that of a tom who felt perfectly justified in what he had done. She certainly didn't get the feeling that he was repentant about it at all.

"You have killed against the law of your lord," Shier Khan proclaimed. "Do you have a defense to sway my judgment?"

"I followed my heart, and the traditions of our people. I took no pleasure in what I did," the older Tiger said evenly. "I accept the price of my disobedience."

Shier Khan nodded his acceptance. "Then prepare to fight for your heart."

The two warriors brought their weapons around, and the fight was joined.

Janet shook her head slightly as she watched; it was a strange display. They were both skilled warriors, swift and strong, but it was obvious who was going to win. Shier Khan practically crackled with energy, and there was little doubt that this could be over as quickly as a normal execution if he wanted it to be.

Still Shier Khan seemed to give the Tiger every opportunity to make a good showing of the battle, as if he wanted to win the battle on his own, with as little assistance from the gods as possible.

It was strange.

Then again, he'd already shown their favor. This was showing his not-inconsiderable skill, his right to rule beyond the favor of the gods.

Looking at it that way, it made more sense that he was making this an even fight.

Their pole-axes clashed, each Tiger trying to kill the other. She couldn't help but wonder what would happen if Vasuman managed to beat Khan. She knew that in some places, an execution like this would be annulled if the defendant won.

On the other hand, most of those didn't involve fighting against a living God. Would Khan use more of his power if needed to win?

"He's incredible," Ulysses murmured under his breath as the battle continued, blow and block, clash and strike, neither side drawing blood until Shier Khan made an unnaturally fast maneuver that drove his multi-hooked blade into his opponent's gut and out his back.

"Gods," Janet murmured, trying to remember to sound at least a little disconcerted by the gruesome display. "I'm very glad he's not the jealous type," she joked weakly.

"Fortunately I'm put off by that," Ulysses chuckled even as he looked away from the dying Tiger's last moments. "Jealousy and the Enforcers don't mix well."

"No, they don't," Janet agreed. "Should we go back in?"

"I think so," he nodded before turning to retreat to the grand bedroom with a forcible effort to settle his stomach.

"He's an incredible fighter; have you ever seen him in action before?" She asked him as she closed the door to the balcony.

"No," he admitted. "I've seen him spar and do katas, but never fight."

"Well, let's hope we don't have to see it too often," she said. "At least they weren't cheering it on. Does he have to do this sort of thing often yet, or have most people accepted his changes?"

"I've never asked," he said, glancing at the balcony before pouring himself a drink. "I would not expect it often, or things would not be as stable as they are."

"I suppose not... I hope you're planning on making two of those," she chuckled slightly. "I've seen bodies before, but nothing like that."

"I've seen worse," Ulysses said and poured her a drink and a second for himself. "Just never when I wasn't either trying to stop it, or already too late."

"I don't envy you," she said before taking her drink. "Is Khan the sort who gets wound up by a fight like that, or don't you know?" She asked, sitting down on the bed.

"No clue, though I expect his wives will be tending to him if he does," he suppressed only part of a shudder the ruffled his gray fur. "He might go hunting instead."

"Nemishia's probably still in heat, so he'd probably be fine that way," she mused. "Guess we picked a bad time to come visit, huh?" She chuckled, leaning up to kiss Ulysses' cheek lightly and found herself pulled close to him.

"At least it didn't sour his temper towards you," he murmured and claimed a kiss. "It could have been so much worse."

"Mmm ... as it is, I did warn him ahead of time," she murmured into his kiss. "So I got to put on a show instead ... by the way, you did enjoy that, right?" She asked him with a bit of a grin.

"Yes," he managed a chuckle. "It was quite a show. You do look incredible when you're enjoying it."

"Thank you," she smiled. "You've been enjoying your trip, I hope? You've certainly been more relaxed the last couple of days."

"It happens here, when I don't have to worry about the city or my officers," he relaxed flat on his back on the bed, his legs over the edge and his eyes on the ceiling. "It's been too long since I had a competent second in command to look after things."

"You've got your niece now, and I'm sure she'll be able to hold things together... two days, and we haven't gotten a call or a news report about a disaster yet," she reassured him, laying down next to him and scratching his chest lightly through his shirt. "Maybe now you'll be able to get a decent amount of rest ... just how much sabbatical do you have saved up now, hmm?"

"Years," he laughed, shaking his head. "Easily years."

"Mmm ... well, one of these days maybe we'll see about giving Felina a really good, long stretch to get used to command," she teased. "After I win the lottery or something so I can join you," she winked.

"After you're settled in your job, maybe you could arrange for a year or so unpaid leave," he suggested with a thoughtful look. "Planned out, it shouldn't be difficult to manage."

"I think I'd like that," she purred, nuzzling his neck as her hand wondered down his chest, testing his willingness for arousal. "Here, back home, both, either way. You deserve the time, and somebody to take good care of you during it."

"Here, to get a feel for what it'll be like when I step down for real," he said thoughtfully, his mind not on her actions.

"You're planning on moving here then, with Khan?" She asked him, kissing the base of his neck lightly, slipping her hand under his shirt to rub his thick, powerful muscles.

"That is the current plan," he nodded, purring softly at her attentions. "A lot can change in the decades I have left of command, on both sides of the ocean."

"Very true," she murmured, her hand working slowly back down towards his waistband. "Mmm ... for the better, we can hope. After Dark Kat's out of the way, perhaps?"

"In a perfect world," he rumbled, taking notice of her exploration. "Hungry creature," he chuckled deep in his chest and reached over to fondle her breasts. "You do me a world of good."

"You could use a little hunger in your life ... and like you said, Khan will probably be with his wives for a while," she purred, kissing him and undoing his pants. "If you want me to stop, just say so, and we can go sightseeing instead."

"I don't think I'll ever want you to stop," he rumbled, helping her undress them both and encouraging the way her touch aroused his body. He rolled on top of her and kissed his way down her throat, along her collarbone to her breasts.

"Mmm ... and I know I don't want you to," she purred, running her fingers through his fur. "Ooh... anything you want me to do for you that's a little different?" She asked him.

"You know what gets me hottest," he grinned at her wickedly.

"Mmm ... if you know where to find the ropes, feel free, or would you rather tie me up with silks?" She asked him with a low, lusty rumble. "I want you to use me completely and utterly," she purred seductively.

"I think I can find something," he purred and stood, giving her an appreciative view of the powerful body that would soon be focused on her hapless one.

"This place is a lot bigger than the Temples I'm used to," William observed as he and Jake pulled up in front of MegaKat City's main Temple to Vuf. After a full day running Hyretha and Sheira back home to separate parts of the globe, then handling the loopholes involved in getting William into MegaKat City without any trouble, it was looking to shape into a very long evening too.

Now, they were at the Temple of Vuf, about to introduce their Champion, who was looking up at the massive, inspiring structure with a sense of awe that was hard to connect to the person who was the chosen warrior of the God the building was dedicated to.

Of course, compared to the Temple in Sayden Bay that Hue had been delivered to, it was incredibly awe-inspiring.

"Just try to remember, they are priests and you are the Champion, Will," Jake said firmly. "You out rank them. You are the embodied will of Vuf."

"That ever work when you're talking to Halikar and Bastet's priests, particularly the high-ranking ones?" Will asked him.

"When I wasn't bucking Bastet's orders, yes," he chuckled lightly. "It probably helps that I was chosen before birth, in a way. I grew up talking and fighting with them, and Bastet and Halikar. Priests are just people, and we are something far more."

"I'll try to remember it," William promised him. "I certainly don't need practice at disagreeing with them," he chuckled. "Just getting them to listen in. At least MegaKat City isn't as bad a place to be poor in."

"It's not that good a place either," Jake said as they get out of the car. "The priests aren't your enemies. They just act that way sometimes when tradition crosses paths with the needs of today."

"I know," he nodded. "You have much to do with them around here?" He asked curiously.

"Not much as a champion, though many of Bastet and Halikar have," he said. "I've spent more time around them as an Enforcer. They're good folks, though they do tend to leave much of the violence to Halikar's crew."

"I suppose it makes sense," Darkfur nodded as they started up the stairs. The doors opening to reveal several priests in their most formal robes to greet them.

"Welcome to MegaKat City, Champion William Darkfur," a still-strong Firepoint Siamese late in her second century bowed politely to him. "Please, join us with Champion Clawson."

She spoke with a light accent that he couldn't place, but he couldn't worry himself too much about it. There were hundreds of accents, and he only knew a handful of them.

"Of course, High Protector," he said, returning the bow before following them into the building. "Your temple is quite grand, compared to what I'm used to," he told them.

"It was built in a time and place where we were trying to make an impression of power," Lady Salyst chuckled lightly. "It is not typical of Vuf's style anywhere else. It is rather odd to me as well, though Oris says you can become used to it in time," she nodded to the black-furred tom that managed to still be very intimidating despite being past his prime and barely taller than Jake.

"As I have told Lady Salyst," Oris chuckled, "MegaKat City expects a certain amount of gaudiness from its High Temples."

"This isn't the main temple of the faith then?" William asked, looking at the elderly Siamese.

"No, Champion," she smiled indulgently to him as they walked though the carved and brightly painted public spaces of the temple and into the quieter private chambers. "Veldt is the first home of Vuf."

"I wasn't sure if it still was," William admitted as they walked through into the smaller rooms, neutral tones dominating the quiet, contemplative decor. "Some of them have migrated to MegaKat City, since its return to the major world powers."

"It is why we have a major, and rather gaudy, temple here," Lady Salyst said as they settled around a simple, sturdy round table worn smooth by ages of use. "I understand your education at Sayden Bay was less than complete?"

"Much," he admitted. "I tried to get a start at it, but in Sayden Bay I routinely found myself dealing with calls that distracted me from the studies ... eventually, splitting from the local church," he admitted a little sheepishly.

"What drove you away?" she asked gently.

"Philosophical differences," he explained. "Have you ever been to Sayden Bay?" He asked, looking between the two High Protectors. "Seen the sort of threats that the poor people, especially the good ones, have the most trouble with?"

"Yes, I have," Lady Salyst inclined her head. "Every High Priest must visit each temple and spend at least a week with each major temple before their promotion. Sayden Bay is not the most difficult assignment available, but it is high on the list."

"Well, a certain amount of violence is required there, I've found," he told them, not sounding the least ashamed by it. "I was more willing to use it, and the Gifts that Vuf gave me, than the local priests were comfortable with."

"It is not uncommon in an environment where retribution is common," she told him. "Many take the view that our place is to teach people to protect themselves and pressure those of authority to pass laws to help do that. As his choice in you attests to, it is not the only way to serve Vuf. Every god has their warriors. Vuf does not choose many, but when he does, it is to fight."

"I was one of them," William nodded. "They didn't want to be seen as supporting me though, and they disagreed with my approach strongly. The end result was that I ended up working on my own for the most part ... Jake actually found me when he was looking for Champions who he'd been told needed to be put down. Fortunately, he changed his mind."

"Yes, I heard about that," Lady Salyst smiled slightly at Jake. "Your self-control has improved greatly, particularly given your condition."

"You know, there are safer ways to test me," Jake grumbled.

"It was not our choice to test you that way, Champion," Oris said with a slight smile. "I suspect that Bastet and Halikar knew you wouldn't kill him... or at least expected it strongly."

"I hope they didn't think I really needed the test," Jake shook his head, though he didn't seem all that upset by it anymore.

"I hope they didn't think I actually was in need of being handled that roughly," William chuckled slightly.

"You didn't complain once we were out of Sayden Bay," Jake winked at him with a snicker.

"I take it there's a... ah... closer relationship between the Champions than the clergy?" Oris chuckled.

"That's entirely between you and High Priestess Fela," William half- grinned, blushing a bit beneath his fur. "Seriously though ... what does the Temple see my role being?" He asked, looking between the older Kats.

"That will depend on where you choose to reside, or if you choose to travel," Lady Salyst told him. "While champions are largely above the laws of mortals everywhere, some lands are more tolerate than others of your activities."

"Here in MegaKat City, the primary rule is to not cross Jake's mortal line," Oris inclined his head to lean cinnamon tom. "He will be the one that will hunt you if he considers you an Omega, a threat to the city.

"Your role here, since you are an active protector on a level we rarely see, is to find the balance between justice, protection and the Enforcers. I would ask you to maintain your appearance so you can make a good impression in public appearances, testify in court and so those who come to us for help find your presence comforting, not frightening. Teach your skills to those who wish to learn. You are the representative of Vuf on Aristal. Conduct yourself in a manner that respects the trust he has placed in you."

"And when the time comes, join the real battle for Aristal's fate," Lady Salyst added seriously.

"That's one call I couldn't even try to resist," Will said seriously. "Do you think that I'm up to the task?"

"Not if it came today," Lady Salyst told him honestly. "You are capable of being ready, however. It will require a great deal of training, but Vuf would not have chosen you if you did not have the potential."

"What type of training, and where should I get it from?" He asked them evenly.

"The history of Vuf, combat, your abilities, and, clearly, self-control and tactics," she told him. "Some is best taught at the main temple in Veldt, some here or elsewhere, as you prefer."

"I think it would be best to stick around here, for as much as I can," he decided. "Sayden Bay, there's too much that I have to do ... too much farther away though, and I get the feeling that I'll be missing when I'm needed."

"It's hard to be missing when you can cross the globe in a couple hours," Jake pointed out with a teasing smile, for all he was serious.

"You can, I might have a harder time of it," William pointed out. "You've got your own jet, but I've got civilian travel options unless you come to give me a ride."

"Or I lend you one I don't really use," Jake offered.

"Also have to learn to be a pilot then, but that would be an option," he nodded slightly. "I was a grunt, not a pilot," he explained.

"True, though it wouldn't take long with a new autopilot installed," Jake said.

"I suppose," he nodded. "It's not that I'm against going to the Veldt for some of my training, I'm just not sure if I should start there, instead of here... do you two think it would be better?" He asked, looking at the older Kats.

"Yes," Lady Salyst nodded. "It will enable you to focus on studying. You have much to learn that is not from action."

"She has a point," Jake added. "You'll still feel too many calls here to focus on much else."

"You're probably right," William admitted. "So, when should we be on the way, and about how long do you think it's going to take?"

"If you apply yourself, perhaps six months to a year before you have learned enough that the battlefield and your fellow champions will be a better teacher," Lady Salyst said. "Much would depend on how quickly you learn and how much Champion Clawson and his contacts are able to teach you."

"What we can," Jake said firmly. "Between my allies, we should be able to cover everything that is not fairly specific to Vuf."

"And I'll do my best to be a quick learner," William promised. "Hope I haven't managed to screw anything up too badly up to now."

"If you had, Jake would have killed you by now," Lady Salyst smiled at him. "Do you have any questions before we leave for Veldt?"

"Is there's anything I should bring along?" He asked after a moment.

"If you have any personal effects you would like with you, we should retrieve those," she said. "We will provide for your needs."

"Do you rent?" Jake looked at him.

"Yeah, but if I'm not in Sayden Bay anymore I can just pack everything off to the warehouse with the armory ... that I'll have to keep up."

"Easily arranged for before we travel to Veldt," Lady Salyst inclined her head and stood. "Come then, Champion Darkfur. We will travel to Saydan Bay, settle your affairs there before continuing to Veldt."

Janet took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of spices, roasting meats and fresh soup as she and Ulysses walked through the bazaar of Satara. A Tiger guard in civilian clothes wore a large sword, following close but trying his best to be inconspicuous as they walked around.

Janet couldn't help but be amused by his presence; anybody stupid enough to come after them would find he was the least of their concerns, especially if she got them on their own. She was hungry... not that she needed to feed on anybody, but sneaking snacks here and there from the people around her wasn't particularly satisfying, and she'd had to be careful about feeding on Ulysses. She couldn't afford for the effects to be noticed, not here.

She let herself be distracted by the scents, sounds, and colors of the bazaar, performers on streetcorners showing off for change and merchants calling out praise of their wares.

It was a very different world than MegaKat City. Not just because it was so obviously older, but the barter system was firmly in place here and nearly everything was hand made or seller-grown. It was like the stories of cities a thousand years ago, and it quite possibly hadn't change in that long.

"You know, if the malls back home were more like this, I think they'd be more interesting," she chuckled.

"Corporations and factory owners would never allow it," Ulysses chuckled a bit. "It would put them out of work."

"True," she nodded. "Some neighborhoods try, but nothing this big ... anything in particular you're looking for, or did you just want to show me off?" She asked, looking up at him with a fond smile.

"And get a little air, see the city a bit." He slid an arm around her waist. "I'm not the kind to spend all my time cooped up, no matter how gilded the cage."

"Shier Khan wouldn't do that to you," she reassured him, leaning against him lightly, paying close attention to whether or not she offended anybody by being so close to him in public. "He knows it'd drive you insane," she chuckled, relieved that it didn't seem to draw any real notice.

"I know," he smiled down at her, his ear flicking at the tweeting of songbirds from a nearby stall. "It's still good to get out and see the way real people live and shop."

"Yeah," she nodded. "Even if nobody back home would imagine it," she smiled, glancing over at a young Panther fem haggling with a merchant over the price of some bread, both gesturing wildly as they argued. "I think I'll stick with getting dinner the way I'm used to, though."

"Where's your sense of adventure?" he teased her before glancing at a stall full of brightly colored and finely decorated bolts of cloth meant to be warn as saris.

"Oh, I've got a sense of adventure, it's just not something I want to indulge while grocery shopping every day," she chuckled. "These are incredible," she purred, looking at the same cloths.

"They'd look even better on you," he smiled with a soft rumble and picked up a rich red with gold edging to hold up to her dark gray fur.

"You think so?" She purred, posing a bit.

"That would look most excellent on you, Miss," the merchant said as he noticed them. "A fine silk, one of my best."

"I am sure," Ulysses agreed in his best effort at Tusandrin. He knew his accent and dialect marked him instantly as an outsider, but his looks did that well enough. He paid a bit more attention to the feel of the fabric against the sensitive pads of his fingers and decided he had to agree for real. It was a fine creation, and he was sure everything in the stall was. "It is not perfect, however," he began the bargaining process. "The design is not very traditional."

"It is not," the Caracal merchant agreed. "It is a more modern design, to appeal to today's fashions. If you are more interested in traditional designs, I have others that are more suitable," he offered, nodding back towards another part of his display.

"Ah," Ulysses smiled as he moved over to that section. The quality was just as good, though the lowest end wasn't represented as it was in the section meant for locals. It was definitely what he was looking for in a sari.

Even as Janet looked through them, appreciating the quality and variety of beautifully colored silks, she felt him spot something that definitely caught his attention. It was brown, dark green and blue with silver and golden embroidery. Quite different from most of the others. It took a moment for her to place it, and then it made sense. It was the pattern of Sulrisma, the Earth Goddess here. There was going to be a fantasy involved in this one to be sure.

She was just as sure that the merchant had noticed his interest; the price for that one was sure to go up.

"Sir, if you appreciate that one, perhaps you would consider this?" He asked, reaching up to a shelf behind him and pulling down a higher-quality wrap of the same design.

"Mmm," Ulysses considered it by touch. His approval was clear enough in his expression. "There will not be a problem for one who is not a brahmin to wear it?"

"No sir. It is of the same quality, but there is a very slight difference that makes it acceptable for one of a lower caste," the Caracal reassured them, indicating a tiny flaw in the pattern of the embroidery. "All the wares I have here are suitable; those I make for the brahmin go directly to the Temples, as part of my offerings."

Ulysses nodded and took a second hard look at it before letting his attention drift to some brighter colors and graduated designs. To the merchant, his body language clearly indicated an intent to buy.

He picked one that graduated from flame red to deep sea blue with silver threads on the blue hem and gold on the red hem.

"Any that appeal to you?" he looked at Janet.

"The green one did," she told him. "And the sea-blue one there is nice," she said, trying not to sound too enthusiastic about them, making at least some effort to get a good deal.

"How much for the four, then?" Ulysses asked, ready to start the bartering process that was so alien to his upbringing.

"For the four? Mmm ... two hundred fifty," he said, considering them and Ulysses' mood. "They are all fine silks, particularly the green," he pointed out.

"True, they are fine, but they are not that fine," Ulysses countered with much more displeasure than he actually felt. "Two hundred and fifty would buy your entire stock."

"Sir, you insult my wares!" The Caracal protested. "I sold a piece just like this for seventy five earlier today!" He said, indicating the green silk. "Two hundred, for your lovely friend, and a bargain at the price I asked!"

"You sold it to a gullible fool then," Ulysses countered with a huff. "That would be too much for all four. You are not the only one with fine saris in the market."

"How much do you think they are worth, hmm?" The Caracal demanded.

"Fifty for the four," Ulysses offered evenly with the manner that he was being generous with the offer, something both sides knew he was being.

Janet was sure that the merchant was frustrated with the offer; that his customer was apparently familiar enough to know the local rates, rather than the ones he would have charged most foreigners.

He wasn't going to just give up on a good sale though.

"Sir, I have a family to feed," he protested, "workers to pay! A hundred for the four of them, and know that my kittens go hungry for that!"

Janet tried not to roll her eyes; he was laying it on a bit thick, but then, he was still asking Ulysses for twice what he'd said he was willing to pay. She wouldn't be surprised to find out it was also three or four times what they were worth if sold to a local.

Ulysses regarded him evenly for a long moment. It wasn't quite a stare down, but it was close enough.

"We'll shop around. If they are still here at the end of the day, we will discuss your offer."

After a brief moment to give him a chance to respond, Ulysses started off, Janet almost leaving before he did.

"You're probably not his favorite person at the moment," Janet observed. "Even if he was trying to stiff us."

"Given the actual market value of those were thirty-five at best, my offer was more than generous," he shrugged. "And there are plenty of others who sell saris."

"I know, Uly," she smiled up at him. "Who knows, he might bring it down further later on ... you had plans for that green one, didn't you?" She asked him teasingly.

"I do," he chuckled deeply. "The earth goddess is a fertility goddess, much like Bastet. It's a rather sexy look, especially for the future, after I've retired."

"Mmm ... one I'm a little light up front for though," she teased playfully. "Unless that's something you see changing some day?" She asked, raising an eyebrow.

"It is an option," he held back a shiver at the thought of kittens, and making them. "When my job isn't so dangerous."

"Of course," she nodded. "Neither of us is really in a position to be a good parent right now."

"So was there anything you wanted to do besides wonder and shop?" he asked with a slight smile.

"Mmm ... we could ask our 'friend' if there's anything he knows is in the area," she suggested. "Though I think I'd like to take in some of the local performances," she said, looking back at the Tiger who'd been trailing them somewhat discretely all day long.

"Any preferences on what kind?" Ulysses raised an eyebrow at her even as he curled his tail lightly around hers in clear appreciation of the idea.

"Mmm ... dancers, maybe a shadow play if we can find one?" She suggested. "Not sure what you've done before."

"That's local and not in the palace, very little," he smiled and glanced at their guard. "Recommendations?"

"There is a place nearby some of us go to when we're off duty," the Tiger said, thinking about it. "Or you might enjoy the dog races," he suggested.

"Up to you," Ulysses offered Janet the choice, though it was clear enough in his quiet reaction that the races appealed to him more.

"How about the races," she decided after a moment to consider it. Considering what most guards could be like off-duty, she thought that the dancers sounded more interesting, but it could wait too. Having Ulysses in a good mood was worth far more, and dog races could be fun, since they had betting money.

"This way, masters," the Tiger bowed to them.

"Is betting legal here?" she asked as they followed their bodyguard through the market.

"Yes, mistress," he inclined his head to her. "You may bet at trackside with those around you, or in the modern way with money and a receipt."

Good to know," she nodded. "How do they handle the races here?" She asked him as they walked along.

"The dogs are lined up on a short lead. When the signal is given, the handlers release them. The first to reach the end of the course is the winner," he said.

"Is there some sort of bait animal that they use to keep them moving?" She clarified. "Races of predators back home usually use something like that."

Ulysses shot her a look that mixed confusion with concern, but didn't actually say anything.

"If you are inclined for blood sport or to watch hunting, it is available, but not at the tracks," the Tiger told her.

"No, not something I was interested in ... I'm not sure what the local customs are, so I wanted to be sure it wasn't going to be a part of the race," she explained easily, grateful when she felt Ulysses relax. "I'm sorry if I offended."

"No offence given, Mistress," the Tiger said politely. "The motivation the dogs have is a magical talisman that races the track in front of them. When I was a young cub, it was a rabbit. Lord Shier Khan ordered the change in the tracks where all may view freely."

"More like what we use back home," she smiled as the first audible barking of a multitude of dogs and the excitement of betting became evident. "Thank you."

"I am here to serve, mistress," he bowed his head to her.

"Do you go to the races often?" Ulysses asked, stealing a kiss before they joined the line to enter the large facility.

"Not that often, these days, but I did for a couple cases," she explained. "Early on, I busted a dog fighting ring, got a lead on some of the folks in it by finding them at the races. Most of the folks at them are good ones though."

"Dog fighting is illegal in your lands?" a Panther in her early teens standing nearby asked curiously.

"It is," she nodded slightly. "Animal fighting in general isn't something we do in MegaKat City, particularly since the people who take care of the animals often do a bad job of it."

"Why would they do that?" she frowned. "A well-cared for animal is a better fighter and better at recovering."

"Because most of them don't really care about the animals," Janet explained. "I'm sure it's different here, but in MKC they usually look at it as being cheaper to replace an animal that's too badly hurt or in bad shape than to properly take care of them."

"Yes, it is different," she nodded, a somewhat disturbed look on her face. "A well-bred puppy with promise is worth more than most earn in a year. Fighting dogs are more valuable than racers. Warriors and nobles often buy the good ones for the battlefield and to guard their homes. Even a poor fighter of good breeding is worth a fair amount to merchants and in raising and training the next generation."

"And there's a major difference," Janet nodded. "We don't use them on the battlefield often, and while good breeding can be a factor, a lot of people are willing to take strays off the street, clean them up, and toss them in the ring. Good breeding is an issue more often in racing ... and especially in showing and practical training. Different priorities and cultures ... a fighting dog in MegaKat City usually only finds itself in a different career if it's rescued in a bust, if it's lucky. Most are too vicious by then for anything else and have to be put down."

"Vicious ... to people?" the teen looked aghast.

"Fighting dogs are not trained in a way that makes them useful for anything else, even most guard jobs," Ulysses nodded. "They tend to be baited, beaten and starved until they will attack anything that moves, especially each other."

"That's...." the Panther didn't seem to know what to say to it.

"Barbaric," Janet offered. "Yes, and it's the reason it's illegal. There's a world of difference between dog fighting in technological societies and in ones like Tusandrin. If it was like this back home, I think it wouldn't be popular, but it would be a lot more acceptable."

The Panther nodded, still clearly unsettled by the information. "If they do that to dogs ... other animals fare no better?"

"Not fighting animals. It's not so bad when the animals aren't already expected to be hurting each other," she reassured her.

"Most people who breed animals take good care of them for much the reason they are here," Ulysses added as the line moved forward and they were near the entrance with her. "A good animal is worth good money."

"At least that much makes sense," the Panther said, shaking her head. "Treating them poorly just doesn't make sense ... they're not disposable."

"No, they're not, it just takes some work to convince some people of that ... which is why we watch out for the ones who don't realize it," Janet smiled. "Do you go to the races here often?"

"Often," she nodded. "My father has trusted me with expanding our breeding stock from the fighters we have always had to include a line of racers. I have to understand the races to know a good racer to buy."

"Then would you mind filling in a couple of outsiders if there are any questions we have about how things are done around here?" Janet asked her with a friendly smile.

"I would be pleased to do so," the young Panther smiled in return with a small bow. "I am Panna."

"A pleasure to meet you," Janet smiled. "I'm Janet, and this is Ulysses," she said, nodding towards her lover before they passed through the gates and into the semi-controlled maelstrom of bodies moving between concession stands, betting booths and the wide entrances to the rows and rows of stadium seats above the track.

"The hovering menace is a bodyguard slash tour guide," Ulysses added with an amused grin.

"I gathered," Panna giggled. "You must be important to have one of the palace guards watching you."

"We're on business from MegaKat City," Janet explained easily. "We deal with both Khan Enterprises and Karin Security, so Lord Shier Khan was kind enough to make sure we had protection while we were out of the palace."

"How do you know what I am?" the Tiger guarding them demanded.

"You've bought three dogs for Lord Shier Khan," Panna said as they worked their way through the crowd.

"Is everybody likely to know who he is here, then?" Janet asked.

"Probably not," Panna shook her head, her eyes sharp for good seats. "Though I'm sure some do."

"Some is acceptable," the guard decided, taking a seat a directly behind where Panna, Janet, and Ulysses managed to sit down.

"We'll all be fine," Janet reassured him before they split up.

"I will see to it, mistress," he rumbled.

"They're all like that," Panna said. "So serious."

"It comes with the job," Ulysses chuckled knowingly, his own awareness of his surroundings never really turned off, even when he tuned it out.

"Many jobs," Janet agreed. "But for now, you're on vacation from yours, and we have races to enjoy," she pointed out to him, taking his hand and squeezing it with a fond smile. "Do you know anything about the dogs in this race?" She asked Panna.

She glanced up at the huge six-sided board in the center of the track. "The favored dog is Races-Against-The-Moon from Inucotea. He is black with a white blaze on his face and runs in blue silks. It is a rare color here. His pups have done well and the best are black. He is the kind of dog I would buy if I could."

"Not for sale, at least not at your price level," Janet guessed with a nod. "I can understand that. Any of the others?" She asked curiously, considering the pack of dogs at lined up the starting line of the track.

"The tan-and-red with green and white silks is Win-o-will," she smiled slightly. "With luck there will be enough pups in her next litter that I will get one. She's a good bitch, but she does not have much of a chance in this race.

"The tan in red silks is a good bet. He's fast at this distance," Panna added, looking over the field.

"Good to know," she nodded. "Glad to meet somebody who bets based on performance, not 'systems,'" Janet chuckled.

"It comes from knowing the animals so well," Panna smiled shyly. "It's about to start."

"Do you ever actually bet on them, or just watch for professional reasons?" Janet asked quietly, focusing more on the race itself.

"I usually save betting for the fights," Panna said. "I know them far better than the racers."

"How violent are the fights?" She asked quietly, deciding to try a little experiment. She focused her attention on the dogs other than the tan-and-red with green silks Panna had mentioned, ready to draw just a bit of their essence when the race came close to the finish.

"They are fights," Panna said. "Dog do not die regularly, but it can not always be avoided."

"Win-o-will just pulled into the lead," Ulysses distracted them.

"How?" Panna blinked, truly surprised by the shakeup at the very end. "They were running exactly as I expected."

"Good fortune?" Janet suggested with a bit of a smile. She knew the real reason, but it wasn't really something to brag about for so many reasons. "Maybe today's the day for long shots."

"Perhaps," she nodded. "Try to call the next race, Janet."

"Okay, but only if you say what you think too... we might as well see which of us does better," Janet winked as they got the next race set up. She didn't know which one was the long shot this time, not yet, but she could sense the vigor and spirit of them easily enough.

Picking the one who had the least was something she could have done at weeks old, let alone now.

"The small black, with the white silks," she decided.

Panna nodded after glancing up at the leader board. "A long shot to be sure. That is Dances-in-the-Dark. She has won, but rarely. Fifty to one odds today."

"Who would you pick?" Janet asked.

She took a moment to consider the field. "Konei. He's the tan in gray silks."

"Well, we'll see who's right," Janet nodded, glancing up at the leader board for the first time. They ranked just about how she felt they would... not quite, but close, with a few differences she was confident were the mistakes of the handicappers, not her.

Still, it would be a good way to make her choices in the future ... it said which ones were the most lucrative to 'help' at any rate. She'd have to be careful not to do it too much, it would arouse suspicion and she didn't really need the money right now.

It was fun though, picking a winner and then making them win by messing with everybody else.

Besides... she kind of liked Panna. If she was willing to play along, might work out for her.

Dark Kat had always told her that any opportunity to practice safely was always a good one. She just hoped that nobody was monitoring for magical influences... her powers worked differently, but it would really, really suck to be caught out by a fluke that picked them up.

"Konei has a definite lead," Ulysses said, his attention on the race, his adrenaline pumping but kept tightly under control.

Janet focused on the race just as much, and on very, very carefully controlling what she did to the other dogs. It wouldn't be any good to hurt them, then something would be suspected. Even if it wasn't traced to her, having everyone on alert was never good.

It was hard for the people in the stands to tell if Konei and the others fell back, or if Dances came forward, but in the last moments of the race, the long shot took the lead, crossing barely half a head in front of Konei.

And Janet allowed herself a very real smile of satisfaction.

"How do you select your picks?" Panna asked.

"By feel, really," Janet admitted. "I just get a feel for them... I don't think it'll be the same sort of upset this time though," she offered.

Panna nodded, and to Janet's eye, the explanation was not only accepted, but made perfect scene to her.

"So who do you choose?" she asked. "I think I'll bet on this one."

"Mmm ... the black-and-tan with the blue silks," she said after a moment to think about it, looking up at the leader board. "Barabas-from-Riverwind," she told Panna after getting the name.

"Do you want me to put any money down for you while I'm there?" Panna asked as she stood.

"Mmm ... ten?" She asked Ulysses, looking over at him.

He nodded and she handed a coin over to Panna. "A reasonable bet."

"It is," Panna agreed. "Three times what I am."

"I'm confident," Janet winked. "Thanks for taking that up for us," she said as the Panther walked off.

Felina let out a sigh of relief as she saw Jake's car pulling up and parked behind the platforms set up at Manx Park. She strode to him quickly, pleased to note that he was dressed in formal grays and perfectly groomed when he got out.

He snapped a salute off to her and she returned it.

"Good, you're here," she said. "We've got about ten minutes before Manx starts his speech."

"So we have at least an hour before we have to do more than stand still," he rolled his eyes, though there was excitement there too at the thought of one of his designs being in full production at last.

"Yes, but standing still and looking important is a crucial part of being a ranking Enforcer," Felina chuckled. "Especially when the jet the Mayor's talking about is named after you. Look on the bright side, you've got me up there instead of the Commander."

"True," Jake blushed, his tail twitching in real excitement. "There are worse ways to spend an afternoon."

She really couldn't tell which thrilled him more; that one of his designs was in production for the Enforcers, or that it would carry his call-name into future generations.

"Well, thank you," she chuckled. "Come on, let's go make sure everything's in place. Security's finished going over things and the rest of the Knights are on patrol to make sure Dark Kat and his friends stay quiet, so it should go smoothly."

"That would be a first," Jake winked at her before following, his entire manner every inch the ranking Enforcer Ghost and a Champion of two powerful gods.

It was a pleasant thing to see... up to a few years ago, getting him to do anything like this would have been like pulling teeth, at least getting him to view it as anything more than a tactical exercise. She smiled inwardly; he was more relaxed now, more confident ... more professional.

"So, how was the hunting going, before we called you in? I understand you brought another Champion in?" she asked, noting the subtleties in his body that marked the effects of his mate's pain on him.

"Yes. The Champion of Vuf managed to come back from the edge," he smiled at it. "He'll be an excellent ally and living in the city when he comes back from Veldt in a year or so."

"Why was Vuf's Champion on your list?" She asked, cocking her head slightly as he checked over the jet quickly, other aides bustling about getting things set up for the speech behind them.

"He'd started down Alexander's path," Jake said quietly. "He was really there as a test for me, though. To see how willing I was to kill, and listen to allies. Luckily for us both, I passed."

"That's good," Felina nodded slightly. "We don't need another Blue Moon out there. So, you think he'll do better in MKC?" She asked, looking to make sure they had the appropriate security in the gathering crowd.

"He will, but the best thing that will help him is having support. He couldn't even turn to his local temple for it. Here he has priests who understand what aggressive defense means and other champions to teach him now to control and refine his powers. Plus here he has a very regular reminder that someone is watching that is willing to take him out if he goes too far. Plus he'll be in Veldt for the next year or so with Vuf's High Priestess of Aristal to get a solid foundation of what he is," Jake said before shaking his head. "Poor guy was only chosen six months ago, and he heard every poor person in need of protection within two miles. It'll be bad enough here, but in Saydan Bay it must have been an utter walking nightmare."

"Gods," Felina muttered, shaking her head. "How'd he ever sleep?"

"For the most part, he didn't," Jake said. "Which is quite enough to drive the best minds out of whack."

"You managed," she teased him a bit, though she wasn't sure how he managed. "Pretty well, I'd say," she added. "Maybe you can give him a few tips."

"I honestly don't know how. I was born that way," Jake admitted. "He's only had six months of being like this. He was military. I'm hoping he gets along with the Enforcers when he gets back."

"If he can handle not killing people, I think so," Felina nodded slightly. "Especially if he's willing to work with us. I can understand being iffy about Sayden Bay's cops, but ours are at least mostly clean."

"And here he has a high-ranking contact he already trusts to introduce him to them," Jake nodded. "The killing part he'll take some time to break the habit of, but it should happen. He's still mostly going after murderers, violent rapists and bad cops."

"Officially, we'll still want him to break the habit," Felina chuckled darkly.

"And I'm here to make sure he doesn't start going after lighter targets," Jake nodded. "I heard there was an attack?"

"Yeah... a pretty light one, actually," she said gratefully. "One of Dark Kats lieutenants took his latest Dreadnought out after Megakat Biochemical, the Knights and Red Dawn stopped it before it got too far ... a handful of injuries from a missed shot that hit a building, but no fatalities," she said, the relief in her voice clear.

"Sounds like a distraction with no main attack," Jake frowned. "No robberies during the battle?"

"No... there are some rumors though, that we're taking very seriously," Felina reassured him. "After we picked up on them, we put the pieces together... we think he might have made that attack so we'd be off our game today. There's a possibility that somebody's going to make an attempt on the Mayor or Miss Briggs' life... another reason I'm glad you're here," she admitted. "Did you bring it?"

"Yes," Jake nodded. "I stashed it in the podium. I'm ready if someone tries."

"I'll try to remember to let you get in the way of whatever happens," Felina promised him. "Let's just hope it's the usual rumors and cranks though. I don't suppose Halikar lets you tell when danger's about to happen?"

"If I know, I can tell," he nodded seriously. "The hard part is knowing. He doesn't let me in on nearly as much on this level as some of the others." He flicked a look in the direction of a spike of interest directed at him. Callie Briggs was looking at him. Their eyes met briefly and he relaxed. Interest, desire, but it was not intense enough he should act on.

"Captain Clawson, it's a pleasure to have you back," Callie smiled, walking up to him and offering him her hand. "Especially for this. We'd been afraid you wouldn't make it."

"I come when called on, Deputy Mayor," he smiled and shook her hand. "It is my duty."

"I'll have to keep that in mind," she smiled. "You've been a real asset to this city, and the Mayor and I are both grateful for it."

"Thank you," Jake's smile deepened in a way that let her know just how much it meant to him.

"You're welcome," she smiled. "Come on, the speech will be starting soon ... I hope you won't mind standing next to me?" She offered. "The Mayor has something special planned."

"Of course, Deputy Mayor," Jake inclined his head respectfully to her before they stepped up to the platform next to the new fighter under its cloth cover.

Jake, Callie, and Felina all took their places, the younger Feral standing at the Mayor's left, where Feral normally would have, Jake bookending the two politicians as he tried not to pay too much attention to Manx's speech.

"I'd like to thank you all for coming here today," the fat Kat started, drawling his way into a speech that, frankly, was better than he really deserved. Callie did wonders for his opinion ratings, and not just by being popular herself. Jake couldn't help but wonder if she'd ever thought of trying to take Manx's place.

The city would be much better off for it, that would be sure. A Mayor as competent as Miss Briggs with a Deputy Mayor to match, how could it not be an improvement all the way around?

The Mayor droned on, Jake keeping half an ear on the actual speech to make sure he didn't miss something useful. The Mayor may be brain-dead, but his speeches were by Miss Briggs and she was anything but.

The bulk of his attention kept to the crowd, his extended senses and his gift for a bit of warning if something big was about to go down near him. Felina might not be too concerned about the rumors of a hit, but it made his spine crawl. It wasn't a good sign.

Something was going to happen, and it was likely to be soon. The problem was that 'soon' could be any time in the next few hours, while Manx talked and the mingling began ... he'd have to stay through the whole thing too, knowing what he did....

"I now present Captain Jake Clawson, and the fine new jet of his design!" Mayor Manx said proudly, indicating the lean tom in dress grays to his right.

Jake blinked and shot a sideways glance at Felina, grateful that she was in the same direction as the covered jet. When she gave him an imperceptible nod and smile he straightened a bit and focused on reading the signs on how much he was going to be expected to do for this unveiling.

Fortunately, Callie was in a position to give him a few subtle hints; it looked like he was supposed to actually pull the cover, instead of Manx.

He just hoped he was reading her right.

That Manx wasn't moving was a good sign he was.

He walked over to the covering and gave it a good yank, pulling it away from a sleek, two-person fighter-bomber that was all-angles to reduce it's radar signature.

He felt the threat even as he was pulling the cover away. There wasn't time to do anything more than fling it back, in front of the Mayor and Miss Briggs, even as the crowd started to applaud before the report of the first gunshot reached them.

Callie started to turn to see what Jake was doing, moving just enough that the bullet ripping through the sheet caught her arm, instead of ripping through her chest as well. She went down, too shocked to scream as all Hell broke loose with the sound of the first bullet.

Jake did what he'd promised and tackled the Mayor, knocking him off the stage and under cover. He wasn't sure how he managed to grab Callie's arm to pull her along, only that she was against him when they all landed. He put himself between them and where he felt the shooter was and called on Halikar to help him shield them.

As the golden flames licked up around him he heard Felina ordering the crowd down and shouting at her officers, trying to keep control and spot the shooter. He heard conflicting directions to find him ... nobody seemed to know exactly where the shot had come from.

Another one came, but the round was melted by Halikar's shield. Jake sensed a burst of power, and knew that something different was going to happen with the next shot.

He also knew where it was going to come from.

"What's going on?" Manx managed to stammer.

"Tatenom building, floor six, office 616," Jake yelled, throwing enough power behind it that no one would question him. "Keep moving around behind my shield," he growled at the two politicians. "That's the Champion of Assassins shooting at you."

Callie tried to move, her arm bleeding heavily as she tried to get around behind the podium. Manx moved faster, practically diving under the heavy oak, the first time Jake had ever seen him move quickly.

Jake could tell that the next shot was coming for Callie again... why her? Why was the Champion shooting for her first? He knew he'd been spotted, couldn't be expecting more than another shot, maybe two, before he had to escape.

He felt a wash of power ripple from the other champion and knew even before it hit it would take his shield down. He felt himself move, the wind and momentum and hot blood that wasn't his.

"Jake!" Callie's voice was dim, a lost echo in the shearing of flesh and shattering of bone.

Pain without arousal. Rage funneled into a protective drive. All he could do was focus on what strength he had to protect her, be it with his body or his gifts.

"Take that bastard down!" Felina barked at the Enforcers who were still drawing a bead on the location. Blasters fired, raking the window near the shooter's location as ambulance sirens wailed and rushed towards the platform.

No more rounds came, something Jake had to be devoutly grateful for. But he could sense that the Champion was fleeing, not that he'd been taken down.

It would have to be good enough.

Breathe. Just breathe. The damage will heal. It wasn't permanent damage. That fine line turned to his favor today.

He felt Felina on top of him, her powerful body shielding his ... he told himself that Callie was under them and the assassin was on his way out, it made Felina's protective gesture less irritating.

"I-i-is he gone?" Manx stammered from beneath the podium.

"We're not sure yet, Mayor," Felina told him. "Jake, how's Miss Briggs, and how are you?"

"He's gone," Jake said firmly, his body and mind not completely in synch. "He'll try again, but not for a few hours at least. She's bleeding, arm hit, not critical. I'm broken. Be fine in a few hours," he got out as coherently as he could.

"I'll be fine," Callie said, muffled beneath Jake as he struggled to get up on his own. "I just need to get patched up, how's the Mayor?"

"Uninjured," Felina said as she got up, then helped Jake off Callie. Against all her instincts she focused on tending the Deputy Mayor's wounds to stop her bleeding.

"Sir, we need to get you to the hospital," one of the paramedics told Jake, putting a stretcher down next to him. "It's going to hurt when we move you."

"Understood," Jake relaxed every muscle he had conscious control of and set his mind to ignore all the input. "I'm ready."

"Do you have feeling in all the parts of your body?" One of the paramedics, a tiger-tabby tom, asked as they carefully moved him onto a stretcher, then lifted him up onto a gurney in one smooth move.

"Doc, I'm a champion. I'll heal in a few hours," Jake told them evenly, though he still let out a breath of relief when they stopped moving him. "And yes, I can feel everything. Spine's intact."

"Good," the tom nodded. "And I don't care if you're Halikar himself, you're still going in," he told Jake firmly, helping them move his gurney and lock it into place in the ambulance as a second team took care of Miss Briggs and checked out the Mayor.

"She's the target," Jake murmured, already drifting down into the half-aware healing trance that kicked in when he wasn't killed and the danger was over. "Konuse's Champion."

"We'll take care of her," Felina promised him before the door was closed and he was taken away, his awareness of the world limited to the status of his body and immediate surroundings.

Rock's entire body tensed as a powerful shock ripped through his body and the puddle of water gathering in the shallow tub he was shackled in, fighting not to struggle too much as another incessant drop of water fell onto his restrained face.

The idea that this was supposed to be meditation was still something he was getting used to ... though he was getting better at withstanding it, without making things worse. The first step, he'd been told ... now he just had to work on being able to think about something other that how miserably cold and wet he was, or wondering how long it would be before the next shock ran through him.

And to think ... he'd requested this particular 'stimulation' for his meditation. Served him right for trying to avoid the sexual things, the kinds of pain and torment he could enjoy.

"Lord Rock, you have been summoned by the Inflictor," Tanna told him as she walked in, turning the spigot to shut off the flow of water above him.

He tried hard not to show how relieved he felt as she unshackled him. "Should I get cleaned up?"

"No need," she told him. "If you wish to however, I believe he simply wishes to speak with you. I would recommend drying off and putting on some clothes," she offered.

"Thanks," he nodded and made quick work of rubbing his fur dry; rubbing it into a semi-balance of order before pulling on the clothes he had worn in. He knew better than to ask what it was about, beyond how presentable he needed to be for it. She knew, and she didn't tell.

"I will show you the way," the ancient Tigress told him once he was ready. "Follow me, please," she added, turning to start out, not giving him any serious time to recover from his meditations.

He wasn't expecting it, and continued to self-groom as they walked through the corridors to the Inflictor's quarters.

It seemed that the Panther lived on one of the higher floors ... above the canopy of the swamp, to judge by the heat being channeled through the stone walls and floors. The railings of the stairs were particularly fun, curling up the walls with sharp edges.

Before too long, they were on the tenth level, and even Rock was feeling a bit winded as Tanna stood by the entrance to the Inflictor's quarters. He drew in a deep breath, relaxed and nodded he was ready.

She opened the door, and let him in.

"Come in, Rock," the Inflictor told him. "And take a seat."

The inside of the room was decorated in rich blacks and reds, the canopy bed deceptively luxurious. The Panther himself was sitting on the floor, cross-legged, and Rock had to wince when he saw him, and the long, apparently self-controlled needles threading themselves through his skin and muscles.

"Yes, Inflictor," Rock bowed his head and sat on the floor a couple feet away from the leader of the temple, mimicking the position as well as he could.

"I want to discuss your role, as the Champion of Pain," the Panther told him, ignoring the blood oozing from numerous wounds. "For now, as I would speak with the Champion," he explained.

"I understand, Inflictor," Rock nodded slightly, turning his mind to that, to what he would be when all this was over and he was back home. When he was capable of killing Jake for real, and for good. "Do you have a name I can call you by?"

"I became the Inflictor when I took the rank; my name from before refers to a different person," the Panther explained, shaking his head. "You are familiar with the Ritual of Rebirth; part of becoming the Inflictor's is going through with it."

Rock nodded, absorbing that information. Being familiar with a title being someone's actual name was rather different from being face to face with it.

"What did you want to talk about?" he asked, honestly curious.

"As I said, your role as the Champion, mostly," the Panther told him. "What do you see it as being?"

"I see it centered on helping people, both individual and societies, understand the value of pain and its uses," Rock correlated what he knew as best he could. "For pleasure, healing, the value in enduring and learning from it. I'm out there to represent Tamorl, Eshik and Marka and how pain isn't a bad thing."

"That is very much the core of our Champion's role, outside of the contest," the Inflictor nodded. "Of course, there are several ways you can do this. Your mate is a Champion... are you familiar with the call to duty?"

"I've heard of it, but Jake hasn't said much about it," Rock admitted. "It's a buzzing or something in his head when something needs his attention as a champion."

"A good description," the Inflictor nodded. "As the Champion of Pain, you would face such Calls as well. I can't speak for Eshik and Marka, but Tamorl's Calls would likely require a mix of diplomacy, sympathy, and a willingness to fight. They may also bring you into conflict with the Enforcers, or other Champions... Lyris' Champion is particularly likely to prove irritating."

"I can't say I'd be surprised," Rock agreed. "The Enforcers seem fairly up-to-speed on the laws allowing champions pretty free reign, though."

"Yes, they are," the Inflictor agreed. "However, if you were Called to take a perpetrator and subject him to the Ritual of Rebirth ... that could be more complicated, couldn't it? Legally and for you."

"Legally, I'm not sure," Rock admitted, though he was sure that Jake knew the laws and trip-ups inside and out, and would have warned him of anything would be tricky for him. "For me ..." he paused, really thinking it over. This wasn't a conversation for assurances; it was one for honesty. "I have to trust that it would not happen if it was not the best choice, even if I don't understand for that case. It is a lot of energy to spend frivolously."

"Yes, it is," the Panther chuckled. "Do you understand the purpose of the Ritual? Not just the effect, but why it was developed?"

"No, I don't," Rock admitted, hoping he was about to be told, or at least told it was in the library to find.

"It is a perfect form of healing," the Inflictor explained. "The Ritual erases all flaws ... physically, mentally, spiritually, the supplicant is perfected. Or, the supplicant dies," he said seriously, "and is beyond their flaws, the ability to harm or be harmed by them."

Rock nodded, absorbing the idea and his questions about it.

"Why doesn't Lyris or one of her side offer that kind of healing?" he asked after a lingering moment.

"They don't have the stomach for it," the Inflictor said seriously. "It's a fundamental, core change that, the way we do it, kills a person before reconstituting them as the perfect version of themselves. Even if they eliminated the 'killing them' part of it, the change would be more than a simple repair, from most people's perspective."

Rock swallowed, his mind flashing to what would had happened if Jake had managed to become a subject all those years ago when he'd wanted to. What would his mate have become? Would they be together? Would he be here himself right now without the passion for new pain that Jake had.

"What I did at our wedding, why didn't it break Jake down the way it's supposed to?"

"So soon after His favorite children had come to peace, you think Tamorl would have undone it to claim Jake?" The Panther asked, raising an eyebrow.

"No," Rock shook his head. "There is a magical component to the breaking, then?"

"There is," he nodded. "It will kill on its own, but the dissolution and rebirth are signs of Tamorl's approval and acceptance."

"Would I be part of the public ceremonial ones?" Rock asked. "The five-year events."

"Only if you wished to be," the Panther told him. "Those are a priestly function; the Champion is allowed to attend and involve himself if he wishes, but he is not required to do so."

Another nod as Rock thought, then he noticed the subtle hints that the Inflictor wanted something. "You have a question?"

"Yes," he nodded. "As the Champion, particularly at this time, you would have the ability ... the right ... to use the Ritual at your will. How do you feel you would handle this right?"

"From what I know of it, very carefully," Rock said seriously. "I can't think of a situation where it is the best choice when the subject doesn't want it. I'm sure the situation is out there," he added quickly. "I'm just not coming up with it."

"You will," the Inflictor told him quietly. "You'll also probably find that actually doing it will be the hardest thing you'll ever do, because you'll want to simply kill. The Ritual heals all things, including sins ... it cannot undo them, but it is Tamorl's greatest forgiveness and blessing as well as his greatest healing. That is personal experience speaking," the Panther admitted. "From before my own time enduring it."

Rock cocked his head slightly. "Why did you go through it?"

"To be honest, I didn't want to remember what I'd done," the Inflictor admitted. "You know that there's a Champion with each generation. I was the last one, and I had used the Ritual on several people I didn't think deserved it. I've come to learn that I wasn't always right, and to see things from a more objective point of view."

Rock sat still for a moment, then nodded. "It does work on a champion, then, if their patron is willing?"

"It does, and Tamorl is usually willing for His own," the Inflictor offered. "After the game is largely over, at any rate. It's considered ... not a forfeit, but not a loss or a win."

"How much do you remember after it's done?" Rock asked, even though his gut twisted in rebellion at the very idea.

"It depends on what Tamorl feels is necessary," the Panther explained. "I remember being the Champion ... I remember my name from before, and the reason I wanted to go through the ritual. But I don't remember the specifics, or people I've lost. Is there a reason you want to know?"

"Mostly I don't like going in blind to anything," Rock said. "When I do this to someone, it's good to have a solid idea what is going to be there when I'm done. I doubt the times I do it will be the kind of public events the priestly ones are. I'd like to know what kind of person I'll be facing when it's over, what kind of help I might want there for them."

"No, it's not likely that they will be... I would suggest that you look for the Tome of Rebirths in the library, we have recorded the results of every Ritual that has been conducted by the Priests, and many that the Champions have conducted. It will give you a good feel for what has happened over the last several centuries."

"I will, thank you," Rock nodded. "How much of your time was fighting?"

"Very little of it, from what I remember," the Inflictor reassured him. "However, it was a far less contentious time. These major conjunctions... they always end up being more violent. The stakes are much higher; I was lucky not to be caught up in one, let alone for two different interests."

"I think I'm glad that I am as closely tied to Jake as I am," Rock murmured, thinking about it and the possibilities of being on the opposing side. "Even if I tend to lay low and stay in the background most of the time, when Jake's side wins, it should help pain become more accepted. The winner's mate seen favorably and all. He has quiet the team already, and he seems to be good at making friends when it's possible."

"That is an advantage of his... Bastet and Halikar have aspects that most people can agree with," the Inflictor nodded. "One thing to keep in mind is that the Gifts you will have from Tamorl will be available more often... not just against Champions, but they work to inflict pain. Any time that is your goal, they'll be available to you."

"Jake'll love that," he couldn't help but smile. "He's never tired of learning new ways to be hurt."

"Oh, you'll know several before this is over," the Panther chuckled. "You'll also have a good grasp on just what the limitations are for what counts as one Champion killing another. It's not as simple a matter as most think."

"Definitely an important thing to know," Rock agreed. "Why did Tamorl choose to continue the conflicts with Champions and not just put an order to things and make it stick?"

"Order inspires attempts to break it," the Panther pointed out. "By allowing a challenge of skill like this one, it leaves the other Gods with the sense that they can take power and defend their positions without having to overthrow the established order. While there have been some attempts to manipulate the rules, it has largely prevented tragedies like the last War."

"True," Rock admitted with a slight nod. "What was it like, your day to day life, how much of it was Champion stuff?"

"Mmm ... most of it that I remember wasn't," he said, thinking back. "I remember a wife and cubs ... I had a good amount of time for them. It was mostly my regular life. I wasn't a priest then, at least not at first. I believe I became one towards the end ... and we won't expect you to do the same," he reassured Rock.

"It was just your path," he nodded. Rock opened his mouth to say something, only to double over with a nearly visible electric charge crashing through him.

"Jake!" he shot to his feet, the power flowing into him in response to his mate's pain all but blinding him for a brief moment.

"What has happened?" The Inflictor asked Rock as he started to clear his head enough to hear what was being said.

"Jake's been badly injured; fast and hard," Rock answered, panting as he worked to control himself. "Probably a bullet."

"He's alive then," the Panther told him. "He'll recover, it's what he does."

"Yes," Rock nodded, shaking from the excess power rushing through his body. "Yes, he will. It'll still be a bit before I manage to burn this off though."

"Might I suggest you help one of the priest with their meditation?" The Inflictor offered. "I believe that Lady Mircalla prefers the lash, your rush may help her."

"That sounds great if she is agreeable," he nodded.

"Hey, buddy ... how's it going?" Jake woke up to the sound of his partner's voice, the familiar scents of Chance and Midnight nearby, and the too-familiar smell of a hospital room.

Rock wasn't there though ... no surprise, but he missed him more now than he had before.

He was whole though, even though he did still have an IV in.

"Sore ... Miss Briggs?" Jake asked, not yet able to focus very well.

"She's fine," Midnight reassured him. "One of Lyris' priests is making sure she's healed before some sort of meeting about this."

That explained what Jake could feel in the background, the low sense of power.

"You'll be fine, Miss Briggs; I'm leaving your arm with a bit of healing left to do, but it should just be a week or so before you won't even know you've been shot," the calico priest reassured her.

"Thank you," she murmured sleepily.

"Was anyone else hurt?" Jake asked as he pushed himself up, privately grumbling at the loss of a dress uniform.

"Some of the civilians were hurt in the panic, but nothing too serious," Chance told him. "The mayor wasn't so much as scratched, surprising nobody. The shooter got away though."

"He'll be back," Jake signed and really took in his surroundings, a place that was all too familiar by now, and irritating for it's uselessness for him. "That was Konuse's Champion shooting. He'll never stop until he's completed his mission."

"Or until somebody kills him ... for good?" Chance asked him.

"If he lives up to His standards, yes," he nodded. "The Assassin doesn't give up."

"You think you're up to talking with Miss Briggs and the Commander?"

"Of course," Jake nodded to him, shifting to keep the light blanket pooled over his lap.

"Midnight, can you let Felina know when you head out?" Chance asked her.

"And stay out," she nodded with a slight chuckle. "I'll let Tamera and the kits know that you're okay," she promised Jake, kissing his head lightly and was honestly surprised when he kissed her on the mouth in return. "You damn well better stick around long enough to finish that thought."

"I plan on it," Jake gave her a cocky grin that didn't pass anyone's muster as real.

"Can you take this bastard?" Chance asked Jake quietly once she was out of the room.

"I have to," Jake pointed out. "Failure just isn't an option."

"You know what I mean, Jake," Chance said. "Can you take him down without getting taken? Maybe you should try and get that friend of yours back from the Veldt?"

"This isn't Will's thing," Jake shook his head, though his eyes flicked to Callie's bed where she was watching them. "The Deputy Mayor of MegaKat City is so outside his purview. Yes, I can take him. His only advantage is surprise, and he's lost that now."

"So the question is how we get him somewhere you can see him coming," Felina said as she stepped in. "I'm glad you're okay, Jake," she said seriously, taking his hand. "What do you know about this guy?"

"Historical references, mostly," he admitted. "Most single-deity Champions are fairly predictable after a few years. Konuse is very predictable in what he chooses and what he expects of them. This guy will know every way to kill covertly that has ever existed and will have added at least two methods to the list before he was chosen and more since then. Konuse's primary law is to never accept failure. An assassination that is agreed to will be carried out."

"So why did he go after me first?" Callie asked, sitting up, still sounding a little shaky, but conscious.

"You were his primary target, Ma'am," Jake shrugged. "I got hit because I got in the way of a shot meant for you. Next time he may well try to kill me first, as it will make killing you much easier. I'm high-profile enough that he probably knows I'll hunt him down if he doesn't."

"Which means he has to get close to you, doesn't it?" Felina asked him.

"Yes," he nodded. "A kill doesn't have to be hand to hand, but it does have to be close-range and personal, and we have to be aware of each other. So the kind of long-range shot he made today wouldn't work."

"He can't take you by surprise then?" Felina asked hopefully.

"Not and do any more damage than a normal mortal," Jake clarified. "He could kill me, but it wouldn't stick any more than it usually does."

"Except that he'd be able to finish his contract then," Callie murmured. "Assuming he hadn't already. Are you sure he's trying to get me?"

"As sure as I am of who it is," Jake nodded to her seriously. "It's a Champion thing. He'll know who my patrons are the same way. We can shield from each other to some extent, but neither of us was trying to there."

"So what you're saying is that you will have to kill this assassin to stop him from killing the Deputy Mayor," Felina's mouth tightened in displeasure.

"Of those who can do the job, I'm one of the few that I'd trust with it," Jake nodded. "I'm better at covert and defensive actions than Sheira, and this is my home turf. This is what Halikar is all about. If anyone can, I can."

"So what do you suggest we do?" Callie asked.

"Basic tactics for dealing with an assassin is to set a bated trap," Jake told her. "Somewhere that we can control as many variables as possible. Then we wait."

"You and I, in a house together for ... days, weeks?" she frowned. "I can't leave the Mayor to his own devices that long."

"I'll have my Ghosts deal with transporting any paperwork and there will be secured lines for communication," Felina told her. "We do have to protect you, Deputy Mayor."

"I know, Commander," Callie sighed. "I still don't like it."

"None of us do, Ma'am," Jake agreed. "It has to be done. The city will survive without you for a few weeks better than it will without you for good."

"So what is the plan?" Callie pressed, focusing past the dull pain and painkillers to what was needed.

"We'll deal with that somewhere more secure," Jake insisted before turning his attention to Felina. "House 357 would be my preference."

"This is your case, Captain," she inclined her head slightly. "Whatever you need for it, just ask."

"Are we even going to worry about who's behind this?" Chance asked. "If we are, we're going to have to put the Ghosts on it; we can't risk trying to capture this guy."

"No, we can't," Jake agreed. "I might get lucky and ask him, but it wouldn't be a good idea to count on it."

"And we'll get on tracking down who hired him... you going to want any of us as backup?" Chance asked Jake hopefully.

"Definitely," Jake nodded with a slight smile for him. "Just remember to shoot first and ask questions later."

"Right... I'll talk to Ashley about who should be where," Chance told Felina. "I'll probably be backup; not as good for an investigation like this one."

"I'll let you all handle it," Felina nodded. "Do you think we should alert the Commander about this?" She asked Jake seriously.

"It's not like there is anything he can do that you can't," he reminded her. "Unless Miss Briggs wants him here," he glanced towards the pale blond.

She looked at Felina, then shook her head with a slight smile.

"I have full confidence in you, Felina... and in Jake and Chance. Let's just try to have this wrapped up before he comes home, if possible?"

"That will depend largely on our assassin," Jake said before slipping out of the bed to get dressed in the clothes Midnight had brought. "I definitely hope so."

Callie Briggs watched everything around her, including the two Enforcer Ghosts who were driving her to a location she knew only as House 357. It was on the outskirts of town, well away from much of the population, and with more open space around it than even she was used to.

"Hu?" she half-gasped when a stretch of driveway opened in front of them and the car drove down, into a parking garage the size of the house.

"One of Jake's additions?" She guessed, climbing out of the car and taking a look around the six-car garage. "How many people do you usually have here?"

"No and one or two plus guards, Ma'am," Lt. Cmdr. Ashley McKysn told her. "This way, please," she motioned towards an elevator near a pair of winding stairs.

"Must be a lot of guards," Callie mused, following them to the elevator, favoring her injured arm slightly. "Will I have any privacy while I'm here?"

"As much as we can manage while maintaining security," Ashley promised as they rode up to the next floor. "The primary living quarters are all underground. The above ground structure is little more than a shell to keep up appearances."

"That makes sense, I suppose," she nodded. "Any access from the top, besides the one we just used?" She asked, trying to get a feel for where she was.

"Two; one stairwell and one tunnel," Ashley said before the doors opened to a remarkably modern and cozy looking home. It didn't have real windows, but even knowing that she couldn't tell. The scenery looked real, right down to the movement of leaves and fluttering of birds and insects.

"Hello, Miss Briggs," Jake looked up from rewiring something resembling a DVD player. "Good to see you made it in one piece."

"There wasn't a bit of trouble on the way," Callie reassured him.

"If she hadn't, you and the Commander would've had our heads," Ashley deadpanned. "You have everything set up?"

"Pretty much," he nodded and stood to greet his charge. "It's just touch-up work and killing time. Ready for a tour, such as it is?"

"Sure thing," she nodded. "I like your touch-up work," she added with a nod towards one of the 'windows.'

"Thanks," Jake smiled in real pleasure. "The concept isn't mine, but its accuracy was an update last year. This is the living room, the bulk of the house. Granted it's geared more towards the restless tom than a Deputy Mayor, but I think we can manage."

"As long as I have somewhere to work and sleep, I'll be fine," she smiled.

"Hey, Jake, we've got the perimeter secured with the new alarms," Chance called out as he walked in. "Miss Briggs," he nodded politely.

"Good," Jake nodded and turned to the huge flat screen TV on the wall as it lit up. "Looks like it's all tuned in."

"Good," Chance nodded. "If you want, I'll go grab some sleep, be here to relieve you tonight," he offered.

"Go for it, just no sleeping nude here," Jake teased him. "Fight might come at any time."

"I know, buddy, I know," Chance chuckled, shaking his head and heading off to his room.

"He usually sleeps in the nude?" Callie asked with a chuckle.

"Yap," Jake snickered. "But if you knew his wife, you'd have a good idea why. She has a taste for fooling around."

"I don't blame her," Callie giggled. "How about you?" She asked him, raising an eyebrow playfully.

"Depends on if I'm in a bed or not," he laughed lightly and motioned her to follow as the other Ghosts headed out. "And whether Rock's in the bed. The kitchen," he walked into a very well crafted chef's kitchen. "Are you much of a cook?"

"I know all the high-class take-out places in town, but unless that counts, not really," she admitted. "I don't really have much time for cooking... you should see my apartment some time, you'd hardly know I live there," she said sheepishly.

"That just means I won't have any competition in the kitchen," Jake winked at her. "Chance is utterly hopeless."

"I'm not surprised," she chuckled, before becoming more serious. "Jake... for my peace of mind, is the Mayor being watched too?"

"Yes, he's under Ghost guard as well," he nodded. "Just not as strict. The bedrooms are on the other side of the living room," he walked though the comfortable space. "Technically there are three; one for guests and two for guards, but given the situation, I had one of them converted to an office for you. I know there are some things I don't technically have clearance to hear."

"Thank you," she nodded. "Even if you do already know it, it's important to keep appearances up... and there are some secrets the city has from you, I'm sure."

"Not if I'm doing my job," he gave her a half smile that made it impossible to tell if he was teasing her or not. "That door is the bathroom. Sorry, but you have to share that. Security made it a bad idea to have too many."

"I understand," she said easily. "As I understand, there's only one female who lives here right now, so it should be tolerable," she winked teasingly.

"Good. Your room is this one," Jake opened the door in the middle. "It's not fancy, but it should be comfortable. We brought a fair amount from your place. Sheets, clothing, shampoo, grooming set and such."

"And my pillows," she giggled at the sight of the queen sized bed piled high with a nest of a variety of pillows and the lush draperies on the walls and windows. It was a very good recreation of her own bedroom. Not perfect, but impressive given the timeline.

"Midnight suggested what you might find the most comforting to have," he smiled shyly. "I hope it looks a bit like home."

"It does," she smiled back. "You've even got the view from my apartment," she observed, looking at the 'window' display that had been set up. "Thank you for the trouble."

"You are welcome. Your office is the one on the right and Chance is passed out on the other side. Are you hungry or tired?"

"A little tired," she admitted. "I got some sleep after you left, but the painkillers are still lingering a bit ... where are you sleeping?" She asked him.

"Either in the other room, or catching cat-naps wherever," Jake told her. "I'm still not much on sleep, especially when I'm expecting trouble. Rest well, Miss Briggs. You'll find your pajamas in the top left drawer."

"Thank you," she smiled, stepping closer to him. "Jake? I really should thank you for your help at the speech. If you hadn't noticed the shooter, I'd be dead by now, and the Mayor probably would be too."

"I know," he sobered considerably. "It's not a situation I want to think about facing. The city has a hard enough time as it is. It needs you."

"It needs you too," she said seriously. "What happens if he comes after you first, Jake?" She asked him, reaching out to touch his arm.

"He will, most likely," he said with a strange kind of hopefulness. "You'd be in much less danger if he does."

"As long as you can kill him before he kills you," she murmured. "Jake ... I have to ask you something, before any of this has a chance to get worse. Did you ever pick up on the signs I was trying to send you, or were you just not interested?"

"I noticed," he nodded and reached out to caress her cheek with the back of his fingers. "I'm also fairly happy with what I have. The level of interest I saw wasn't enough to respond to."

"I can understand that," she smiled, pressing against his fingers a bit. "I don't suppose you might reconsider some time?"

"It depends on what you want, but yes," he nodded. "What has changed for you?"

"In part, getting shot will do quite a bit for making you reconsider your priorities," she admitted sheepishly. "More... I've always been interested in you, Jake. I've got a thing for cinnamon fur," she smiled, running her fingers through his. "And I've found out that I don't necessarily have forever to think about settling down or having kits."

Jake cocked his head and seemed to look through her for a moment before he nodded. "You have four years, give or take a cycle. I'd be pleased to sire your kittens if you would like, but if you're looking for more, it isn't as easy to answer."

"Jake, you have a mate already, and several lovers," she smiled, kissing his cheek lightly. "Anything long-term wouldn't be practical for either of us. Kits and maybe playing around once in a while in the future is all I'd ask ... would you mind if I let them know that you're their sire?"

"I'd like that," he smiled. "All of it. And I'd like to know them, like I know most of the kits I've sired. I just don't want to get your hopes up for something I likely can't offer."

"I understand," she smiled. "While this is a lousy time ... maybe while we're cooped up in here together, we can practice a bit?"

"Not while I'm on guard duty," he chuckled low in his throat and stepped back. "But maybe when Chance is," he gave her a wink before leaving, and leaving the door open.

"I'll be waiting for you when your shifts over," Callie called after him, stripping down to change for bed without a bit of concern for the open door or tom on the other side.

"That smells good," Callie purred as she walked out of her bedroom a few hours later, buttoning up her blouse. "Uneventful night?" She asked, looking over Jake's shoulder to see what he was making for breakfast. Sausage and bacon chunks, diced leftover steak, eggs and cheese were being stirred together in a simple but warm and comforting meal.

"Thankfully," he nodded, his tail brushing down her leg absently. "Though I'm sure you would have heard it if it wasn't."

"Probably," she agreed, nuzzling his neck lightly. "Off duty then?"

"Yes," he looked at her curiously. "As much as I ever am here."

"I seem to remember you'd offered to let me help you unwind," she purred, grinning and reaching down to rub his crotch lightly. "Maybe an appetizer before breakfast?"

Jake chuckled and turned his head to kiss her lightly. "Do you eat or will I?"

"Mmm ... me first, I'm hungry," she grinned, kissing him back and turning him around, sliding down to her knees and working on unzipping his pants. She could smell the musky arousal on his scent already. It was light, he wasn't hard yet, but his body was clearly interested in her offer.

She slid his pants down around his knees, purring as she nuzzled and licked at his sheath, urging on his arousal and fondling his balls.

"You keep what you do with fems separate from what you do with toms?" She asked him curiously, already getting drunk on his scent.

"No," he moaned, reaching down to fondle her ears, encouraging her efforts.

"Good," she purred, coaxing his cock out from his sheath, pressing a finger against his tight anus, working the nerve-dense muscle tenderly until he began to pant and his cock offered up the first bitter drops of pre for her to lap up.

She licked them up, taking his cock into her mouth and lavishing it with attention, teasing his sensitive tip with her teeth as she looked up at him. Her light green eyes were large and expressive behind her glasses, and they showed just how much she was enjoying this, having the powerful tom all to herself as she pushed her fingers up into his tight ass, searching for his prostate.

Jake moaned, panted, his hips rocking at the duel stimulation. He rubbed her ears, encouraging her as he leaned back against the counter's edge.

"Close," he said as his balls tightened against his body.

She pushed her nose down into his pubes, purring hotly around his tip as it pressed against the back of her throat, moaning deeply as she found his prostate and worked it with the tips of her fingers until he gasped and bent forward, his fingers tightening around her head.

Instincts took over with that first thrust, the first ribbon of seed came with the second. With each thrust he grunted and offered her another reward for her efforts until he was spent but still hard in her mouth.

She drank down his seed, licking him clean before she stood and kissed him, his taste still in her mouth.

"Inside me?" She asked him with a lusty rumble, turning around and leaning across the counter, raising her tail and skirt to reveal her lacy pink panties.

"After you're all wet and bothered," he said teasingly and knelt, nuzzling her sex through her panties.

"Ooh... just make sure you don't go soft," she teased back, spreading her legs, slipping one foot back between his legs to rub his member lightly with her soft, expertly pedicured bare pads.

"Not a chance," Jake grinned and used one finger to move the crotch of her panties aside so he could nose the swollen lips of her sex, fragrant despite the recent shower. "You do smell good."

"Glad you approve," she moaned softly, enjoying his touch, and the way her panties rubbed against her clit as he pulled them aside. "Been way too long since I've gotten any action," she chuckled deeply and felt his surprise.

"Hard to believe," he murmured against her flesh before he ran his tongue from the front edge of her slit to the back.

"Not counting when I'm in heat," she groaned, pressing back against his muzzle as her vagina contracted in desire to be filled. "Besides that, I'm too busy to date much."

"Drop in on any number of temples and it doesn't take much time," he purred and swirled his tongue around her clit.

"Have to keep it in mind," she whimpered softly, savoring the way he was touching her, fanning the flames of her arousal until her entire body trembled. "Sweet Bastet, that feels good."

"It will get better," he promised as he stood and pressed against her back, rubbing against her. His teeth closed lightly against her scruff as his cock slid between the lips of her sex and slid back and forth along the length of her slit. The fingers of one hand spread her lips further as he began to rub her clit with his middle finger. The other hand found her breasts to squeeze and fondle.

She cried out, pressing into his powerful chest as his shaft spread her labia, his finger working her clit hard.

"Fuck me, Jake, please!" She begged him shamelessly, then cried out when he shifted to oblige her. He thrust deep into her with a single motion, only to pull out and thrust forward again in a rhythm as old as sex itself.

"Yes," she moaned deeply, clenching down around him, reaching back to rub his hips. Her sex clung to his cock, wet and hot and hungry for his seed. She wasn't in heat, but the heady scent of their mixing arousal was still intoxicating them both almost as strongly.

She couldn't think beyond the pleasure, the rub and thrust of flesh against flesh, the pressure of his fingers against her clit. It had been too long, and he would spoil her.

The pleasure spiraled out of control, and she threw her head back with a cry of ecstasy, her body milking him greedily for his seed and was quickly rewarded. His claws unsheathed as he came, piercing her skin of her breasts and sex lightly until his thrusts slowed to an even pace again.

"More?" he whispered in her ear.

"Please," she whimpered. "Less claws though," she murmured.

"Sorry," he murmured, kissing her jaw as he slid his hand further in to press her hard, glistening clit against his shaft as he started to thrust again. "Your body is very fine," he moaned softly.

"It's okay," she moaned, turning to kiss him ... and seeing Chance by the door to the kitchen, watching them with a grin on his face and a very obvious bulge in his pants. "Oh gods," she groaned, turning her face and burning cheeks away from him quickly.

"Don't think about him," Jake purred deeply as he thrust and rubbed her closer to another peak. "Unless you want him too."

"Oh... I'm considering it," she admitted, blushing fiercely.

"Not without Midnight's okay," Chance chuckled. "If you'd rather, I could leave," he offered.

"I... I... I-ah!" Callie cried out as she came a second time, her body tightening hard around Jake's, no less desperate for his seed than the first time.

"You know she'll say okay," Jake teased them both before his breath picked up with the tightening of his balls. "Never get tied of this," he gasped, one arm across her hips and the other across her chest to her shoulder to hold her against him tightly.

Callie cried out again as he filled her sex, pressing back against him, leaning her head back on his shoulder as she drew his thick, hot seed deep into her body.

"Sweet Bastet," she moaned as they both relaxed.

"Enough of an appetizer?" Jake asked with a nuzzle even as he reached over with one hand to move their breakfast off the heat.

"Mmm ... mhm," she purred, giving him a kiss. "Hope breakfast didn't burn," she giggled sheepishly.

"If it did, we've got options," Chance chuckled. "You two make a good pair."

"Thanks, I think," Callie blushed, only to moan again when Jake pulled out of her. She quickly put her panties and skirt back in place, though it didn't conceal anything they hadn't seen already.

"It's fine," Jake said as he pulled his pants up and reached up to pull down three plates for them.

"Good," Chance grinned. "I'm hungry, and if you two haven't worked up an appetite, you're not alive." He took a plate from Jake, dishing up some for Callie before pulling out the milk from the fridge while Jake served himself.

"Oh, I'm hungry, and I'll sleep very well I think," Jake chuckled as they headed into the main room to eat with the Enforcer security broadcast in the background.

"Is that a show I should expect most mornings?" Chance asked as he sat down. "If it is, I'll remember to make myself scarce before breakfast," he offered apologetically at Callie's blush.

"It won't," she promised, her cheeks burning. "I'll keep it to the bedroom."

"Hey, I'm not complaining," he offered with a cheeky grin. "If Midnight and I weren't exclusive, I probably would have asked about joining in. Just remember to leave him with enough energy to handle his watch," he said with a teasing grin for Jake.

"That won't be a problem," Jake grinned back. "She's not nearly as draining as Rock."

"I haven't really had the chance to try yet," Callie giggled, trying to get into the spirit of things before an idea dawned on her. "Oh gods... uhm... is the kitchen under taped surveillance?"

"Everything is," Jake told her evenly. "It won't go anywhere. You have my word."

"I'd feel better if I had all the ah ... relevant material," she said apologetically. "If it's possible. It's not that I don't trust you, Jake, but you know how politics can get."

"Wouldn't it be better to erase it?" he looked at her in a bit of surprise.

"If it's erased, that'd be fine, I just wasn't sure if that was what you were planning on doing," she explained. "Instead of having it locked away in evidence."

"It will be erased," he nodded. "Along with any other inappropriate sections."

"Thank you," she smiled. "Unfortunately, my job still relies on maintaining a public image that's a bit more stringent than most people's."

"I'll never understand why, but politics aren't my strong suit," Jake admitted. "Just as well it is for some folks. If you aren't supposed to be sexually active, what kind of trouble will a kitten make without a mate?"

"It's not that I'm sexually active that's a problem," she chuckled, shaking her head. "It's a very strange double standard... I can have sex with whoever I want, as long as that person doesn't go and blab details to the press, or nobody video tapes me. They don't mind knowing I have sex ... they just want to keep it as abstract as they can." She laughed a bit as she sipped her milk. "I tell myself that it's because if they think about the deputy mayor having sex, it's not long before they have to think about the possibility that the mayor does too."

"Eww!" Chance cringed back from his food in a visceral reaction to that mental image. "That is so not something to spring on a guy."

"I think I've lost my appetite," Jake grimaced. "That's nasty even by my standards."

"For what it's worth, I don't think he's in love with anything except his job," Callie giggled. "Sorry. I guess I've kind of gotten used to painful ideas involving the Mayor ... that one's fairly tame, compared to him actually having to run the city."

"He'd be shot within days," Jake said with the cool certainty of someone who would actually do it. "Some things just are not tolerated, even here."

"Now you can see why I took so much convincing to believe that I'm this killer's actual target," Callie said dryly as she ate.

"Lord Rock, would you please come to the entrance?" Tanna asked, knocking hard on the stone door to Rock's shared room. "There is a new arrival you should meet; please put on your robes before you come down."

"Will do," he called back and carefully but quickly got up from the bed of nails, now a little softer with fur gathered from grooming others and himself, and a cured hide he'd managed to snag when it didn't have an immediate use elsewhere. He grabbed his simple, black-and-red robe and made the fastest dignified speed he could to the main gate.

The others were gathered as well, including the Inflictor, though he wore his own robes now rather than his armor. Outside, a small, strange ship was touching down... it didn't look like it used jet engines, or any other technology he was familiar with.

Jake would have given his firstborn to have a look at it, he was sure.

The ship settled into the muck, sinking in a few inches before a ramp descended and a door in the side slid open, revealing a woman in ornate robes with an even more intricate headdress. Lit from behind, he couldn't see her too clearly. As she stepped down, he could see that she was furless, distinctly alien... and that her headdress included pieces that covered her eyes, which oozed crimson blood.

"Seer Andrea, it is a pleasure to welcome you to the Tower," the Inflictor said respectfully, stepping forward to meet her, and help her down to dry ground.

Rock could really only stand at a bit of a distance with the others and try very hard not to stare at this person that was so unlike anything he had imagined. Everything he'd seen on the news or heard about from Jake hadn't been anything like this. They had all been somewhat recognizable in their origin. This ... this creature was freaky in its flat face and bare, pale skin.

"It is a pleasure to return, Inflictor," she said with a polite smile, before turning to look at Rock. "You have brought him; that is good. Hello ... Rock, I believe?"

"Yes," Seer," he bowed politely to her after only a brief moment to catch his wits.

"I will wish to speak with you... does my appearance surprise you?" She asked, seeming amused by the fact that it did. "There was a time when I would have been just as surprised by one of your kind."

"Yes, ma'am," he nodded in embarrassment at being caught gawking. "I haven't actually met an alien before, that I know of at least." He nearly started to ask all the silly questions he was sure she heard every time she met someone new, but managed to keep his mouth shut.

"My people were called humans," she told him. "If you aren't busy, perhaps somebody could escort you to my chambers, I could speak with you tonight yet?"

"It would be my honor, Seer," Rock smiled, honestly quite excited by the entire situation.

"Excellent," she nodded. "Inflictor, if we may, I would like to give you my report now."

"Of course," the Panther nodded respectfully. "Mikala, would you show Rock the way?"

"Yes, Inflictor," the Wolf nodded politely as the others started in. Rock followed their lead, though he angled to fall in a half-step behind him.

The Wolf led him up to a part of the Tower he hadn't seen before, almost pitch black, especially at this hour. Before they went back too far, the Wolf paused to cast a spell and conjure a light.

"The Seer doesn't bother with lighting this area ... it doesn't really help her at all, and it makes privacy more likely, most of the day," he explained to Rock. "Her quarters are here," he said, indicating a large room, almost the equal of the Inflictor's.

"Understandably," Rock nodded as he assessed what the decor said about the resident. "Thank you, Lord Mikala."

"You're welcome, Rock," he said, leaving the small, illuminated stone he'd enchanted behind as he left, letting Rock examine the room.

It was an odd blend of creature comforts and the usual discomforts that he saw here ... there were no pictures, perhaps unsurprising given the Seer's apparent blindness, but the sheets on her bed were silk, the blood-stained pillows covered in satin.

Yet, beneath them, he could catch a glimpse of sandpaper on the bed itself.

Come to think of it, now that he looked around, almost everything in this room was focused on feel. The floors were textured. The walls, the furniture... some of it in comfortable ways, like the sheets, some of it in ways that he could only think would be unbearable if he didn't have fur.

What would that be like? He'd heard of strange mutations that created Kats and Kantin that didn't have fur, but it was a torture of it's own for the few that survived. How did an entire race that had neither fur nor exoskeleton survive long enough to develop technology?

Rock took a deep breath and found a spot on the floor to settle in and meditate on his questions and reactions while he waited for her.

What was she? Human, she'd said ... her people were called humans? Why the past tense? Why did she bleed red like he did?

Before he got too far into his questions, he heard her bare feet padding into the room, smelled the metallic tang of blood.

"Please, don't get up," she said. "I'll make my own way through." She did just that ... though she stepped around him perfectly, despite his not saying anything yet.

"Your talent goes far beyond most Seers I know of, Seer Andrea," he said respectfully.

"The living are easy to tell," she chuckled, sitting down on her bed. "One of the easiest things for me to do is to see where blood and life are. I'm sure you have questions for me; why don't we start with those?"

"Probably all ones you've heard many times before," he apologized in advance. "How, why, did you come to Aristal?"

"I've heard them before, but you haven't heard the answers," she told him easily, an indulgent smile on her flat face. "I came in the ship you saw, from a world called Earth, about ten years ago. I was sent from my world for my gifts ... Aristal was a place I could settle down, after I escaped my escort."

"Were you always fascinated by pain, or were Tamorl's the first you encountered that accepted you?" he asked, filing the escort part to ask about later.

"The first who admitted to it," she smiled slightly, her face hard to see in the dark. "However, I had a fascination with pain before that, one that expressed itself more typically. I found that Tamorl's faithful are remarkably accepting though, particularly of the manifestation," she said, indicating the blood seeping from her eyes.

"That's not the mask, then?" he blinked in surprise.

"No," she said, shaking her head. "Back home, I would be called a 'blood witch,' here I am a Seer, because that it what I prefer to use my skills for. The mask conceals what's left of my eyes after an infection I contracted shortly after arriving here, a common one amongst Tamorl's seers."

"What does a blood witch do that a seer doesn't?" he cocked his head, all but unable to make assumptions with how far out of his usual context things already were.

"Beyond seeing the future, or what is going on at a distance, we have a certain amount of control over blood," she explained. "I can cure or cause some diseases, and in a pinch even induce heart attacks by stopping the blood cold. You can understand why some people would fear us, particularly given the stigmatic appearance."

"Yes, I can," he nodded. "Were you banished for anything beyond your gift?"

"Banished, no ... the escort that went with me was because of how I responded to the attempt to take me in," she chuckled darkly. "I gave one Templar a heart attack, and my mentor caused another's blood to congeal in his veins... she was killed by the others, and I wasn't good enough at the combat uses to defend myself any farther. If things had gone as expected, I would have been escorted on a death-flight into the sun, but instead I managed to get away and through a wormhole that led me towards this part of space."

"Somebody was willing to commit suicide to see you dead?" he frowned. Though he was fully aware of any number of people who would, not many he would consider even slightly sane.

"No, not that far," she chuckled, shaking her head. "Their ships had vastly superior radiation shielding and engines, they'd have been able to escape the outer corona while I was 'purified' and consigned to the flames."

"How'd you escape?" he murmured as he digested that. It was unsettlingly similar to things Jake thought up when he was having a particularly bad day.

"I had a friend who was good with computers," she explained. "Before I left, he set the chip to override the autopilot and give me control just after entering the corona, along with the instructions on how to use my engines to open up the wormhole and get through while their sensors were scrambled."

Rock thought about that, and it led back to his mate. "Do you think my mate could have some time checking out your ship? I'm pretty sure he'd cream himself just thinking about it."

"As long as he didn't mind being watched... I'd rather not have anything damaged on it, it's still my main means of getting around Aristal."

"He definitely won't mind," Rock couldn't help but chuckle. "It would be good if you are there anyway. He might have ideas for improvements he can make. He usually does."

"For technology he's never seen before?" She chuckled. "It's not like I could ask on them, but it would be interesting if he did. Do you have any other questions?"

"Jake's something else," he chuckled knowingly. "If you don't mind, I've gathered you're female, or at least identify as one here. How close are humans to Aristal's races with gender, identity and sex?"

"From what I've seen, almost identical," she told him easily. "It makes life much easier," she chuckled. "Of course, we're not usually quite as ... indulgent, these days. We don't have the heat cycle you do either. But physically, it's all pretty close."

"I imagine it does," he nodded. "You had things you wished to talk to me about."

"I did," she nodded. "What we speak about doesn't leave the room; is this acceptable? There are some things that may change in undesirable ways if too many ears hear them."

"I understand, and yes, it is acceptable," he nodded seriously.

"Thank you. I have seen things, related to Tamorl's Champion, and what is likely to come. Would you mind if I took some blood, to try and clarify my visions?" She asked, reaching over carefully and opening a drawer of her nightstand, pulling out an obsidian-bladed knife.

"I don't mind," he offered his arm to her.

She took hold of his arm, looking at it carefully through the mask before she cut a long, curving slice across his palm, neatly avoiding any major vessels before pressing the flat of the blade to the cut, staining it with his blood.

"Bandage that or not, as you see fit," she told him as she took the blade from his hand, pressing it to her own.

He could swear the blood on her face seemed to spread.

"There are great changes ahead for you," she murmured. "Not all of them related to the Champions. Your business ... a good plan," she mused. "With a good intention behind it. You will have a difficult time staying here though ... a very difficult time, towards the end. You must stay until you are ready though."

"That usually means Jake will be in a lot of trouble," he murmured as he worked to set himself for the challenge of not following that call to action. As hard as it no doubt would be if she was warning him, he knew it would be easier than Jake would be having even now.

"I suspect that he often is," she chuckled slightly. "He will find a mate who will be mother to his kits ... but she is very young now. Very young, but very close. She is ... strange. Not a Champion, but marked by a goddess."

Rock cocked his head. "If I may, is she black furred with auburn hair and icicle blue eyes?"

"I believe so... kin of yours, or I couldn't see it so clearly," she nodded.

"My cousin's kit by Jake's best friend," he told her. "Her name's Keeu, and she's already fascinated by Jake and magic."

"That could well be her," she smiled. "Though there is a great change ahead, for her and for him ... for almost all in MegaKat City. Several of them, but this one is ... major."

"Can you give me any details?" he prompted hopefully.

"Only that it will change nearly the entire city, that your mate will undo it, and that it will not be a fatal thing ... not for most, at least. More than that, I'm not entirely sure of myself ... and what I'm seeing is too unusual to accept at face value."

"Given this is MegaKat City we're talking about, I wouldn't be surprised if it is literally whatever you are seeing," he said dryly. "Especially not in these days of Omega criminals and Champions that will determine the tone of the next millennia."

"Perhaps not, but it could still be some manner of metaphor. Have you been hoping for kits with your mate?"

"Yes," he nodded. "The technology is close enough that it's a definite possibility in our lifetime."

"I suspect it will come about sooner than you expect... I see a daughter with his name, and your fur," she smiled slightly. "Others, I'm sure, but she is the one who comes through.

Rock couldn't help but smile indulgently. "However she comes about, I'm sure Jake will be beyond giddy. Any kitten would, but especially a daughter." He didn't bother to mention he'd be over the moon too. They'd both found the idea of a family more appealing as their years together lengthened.

"There will be danger though ... the Champions will still be a concern as she grows up. And you'll both be in the middle of the worst of it. Something... black, returning," she said, searching for an appropriate description in Katian. "Incredible evil, and a kitten's heart."

He shivered. "I really, really hope that isn't what it sounds like. Kittens have had a hard enough time recently."

"Not a sacrifice... not the usual sort, at least. The Demon will be reborn through a kitten's blood, but it isn't death that brings it about. Not that kit's, at least."

"Can you say who does die for it?" he asked, focused on the survival issues.

"No ... the plan is being concealed by powerful magic," she said, shaking her head. "It may be somebody related to the kit, but I cannot give a name. I'm sorry."

"You have given me a lot more to work on than I knew before, even if I can't share it with those who likely know many missing pieces," Rock assured her. "I don't expect you to lay everything out for me."

"That's good," she chuckled. "It rarely works that clearly. Does your mate have other kits, which the two of you do not raise?" She asked him.

"Many," he nodded. "At least a dozen, from five to not yet born. Once he started to get over the 'can not mate with a female' block, he got a lot of requests."

"I suppose I can understand," she chuckled. "He's fairly handsome, for your species. Unfortunately, I can sense that at least one of those kits is... wrong, somehow. Very deeply wrong. It doesn't show on the outside, but there's a sort of rot at the core of their being... I don't know if the kitten is alive yet or not, but it will be hard."

"I'll keep it in mind," Rock nodded, his gut twisting as he realized he wasn't sure if Jake had any clue were all his kits were. "Most requests have been because he's Bastet's Champion. Goddess of Fertility tends to see a lot of attention from those who want kittens. I'm not even entirely sure he knows all their names."

"He won't know the name of this one ... not the kitten. There is deception involved ... the poison runs deep, and comes from the mother. I didn't think it was possible to truly be born evil, but for this kitten I would make an exception ... a piece of advice? If you ever see a kitten of Jake's, physically perfect, eyes a brilliant, topaz color ... use the Rite."

"On a ..." he swallowed, forcing himself to take the advice and be willing, at least on some level, to act on it. "Can ... can you give me any clues about the mother?"

"Half-blooded... she hides her true nature, and caters to the worst parts of the father. This is not the first time she's done this, but it is the first time Jake will have come across the likes of her. Even if he knew who she was, he may not have an idea of the true depths she will sink to."

"May I please warn him of this?" he asked, trying to keep the desperate edge out of his voice. "Even if the kit will be born regardless, he deserves a chance to understand."

"Yes," she nodded. "I suspect it will be beyond your control before you're gone," she admitted.

"I understand," he said with real difficulty, one hand fingering the spiral armband of his wedding. "I'm trying to save my marriage as much as anything here, Seer Andrea. If I do perform the Rite on one of my mate's kit's ... I'm not sure how to explain it to him after the fact."

"I understand, Rock," she nodded. "Why don't you tell me about him?" She offered. "I have little more to offer you tonight."

"A walking contradiction," he couldn't help but chuckle. "Especially when he was younger, before we married. A Champion of Bastet that couldn't make himself breed. A brilliant designer who couldn't get a job in the field to save his life. A protector and defender who needed to be hurt for his pleasure. A Champion who was desperate for the Rite before he was out of his teens to escape their control. It was ugly back then, but he can see the humor in it now. I won't say he's recovered, but I don't worry about him so much any more."

"That's good... it's good that he's come to terms with himself, and Bastet, as well," she smiled, even though he didn't tell her anything she didn't know on some level. "Is there any particular meaning behind your wedding band? It has a strong aura for an item that is not magic."

"A great many meanings," he smiled fondly. "The serpent for the shedding of old skins and beginning a new life. It is very much what our wedding was about.

"The flying raven as its head; Raven is his call-name as an Enforcer gunner, but it was given to him by Karalanol princess he went to the Academy with. For her people, the raven is a symbol of wisdom, wit and survival in impossible conditions. A black bird that brings luck and protection for those it honors.

"The tail in the form of a heart of hawk's eye is something of an inside joke with Jake's head. He told me the mystic quality of hawk's eye is to see things from a different perspective, with unusual delicacy and refinement. As the tail, he said it's for the clarity that comes at the end of the journey. The clarity of hindsight."

"Something that's served him depressingly well, I presume?" She chuckled.

"Oh, yeah," Rock nodded, somewhere between bemused and a grimace. "Far too well, though at least he does learn quickly and well from them."

"That's better than some," she smiled. "Go on, if you'd like."

He traced his fingers over the design, stopping on each stone as he talked about it. "It is made of Black Hills Gold for the complexity of the world we live in. Beautiful, each piece unique, impossible to duplicate, for all they bear a similarity to each other.

"Six stones along it's back are for the six years we were together before he was ready to marry, and for the six lessons that he claims I taught him that made him ready to be married. As much planning as I put into his collar, it still amazes me how much thought went into designing this."

He stopped on each stone as he explained the importance to someone he was sure already knew. First, closest to the serpent's flying raven head was a circle of pink and gray translucent stone with bands and stripes in a myriad of colors.

"The Batron Agate is for the acceptance of his passion for pain with his pleasure, and later, as his pleasure. His desire for a master drew us together. He was young then, only just dipping his toes into my world, but it was electric," Rock paused for a deep breath to calm himself. "Even after all these years, all we've done together, it's one of the most perfect memories I have of him, and nothing happened. It was just the way he looked at me. It's a rare honor to have that kind of trust offered so early on."

"He trusted you as a Master before he even saw what you were interested in?" She asked him curiously.

"Before he understood what kinky is, or what a Master is for that matter," Rock nodded seriously. "I learned very quickly that it was impossible to push him too far with pain, but when we met, he'd never tasted pain given by another."

"A very special pet indeed," she smiled. "I imagine that Bastet and Halikar were not overly thrilled though."

"No, they weren't, but by our wedding she had decided that what I offered her, her champion performing his full duties of his own free will, was far more valuable than what we did for our pleasure," he said. "She must have known, but her appearance and endorsement of our marriage was what really tipped the balance for him in her favor. She accepted what he was and wanted. He accepted what she wanted him to do. It's not a perfect, but it gets better each year things work out. He's not a pet, though," Rock smiled in private amusement at what was a very thin line on occasion. "He's my submissive, my pain-whore, my mate and my husband, but he is very much in charge when he chooses to be, which is most of the time."

"Tops from the bottom, hmm?" She chuckled. "That was the phrase back home, at any rate. You don't seem to mind though."

"It's hard to mind when you have that kind of love directed your way," he purred just thinking about his mate. "That he enjoys indulging me, even with things that don't thrill him, is another plus."

"Oh?" She asked him curiously, leaning back. "Anything in particular?"

"Cross-dressing would top that list," he said. "He's cute all done up and in a dress. He'll even go out in public sometimes, though it's usually for my private enjoyment."

"I imagine he would be," she chuckled. "He seemed to have a definite effeminate side, though I imagine he doesn't like letting it out too much."

"Not in a dress at least," Rock grinned at her. "He even played around with a girl back when they turned him off in a big way. Granted, it was one he fantasized about regularly and she fucked him, but it was still pretty hard for him."

"Well, I'm glad he's gotten past it ... I imagine it was nearly impossible for him. Have you ever tried to get his family back together?"

"No," he shook his head slightly. "He has an aunt we're on civil terms with, but he's not ready to face them yet. I think he will be, but it'll take a long time still."

"The time will come," she reassured him. "His mother... she'll come around, before it's too late."

"That's nice to know," he smiled with honest gratitude. "It doesn't come up often, but it's always in the background." He fingered his armband and the second stone down, a sphere of marbled pink. "The Rhodochrostite for the peace of mind I showed him how to have," he smiled softly, remembering the tender night when Jake had explained the full symbolism of the band to him. "I've known pain, I've helped my cousin get beyond some horrible things, but I'd never see mental, emotional pain so intense in a functional person that near-fatal physical pain was a relief for it, a distraction and not something feared on any level." Rock could only shake his head. "He was messed up back then, hating what he was with the kind of stubborn passion he now focuses on his duties. I'm not sure how, but he says I showed him how to be at peace with himself."

"You helped him find a place where it was okay to be who he was," she suggested.

"Quite possible," he said thoughtfully. "I guess I've always seen him do these things himself. I may have offered encouragement, but he did all the work to become what he is, and what he'll be."

"Perhaps, but sometimes the encouragement is the most important part," she explained. "How long had he been in that place, hating himself?"

"For as long as he's been alive as far as I can tell," Rock sighed. "Definitely by the time he was eight he was at war with his fate. It was largely about the choices and options he saw others have that the gods took away from him. What they offered in return either wasn't anything he cared about, and sometimes what they called a gift he considers somewhere between burden and curse. He wasn't been a happy Kat most of his life."

"That's a lot of inertia to get over," she pointed out. "Your encouragement was probably one of the big things that helped him come to terms with himself. You wouldn't let him just sit there and wallow."

"No," he acknowledged. "Not when he was so unhappy about it. I wanted him to be happy, or at least content with his life and choices. I gave him a safe place, someone willing to support him with whatever his choices were. He really did do the rest. I'm just glad he did," his fingers lingered over a ying-yang carved from rhodonite and tiger's eye with a small diamond at the center that was the next setting down. Despite the three materials, it felt and somehow looked to be a single piece.

"This one is for the security of his own self-worth that I showed him how to feel. It's the one I think I'm most proud of. Everything else came from it; at least I think it does. It's the one thing he hasn't really gotten over yet. He still doesn't like to take credit for things that aren't an object he built. He's a lot better, but he's not completely accepting that he really is that brilliant and really is that good."

"I'm sure he'll get there... it takes a lot to get past years of thinking you're worthless," she smiled.

"Yes, it does," Rock agreed quietly as his fingers slid down to the third stone of the six. "The gold and silver threads of rutilated quartz show the way to balance. He associates it with accepting his purpose; accepting being a Champion."

"A balance between his mortal life and his life as a Champion?" She asked him.

"More like accepting being a Champion at all; accepting that his life isn't just about him and his choices. We're talking about someone who was desperate to undergo the Rite by fifteen to get out of being a Champion. It's not about balance the way I think most see it so much as the balance that comes from accepting your higher purpose."

"Mental balance, perhaps?"

"That sounds about right," he nodded. "What I'm sure of it that he is much happier since he managed it, though he's had a lot less time for me and some hobbies. A mixed blessing, but I think it's a good trade."

"There will be a time when that changes, I'm sure," she smiled. "There are only so many other Champions who are active menaces."

"It'll also make it much easier for me to be the Champion of Pain," Rock added. "If he hadn't accepted being a champion himself, I doubt I'd be here now."

"It's for both of your best interests that you are though... even if he hadn't accepted it, if another candidate becomes the Champion, it will play out very differently," she told him. "And not in a good way, necessarily."

"I know," he nodded with a shudder. "I know both the other finalists, and I know exactly what would happen if Jake went to either of them, and he would. I'm the only one not turned on by snuff between the three of us."

"Yes... which complicates things. They would be strongly favored by certain factions, and likely favor them in turn. I've seen a path where Karetha took the position ... it was very, very bloody."

"I don't doubt it," he nodded grimily. "It's part of the reason I'm here. I won't want either of them to be Tamorl's Champion as much as I like the idea of being it myself. I know it will damage my chances, just like not being into snuff, but I'm here to do my best to have enough other plusses on my side to make up for it."

"Rock, it's not your tastes in the bedroom that decide whether or not Tamorl will choose you," she told him seriously. "It's your attitude towards pain. Karetha has a fondness for it that's nearly disturbing to me, in the way she indulges it. There's no purpose to her pain... no purpose but her own pleasure, at any rate. Even her partner doesn't matter, as long as she gets what she wants. Her taste for death doesn't favor her, not in the eyes of most of us. In the eyes of our more apocalyptic counterparts, however, it's a serious mark in her favor. To them, she's the sort of Champion who would bring about what they want to see."

"I didn't say that right, I think," he apologized, though he honestly was grateful for the information. "I don't have a taste for death, for killing, in or out of the bedroom. It's a kind of pain I still find hard to stomach. I know how to kill, slow or fast, but I don't like it."

"Ah ... that's also understandable," she nodded. "You don't like the Rite, do you?"

"On a gut reaction level, no," he acknowledged. "With a willing subject ... I didn't have any real problem at our wedding. It was just pain taken to an extreme and Jake not only loved it but was in control of when it ended. It was a real, honest catalyst for change for him, and it was change for the better, even without the mystic components of the full Rite. Those priests perform it on would likely be easy enough for the same reason. I intend to be there for it when I can. The kind Champions perform, on unwilling subjects, that's a lot harder for me. I think I can do it even now, but it's not an easy thing for me to contemplate."

"It's not common, as I understand," she offered. "Usually, it's not forced on somebody who truly doesn't want it, unless they're a threat to other people because of their flaws."

"Thankfully that's what I've gathered from the records as well," he nodded, still fingering his wedding band. "It's unsettling, but if I feel the Call to do it, I know I can. It's just not something I'm likely to use often without a Call for it."

"To most of us, that is not a bad thing," she told him. "It is something that could be abused."

Rock nodded as he thought about that and couldn't help but agree. "The rose quartz is for teaching him how to feel safe and secure in another's arms without hating himself for it," he said as he fingered the soft pink translucent stone cut into a smooth half-sphere. "Trust came easy for him at first because he didn't care about himself. He was young, angry and self-destructive back then. When he started to get over that, he saw it as a weakness, as being needy, to want to feel safe, much less turn to someone for it. It's not in his nature, or Halikar's, to let another do the protecting, even if it's just holding him and soothing his fur from nightmares. It was really something to hear he felt safe with me protecting him."

"Did he ever have somebody else he felt safe like that with?"

"Not that I know of," Rock said softly. "Midnight came close, they've been best friends their entire lives, but there's a decade and some of sexual tension between them that's hard to completely forget."

"Does it bother you?" She asked him, sounding a little surprised that it might.

"Not so much anymore, but it was hard there for a few years," he nodded. "Jake didn't have many friends, not real ones that he trusted enough to rely on for anything. He was hard to understand sometimes. He was announced dead in a very public way not long after we met. Instead of being touched by the turnout, he was angered that so many people even knew of him, much less that would grieve his death. He still would prefer to pass away unnoticed, he's just come to understand it's not going to happen."

"Do you know why that's the case?" She asked him gently.

"Fairly well," he nodded with a rueful look. "It goes back to that wanting what he can't have. He's the Champion of two powerful gods during one of the most critical conflicts in modern times. It's not the kind of position that goes unnoticed, and he's not the kind of personality that goes unnoticed even without it. He's a walking contradiction even today. It kind of also fits into the meaning of the sixth stone," his fingers slid down to the second ying-yang symbol, this one made of pink tourmaline and sodalite. "This one was for the lesson that he was worthy of lasting love, worthy of anything positive, really. It's a lesson he still struggles with sometimes."

"He wants what he can't have... at least for some things, he's willing to accept it when he gets what he really does want," she smiled.

"Something like that," he nodded. "He's not the easiest person to understand, but he's a good kat."

"I'm sure he is," she nodded. "Were you sleeping when they got you up to meet me?"

"Yes," he nodded. "It was only half an hour early, and very much worth it to talk to you, Seer."

"Well, then I believe you'll have morning duties to attend to, and I would greatly like some sleep," she smiled. "Have a good day, Rock; please have me called when it is time for lunch?"

"I will, Seer," he promised as he stood and left her quarters, taking the enchanted rock with him to light the way downstairs to help with breakfast.

Chance smiled as he listened to Tamera on the other end of the line, talking about her classes. Two days into his stay at the safe house, it was good to get a chance to talk to his kits.

"And how's your report for Katian doing?" He asked her knowingly and somehow managed to suppress the chuckle at her groan.

"It's done. It sucks. Lyth and Midnight helped a lot. I don't think it's any good, but she says it's good enough for a better than passing grade," she muttered. "I hate knowing it's not good and not managing any better."

"I know how you feel, kiddo, but it'll probably be better than what a lot of your classmates turn in," he offered. "And you've worked on it. You've done your best, and you're getting better each time."

"Thanks, dad," she said softly. "I wish you could come home at night."

"I do too, honey," he sighed lightly. "I miss you, and your brothers and sisters. I'll be home soon though ... just as soon as we're sure Miss Briggs is safe."

"Take care of yourself," she told him before handing the phone to Midnight.

"Hi honey," she greeted him again. "Is she taking good care of you?"

"Not as good as she's taking care of Jake," he snickered. "They make standing watch a lot easier to listen my way through. Wish you were here though ... hope this is over soon, for everybody's sake."

"I hope no one gets hurt in the process," she added. "I heard this is a champion after her. That's never good."

"One of the big reasons I want this over soon," he agreed. "Well, he tried once with every possible advantage and screwed it up. This time we're on our own turf, and Jake's beefed it up. We'll be okay," he promised her.

"Can you tell me who's coming after you?" she asked, fairly sure he couldn't.

"Honestly? I don't even know," he admitted. "Whoever it is, Jake's sure he can take him... and you know he wouldn't let me be here if he thought I couldn't. You'd kill him," Chance chuckled.

"Especially if he came anywhere near you," she growled, a quick reminder to Chance that his normally mellow wife was quite capable of taking care of herself when she needed to. "What is Jake laughing about?"

"Some moron just tried to rob the Megakat National." Chance smirked after a moment to put together the story. "Seems he got his car booted when the meter ran out while he was waiting in line."

"I don't hear it often enough," she smiled on the other end. "I think I know what I'm getting him for hid birthday."

"That, or Litterbin tapes," Chance said, rolling his eyes. "I've got to get going, hon. Give the kits a kiss for me!"

"I will, take care, love," she said before they hung up.

"So he's a Litterbin fan?" Callie asked with a low chuckle.

"An unrepentant one," Chance mock-grumbled as he took his seat. "Sense of humor is all screwed up on that Kat."

"I have to appreciate his amusement at the robbery attempt though," she giggled and joined the two toms on the couch set in the living room. "Was that your mate and kits?"

"Yeah," Chance nodded. "They're very understanding about this sort of thing ... just hope it doesn't end up bothering the little ones more than it seems to."

"Not with how Midnight'll teach them to be proud of what they're dad does," Jake grinned at him over his shoulder. "How's she doing with the pregnancy?"

"How does she always do?" Chance chuckled. "She's doing great ... I'm not sure which she likes more, being pregnant or having the kits."

"Not the getting pregnant?" Callie teased him, earning a delighted grin from Jake that made her blush.

"Oh, I know she likes that," Chance grinned. "Though it sounds like you two are enjoying the practice too," he teased them both. "Not bad for a guy who couldn't stand fems a few years ago."

"It's a work in progress," Jake winked at him. "Thank Kyale for it more than anything."

"I will, if I ever meet her," Callie giggled, giving Jake a light kiss on the cheek. "How are your other kits doing?" She asked Chance curiously.

"Pretty well, even Tamera is getting better with her school work. I think having a mother home all the time and siblings to take care of has been good for her," he smiled fondly for his oldest.

"The priest boyfriend doesn't hurt any," Jake teased him.

"No, it doesn't," Chance chuckled. "But hey, they're a cute couple really."

"A priest?" Callie asked, raising an eyebrow.

"An acolyte, really, I think," Chance admitted. "Kit named Lyth she met when we were holing up there after BKK came back from the dead."

"They're the same age," Jake added. "It's hard to go wrong with a priest of Bastet as your first boyfriend."

"Certainly could do worse," Callie smiled. "Any idea if it's serious?"

"It certainly is to her, and I think it is to him," Chance chuckled. "Teenage romances, you know how they go if there's anything beyond hormones on either side."

"Given they've know each other for years already, there's good odds it'll last, or at least end peacefully," Jake nodded. "How about the others? I don't think Callie's heard about the entire list."

"What can I say, Midnight married a Furlong," Chance chuckled. "I'm just glad I'm not the one staying home and raising them all ... Heather's finally starting to learn she can't push the others around whenever she wants though. Carmin finally learned that he can push back when the others help him ... or whenever he thinks somebody needs a bath," he chuckled. "We're still working on teaching him not to do that."

"He could have worse kinks," Callie giggled. "How many litters are there?"

"Three. Tamera is from a prior relationship. She's nearly fifteen. Heather, Pat and Carmin are nearly four. Marrat and Keeu are almost three and Midnight's a couple months pregnant with no intent to stop soon."

"I'm almost afraid to think of what'll happen when they're all teenagers," Callie grinned.

"Please, don't make me think about that," Chance groaned. "I love 'em, but they're already a handful. Sometimes I think you've got the right idea, Jake," he grinned at his partner.

"Oh?" Callie raised an eyebrow at him.

"Letting their mothers raise them," he said with a wink.

"Just how many kits have you sired, then?" Callie asked, earning interest from Chance. "You don't know?"

"I know about a few, but probably not all of them," he said.

Jake just groaned. "I've sired at least fourteen in six litters. The oldest is almost five, the youngest not yet born."

"Has your family at least backed off about the issue?" Chance asked with a chuckle.

"Yes, though most are still annoyed that none are Clawsons," he snickered. "I think it irritates my mother even more that I don't have issues and still won't breed for her."

"Why not?" Callie asked, cocking her head slightly.

"Because I'm not about to let any of my kin raise the kits and we're not ready to raise them ourselves," he said with a bit of a growl, his tail lashing sharply for a moment before he gathered himself together again. "My great-aunt Sera is passable, but Rock and I do plan to have kits when we're ready. As Bastet's Champion, I don't have to worry about the fertility issues my kin do."

"Sorry, I didn't know it was something that was such an issue," Callie apologized. "The Clawsons have the same problem my family does?"

"Similar, but it affects the toms as well," he nodded as his fur settled. "None of my kin in generations have been fertile past forty, and many haven't lasted that long. I'm the only kit of my generation. The family would die with me if I didn't have Clawson kits."

"I can kind of understand why she's concerned," Callie admitted. "But given that it won't be a problem for you ... or does she not believe that?"

"I stopped trying to understand her a long time ago," he shook his head.

"I'm sorry," she said, kissing his cheek lightly. "How about a different topic then?"

"Yeah, before he gets really moody," Chance agreed quickly.

"Mmm ... does Tamera have any particular thoughts towards what she wants to do when she grows up?" Callie asked Chance. "Depending on her interests, I might be able to help with some of them."

"Right now she's fascinated by flying," he grinned proudly. "She has the talent for math and balance for it too. Jake's even let her fly some of his beasts, solo and when we're in competition as a parent-kit team."

"Planning on going into the Enforcers?" She asked with a smile.

"Not so much," he admitted. "But she's looking at getting into school ... good chance she'll try and get into the Academy to go through the Pilot's program, then go private after her contract is up."

"If she doesn't decide she likes the life," Callie suggested playfully. "It seems to suit you quite well."

"Yeah, but to be honest, I kind of hope she doesn't," Chance admitted with a chuckle. "It's not a bad life, but I'd rather not see her getting shot at as much as I am."

"She might go another route too," Jake reminded him. "She doesn't have to go Enforcer to fly. I've got enough contacts now to get her in the interview to prove her skill without it. She's talked about other ideas too, at least around me."

"I'd be glad for it, the question is just if we can get her into school without Enforcer help," Chance said easily.

"Buddy, I was a professional college student by fourteen," Jake laughed easily. "If she wants in, I know how to get her in. All she has to do is keep her grades up."

"We'll have to hope her work in Katian improves then," Chance chuckled, shaking his head a bit. "Of course, with your contacts now, you could probably get them to look at her for design work too."

"I could help with that, if Jake couldn't," Callie pointed out. "Pumadyne listens to me."

"And it's all moot if she goes priestess instead," Jake added with a snicker. "Which is likely, given her current boyfriend."

"Entirely possible," Chance admitted. "I don't know if that's how she'd go though ... she gets bored in services," he chuckled.

"She's a teenager, Chance, what do you expect?" Callie asked dryly. "Though if she's anything like you, she'll probably end up with Halikar's clergy, rather than Bastet's."

"Agreed there," Jake nodded. "She's a good mother, but she's not fixated on it like Midnight has always been."

"She's not already a mother, is she?" Callie asked, looking at Jake with a surprised expression.

"If she is, I'm going to be having a really long talk with her and Lyth," Chance laughed, shaking his head. "She's just a really good babysitter for the others. Gives us a break once in a while. Even gets Heather to listen to her sometimes."

"Which is a serious trick," Jake added with a snicker. "That girl takes after her sire in a big way."

"Yeah... and Tamera takes after her mother," Chance smiled, thinking back to her. "Maybe that's it ... I did a pretty good job of listening to her too, not that it was always a good thing," he chuckled.

"She must take after you some too, if she's that good a pilot," Callie pointed out.

"She does," Chance nodded proudly. "I'm just glad I had the chance to meet her... wish it hadn't gone down the way it did, but it's worked out. At least Tamera knows whose daughter she is; Keeu doesn't always seem so sure," he grinned at Jake.

"Oh, she knows," Jake ducked his head with a sheepish grin. "She just likes me for other reasons."

"Oh?" Callie chuckled. "What would those be?"

"She's fascinated by the energy patterns around me," he explained.

"Fixated can be more like it," Chance snickered. "She'll follow him anywhere."

"She'll be a great mage, from the sound of it," Callie giggled. "If she can even see them, she must have some talent for it."

"That she does," Chance nodded. "She's being tutored already, but she still prefers Jake's company."

"She likes the pretty colors," Jake countered. "She's not old enough to know much more."

"Well, I think it's sweet," Callie smiled. "I'm afraid I should probably get to my paperwork soon," she sighed, glancing at the clock.

"Go for it," Jake nodded towards her. "I'll get you when dinner's ready."

"Thanks," she smiled, getting up and heading back to her room.

"There something about Keeu you're not mentioning?" Chance asked Jake curiously.

"She really is too young to tell," he half-sidestepped the question. "She has enough power to be attractive to the champion side of me."

"Somebody you're supposed to keep an eye on, and she knows it?" Chance guessed.

"At least until she's older," he nodded seriously. "Midnight's one of Bastet's favorites. Her kittens are favored by quite a few of her friends and random others. I wasn't going to bring this up yet, but," he shrugged, though he was anything but comfortable with what he was saying. "I can feel the Call to sire with Midnight. It's not so strong I can't ignore it, but ... I'm not that inclined to anymore. But she's your mate."

"Yeah, she's my mate, but Jake, I'm not that focused on monogamy," Chance pointed out. "You want me to talk it over with her?"

"Yes," he nodded, relieved but still a bit unsettled by the conversation. "It's weird to think about it actually working out."

"Jake? Since when has weird not been a part of our lives?" Chance joked, cracking a grin. "Well, I should probably get to bed, let you get to your shift. Lemme know if anything comes up."

"I will," Jake nodded. "Thanks, buddy."

Felina Feral sighed to herself as she skimmed and signed yet another report. She now fully understood her uncle's poor temperament most days. Commanding troops and all the physically or mentally demanding parts of command were easy; it came naturally to them both. Paperwork, that was another matter altogether. Paperwork sucked. Mind-numbing, frustrating, agitating levels of world-class suck.

How Callie ever managed to stay calm for the mountains on her desk daily would remain a perpetual mystery.

This made an Omega attack seem pleasant.

"Or not," her ears flicked back as the Omega alarm went off. "Report!" she snapped into a headset even before it was fully settled, already out the door of the Commander's office.

"This is Black Star; power and vehicles have just cut out entirely between 35th and 53rd, three blocks to either side of main... somebody's pulling something big!" Death Star reported in.

"We're getting alarms from every bank in that district ... dead-kat alarms only," Private Steele, a young sister of the former Lieutenant Commander, told Felina, looking over her communications console. "Interpreting the cut power as an attack."

"Scrabble the three closest chopper units and any ground units we have in the area," Felina ordered sharply. "Keep the jets out of range. Anything that kills tech will kill their engines. Pull everyone with traffic control training to the area to keep the traffic snarls to a minimum."

"Dispatch already has traffic cops on the way," Private Steele told her. "We're dispatching chopper units 109, 57, and 213; ground units are on en route, but being held up by stalled vehicles. Anything electric is dead."

"I'd like to take this opportunity to say I'm so glad we didn't switch to hybrid squads last year," Captain Robert Feral, a cousin of hers, said dryly.

"If it's killing cars, it's not going to matter," Felina pointed out. "Get a chopper out there to deliver slug throwers to any ground crews that don't carry them. Blasters may not be working against these guys."

"We've got an air unit out here; we think it's the source of the blackout," Rumble called in. "Permission to engage, Commander?"

"Permission granted, just don't get too close," she said. "If it's not ours, it goes down."

"Understood," Rumble responded, the Black Knights going after their bogey under the sharp eye of both headquarters and the other squadrons who were staying outside the dead zone.

"Commander, we've got reports of a dreadnought over the west side of town!" Private Steele said, a hint of panic in her voice. "A big one, this time!"

"All units not engaged with the blackout boggy engage that dreadnought!" Felina ordered sharply, only just stopping herself from running for her own flight gear. "Get everybody in the air."

"Red Dawn is scrambling; jets responding to the Dreadnought," the response came, along with a dozen other units.

"Commander, should we pull Furlong from the security detail?" Ashley McKysn asked Felina quietly.

"Only if it goes badly," she said. "If I end up in the air, so will he. I'd rather not leave her too lightly protected."

"Understood, ma'am," Ashley nodded, hiding a wince as the first screams came over the communicators from a jet being shot down.

"Chance!" Jake yelled out from the living room where the TV was tuned in on the Enforcer channels, his 'entertainment' of choice while Callie wasn't in the room and looking for something to watch. "Omegas are attacking the city!"

"Shit," Chance swore as he dragged himself from a light sleep and to his feet. "Who is it, how bad is it?"

"One unknown that's blacked out hundreds of blocks around the financial district and Dark Kat is on the west side," Jake told him. "You go. Even if she doesn't call you, you're going to be needed up there. Turbokat'll be outside in a minute."

"Right," Chance nodded as he came out, still changing into his flight suit. "Any sign they're connected? And did you manage to get those upgrades put in after the last match with Chop Shop?"

"I doubt it and yes," Jake nodded even as Callie came out with a scarred-awake look on her face. "She should fly just fine. I'd guess that the blackout is a robbery and DK, well, he's DK."

"Yeah... unfortunately, it means I've got to take care of the guy with the ray first, just in case he tries to 'impress' DK," Chance muttered as he buckled the last of his flight suit in place.

"Be careful, buddy. The upgrade hasn't been tested," Jake called out and watched him disappear into the hidden passage leading to a small hangar and their heavily modified Raven.

"You're expecting trouble," Callie observed as she took in his darker fur, nearly blond hair and duty grays.

"It's too good an opportunity," he shrugged, then smiled slyly at her. "Come here, we need to make me look very distracted and you not very available."

"Not that I object, you'd just better be willing to follow through on the distraction later," Callie purred, stepping forward, trying not to be nervous as she kissed him.

"Happy too," he chuckled softly as he slipped a hand under the satin blouse of her pajamas. "I'll make it very worth your while."

"You'd better," she murmured, shivering slightly as his hands caressed her breasts. "Let me know if I'm being too distracting," she teased lightly, reaching down to caress his crotch.

"I will," he murmured into a lingering, tasting kiss. "Just be ready to let go and roll when I start to move," he said as he kissed a line down her jaw and throat. "Hope you don't mind giving oral."

"Not at all," she purred, leaning her head back with a throaty rumble as she undid his pants. "Kind of hope you're wrong about something coming," she grinned slyly, getting down to her knees and nuzzling her way down his chest and towards his heavy sheath and the smooth, cylindrical tip already protruding from it. "I see you're eager."

"You're be annoyed if I wasn't," he laughed, rubbing her ears gently as her mouth crossed his abs and he spread his knees to give her fuller access.

"I would," she agreed, purring as she licked him from the base of his sheath to his tip. "Mmm ... I've wondered how you taste for years. It true what sort of things you're into?" She asked him curiously, running her rough tongue around his tip.

"Ohhh, depends on what you've heard, but probably," he quite willingly let his eyes slide shut in apparent absorption with what she was doing.

She suckled his tip, working his shaft further out of his sheath and fondling his balls. She rolled her eyes up towards him, then nipped one of his barbs experimentally.

"Oh yeah," Jake shivered in raw, unadulterated pleasure.

She grinned, nipping him again and squeezing his balls lightly, sliding her hand back to tease his anus with a claw. She let herself lose her nerves, her concern over what might happen, as she pleasured the younger tom she'd fantasized about off-and-on for close to a decade now.

"Draw it out, baby," he moaned, his voice dropping a bit, his body telling her without reservation that he enjoyed what she was doing a great deal. "We have time."

She nodded slightly, forcing herself to remember that this wasn't supposed to be too much of a distraction.

That could come after all this was over, back in her apartment, with plenty of time and everything she could ask for to make a heat more bearable.

She slowed down as she thought about it, closing her own eyes and fantasizing as she pulled off his tip and nuzzled it, drinking in his musky scent, her furry cheeks teasing his barbs.

How soon was her next heat, anyway?

A couple months, give or take a week ... she wondered if Rock would be back in town by then.

She slid down his shaft again, tasting him, swirling her tongue around his shaft as she lifted her breasts up and around it, relishing the feel of the hard length rubbing against sensitive skin. It was hard to tell who was enjoying it more.

A half second later she knew without a second doubt that she was.

A blur of motion, it was over before she could process what she'd seen. Hands came down next to Jake's raised chin. Jake lifted his hands as he pulled forward, tightening a wire against his throat. Something she couldn't see startled the attacker and Jake used it to twist his hands and throw him over his head even as he stood to continue the attack by leaping over her head.

She scrambled back, screaming for the other guards, if there were any, before she thought not to. She and Jake both half-naked when the assassin attacked ... even if it was Jake's plan, it wouldn't look good!

The Assassin twisted to his feet, tossing the garrote to the side and drawing a knife. He watched Jake warily ... then spun, throwing the knife at Callie. Faster than she could follow, Jake lunged for it, catching the balanced blade and throwing it back at their attacker as Halikar's golden wings and hawk-helm flared to life around his Champion.

The Assassin's Champion caught the blade before it hit him, spinning it expertly in his hand into a defensive posture, the room seeming to darken as he called on his own power.

"I'm not here for you," he told Jake darkly.

"You are here for my charge," Jake informed him. "You know I can't let you kill her."

"So be it," the lithe black tom nodded. A body that was sinew and angles, one that made Jake look muscular, went into motion. Only now he was focused on the opposing champion and not his true target.

Callie tried to back away, giving them space as she looked for something she could use to try and even the odds. She wished she'd taken that blaster Jake had offered her earlier, it would have made this a lot easier.

Her eyes lit on a vase, a replica of one she had at home.

Or at least she hoped it was a replica ... it had been her mother's.

Jake was aware of her, aware of his charge's position, but his focus was on the black tom he faced in a battle that they both knew he was better equipped for, half naked or not.

Darkness was complete, so Jake called upon the brilliance of the golden hawk to dispel it and blind his enemy.

It took a moment, the Assassin's power fighting back, but Halikar's fire fueled by Jake's will overwhelmed him.

Unfortunately, it had given him time to move; he slashed at Jake from the side, the cinnamon tom barely having time to move. The blade carved through the glowing, ethereal armor that surrounded his body, barely slowed by the Golden Hawk's strength.

"Fool," Jake hissed with a deadly grin as he felt the pain enflame his mate and the power of Rock's response flowed into him. "I. Am. Death." He growled and moved forward, his power making his opponent freeze for a brief moment.

It was just long enough for Callie to get her opening; she smashed the vase across the back of the assassin's head, and he crumpled from the blow.

"Nice move," Jake grinned at her. "Now help me get him all secured in a chair. This is going to work out nicely if I'm as smart as I think I am."

"For the record, I've always thought you were a bit more ... though you might want to find your pants, before he comes around," she offered, hauling the dead-weight of the would-be assassin up into the chair with a heavy grunt.

Even with Jake taking most of the weight, it was an effort. Then she got to stand back, straighten her satin pajamas and watch Jake secure the prisoner in a most unorthodox manner. He bound his arms to the arms of the chair, and his legs to its legs, with thin steel cables.

"Well, he's not going anywhere, that's for sure," she nodded when Jake stood, satisfied with his efforts.

"No, he's not," he purred. "Care to kill the hour or so we have until he wakes up by finishing what we started?"

"You're still in the mood?" She asked with a surprised blink, then glanced at his crotch and realized it was kind of a silly question. "Does anything turn you off?"

"An unwilling partner," he took the few steps between them and kissed her. "I can understand if you aren't in the mood anymore, though."

"Mmm ... I think I can handle it," she smiled a bit, kissing him back. "You've been hurt," she observed, leaning down to lick some of the blood from his wounded shoulder.

"Oh," he breathed in with a deep moan, his head tipping back involuntarily. "Just makes it sweeter," he pulled her close and claimed a serious kiss, the fires of Halikar still dancing across his fur moved to envelope her as well. "Come sit in my lap, beautiful?"

"Gladly," she purred as he sat down on the couch in front of their captive, and he guided her as she straddled his hips. "You like the pain?" She asked, licking his cut again lightly.

A deep moan stole broth their breath when she sat down, enveloping his shaft in slick, tight heat.

"A great deal," he kissed her, thrusting his hips up as his hands rubbed her hips and buttocks. "I like it pure pleasure too."

"Good," she moaned, kissing him back hungrily as they worked on a rhythm. "I like it like that too. And that," she shivered at the play of his fingers just above her tail.

"Then give yourself over to the pleasure, Callie," he crooned, calling up a little gift he'd learned recently from Bastet. "Let the fires carry you."

"Oh," she moaned lowly, feeling the rush of a heat cycle start flowing through her. "Nnngh ... whole thing?" She asked him, kissing him hungrily.

"Just the pleasure," he promised as he let himself be swept up in it, taken by her hot slickness and the mindless pleasure rutting in heat could be.

They both lost track of what was going on for the next half-hour or so, Jake finally realizing that they'd have to clean up quick if they were going to be ready by the time their prisoner was conscious. He ended the artificial heat he'd created for Callie, and she pulled off him with a low groan and a very pretty blush, his seed dripping from her tight ass as his cock slid from it.

"Shower's big enough for two, if we don't get too wound up," she offered with a light kiss.

"I can keep it under control," he promised for them both and stood, sliding an arm around her to walk to the bathroom. "Was it more intense than usual?"

"Oh yeah," she grinned, kissing him lightly and wrapping an arm around his shoulders, both to hold him close and for a bit of support for her wobbly legs. "Mmm ... too bad we weren't really at my place," she purred, kissing him again as they climbed into the shower and he turned the water on hot.

"Give it time," Jake chuckled as he stepped under the spray with her and grabbed the shampoo bottle. "I'm not going anywhere."

"Good," she purred. "Mmm ... have to show you what I like to do when I'm that wound up next time. How do you think Chance is doing?"

"The dreadnought is retreating, so he's likely fine," he said, though he didn't sound as convinced as he would have liked to be. "We'll have to wait for a report until I'm sure our prisoner is the last threat to you. I can't leave you alone until I'm sure it's over."

"I hope he's all right," Callie murmured, groaning as Jake started to work the shampoo into her fur, not realizing how tense she'd been until now. "Mmm ... are you two ever a couple?" She asked him curiously.

"No," he shook his head, making much quicker work of cleaning them up than he would have preferred. "He's one of those who just doesn't get guys."

"A shame, though it means more for his wife," Callie chuckled. "They'd have said something if he'd been shot down, Jake, I'm sure," she reassured him. "Want to talk about something else while we're in here yet?"

"Midnight's much on sharing with anyone," Jake chuckled. "Why do you find me an attractive sire?" he asked, honestly curious what she saw in him. He knew what most who came to him did, but she seemed different.

"First off, I like you," she smiled, turning so he could wash her front. "You're intelligent, athletic, and I happen to think you're very attractive. I told you I've got a thing for cinnamon toms," she winked at him as he caressed her breasts on his way down to the mess of fine peach fur of her flat belly. "You're a good kat, and one I'd actually like to have my kits know as their sire ... more than I can say for a lot of my associates," she chuckled.

"I'm flattered," he murmured with a quick kiss before slipping his fingers between her legs to encourage his seed to finish flowing from her. "How many kits are you hoping for?"

"At least a couple daughters," she groaned, spreading her legs a bit. "My family's got a hard time with kits if we don't get started early on ... thought I'd dodged the bullet, since my mother was fine, but since I haven't there's a good chance they'll have it too."

"I can ensure that our daughters do not suffer the same fate," he said as he resisted the urge to fool around some more by continuing down her legs. "There are perks to being a fertility god's rep. It can be more than a single litter too."

"I would hope so, if you're thinking of more than two," she chuckled, rubbing his head, lifting her feet to let him work. "Do you think there's any way to stretch out how long I have left?" She asked him curiously.

"Most likely," he nodded and stood, squeezing more shampoo into his hand. "Magic can do impressive things. If nothing else, I should be able to make you fertile with me almost indefinitely. Wash my back?" he handed her the bottle.

"Gladly," she smiled, taking it and squirting some of the thick soap into her hands before she started working it into his fur, letting the falling water rinse hers. "And I don't think I'd object to that," she chuckled, licking his neck before she soaped it up, rubbing out his shoulders.

She could feel that he was still even more tense than she was. The flex and knotting of muscles under fur was usually hidden by his uniform, but now that she was paying attention, he felt like fur covered rock. And he was in something of a hurry at the moment.

"After this is over, I'm taking you to my massage therapist," she told him firmly, speeding up against her better judgment, their prisoner setting the time table more than what either of them wanted.

"I'll relax a lot when Rock's not in pain all the time," he murmured, working his groin clean. "I'm not nearly as good at managing the energy as he is."

"More experience," she guessed, tracing a few old scars down his back. "What are you going to do with our guest?" She asked, working on his ass.

"A great deal more," Jake nodded. "If it goes well, I'll only have to talk to him. If not, I'll kill him."

"I hope it goes well then," she shuddered, stepping aside when he turned around to rinse and turn the water off.

"So do I," he nodded as the blowers kicked in to dry them off. "And quickly. You're much more appealing than he is," he gave her a wink.

"Well, that's high praise, especially given your preferences," she winked back. "Though if it doesn't go well... that will be quite a mood breaker."

"You don't have to watch any of it," he offered as he stepped out of the shower and grabbed a brush before walking out to get fresh clothes.

Chance muttered to himself as he checked over the information he had on the radar ... nobodies transponders were working, he couldn't get ID's. He'd have to stick to visual confirmation of his target.

He could live with that. It wasn't the first time, and it probably wouldn't be the last.

"Command, this is Raven One approaching the financial district; what's the situation?" He asked as he approached the financial district.

"What are you doing in the air, Raven One?" Rumble's heavily stressed voice demanded. "Oh ... Hellfire!" she snarled, her jet loosing power briefly before she managed to pull her descent out of the affected area and ignite her engines again. "Never mind. No one can get within five hundred meters. Missiles are as useful as jets. Slugs don't get close enough. Raven do anything with yours that is better?"

"We're about to find out... Knights, stay the Hell away from him, and cross your fingers for me! Paladin, might want to keep an eye on me, I may need a rescue," Chance said grimly, punching his engines and approaching the chopper carrying the anti-tech ray that was disabling everything else the Enforcers had and causing chaos below it.

"Will do, Sundance," Paladin promised.

"Sheliel looks after you, cuz," Chocolate added.

"Good to know that somebody is," Chance muttered, feeling an instinctive flinch as the beam twisted up towards his jet, and he half-expected the systems to cut out... but they didn't.

"The new systems work!" He crowed, pulling up on the chopper. He still wouldn't have missiles, but he knew he could make the cement slugs do the trick now that he could get close. "Somebody be ready for capture, he'll be down in a moment!"

"Understood, Raven One," a male voice is didn't particularly recognize answered him. "Mounted units are in the area."

Even as he lined up, the chopper let him know it wasn't relying on their high-tech toy. Two missiles and a flurry of bullets exploded towards him.

He swore, swerving off his lock.

"Whoever's in there learned their lesson," he muttered to himself. He strafed past the chopper, raking the side with cement rounds, rattling the pilot and pulling around, cursing as he heard bullets rake his wing.

"I am not going back to Jake with his new baby busted up," he muttered, twisting back to the other side of the chopper and adjusting his aim up, firing on the blades from well above it, using his namesake maneuver to best effect. With gravity taking the cement slugs far beyond their normal rang he gunked up the blades into a solid mass and sent the chopper to the ground with a crunching of metal and heavy thud before a dozen mounted officers and more on foot closed in on the now-hapless craft.

"That's one down - what's this about Dark Kat now?" He asked, hoping Rumble could give him an update before they went after him.

"He's just causing chaos on the way to HQ," she answered quickly as he formed up with his former squadron as easily as if he'd never left. "Major damage, shooting everything. Most of the force is there already."

"How are they doing?"

"Red Dawn is already down," Chocolate said grimly. "Half of the Skyhawks have been disabled or grounded, we lost communications a few minutes ago."

"Then it's high time the cavalry rode in," Chance growled, his ears flat as they blasted off to the west and the clearly visible battle going on above the city.

Enforcer jets looked like gnats against the behemoth of a dreadnought. They were all over it, but it was so huge it didn't seem to care.

"What's everybody tried already?" Chance asked, cycling through the missiles Jake had loaded. They didn't have time to go retrying things that had already failed. They had to end this, end it fast, before anybody else got hurt.

"Everything we have loaded," a voice answered, echoed by several others.

"So try those weird ones Jake's always loading on your bird," Rumble ordered. "We just don't have the firepower to hurt this thing."

"On it," he muttered, switching over to the drill-bit missiles. "Activating molecular analysis scope," he announced, flipping down the eye-piece that Jake had built into the Raven for pilot and gunner both. "Keep him busy while I find a thin spot!"

"Yes, Sir!" various voices responded as jets took up a protective posture around him and others did their best to keep the dreadnought's attention elsewhere.

"Gotcha, bastard," Chance growled, his missile locked on and fired a heartbeat later.

The diamond bit began spinning as the missile flew, hitting a weak point in the armor and starting to twist its way through the armor.

"Raven One, prepare evasion-distraction routine 96B," he told the jet. "Initiate upon my exit from the jet." He made his way towards the small hole, dodging missiles and blasters on his approach. "Focus on defense of Enforcer and civilian je... no. Raven One, cancel prior instructions. Retrieve unknown technology from bogey previously taken down. Get it installed ASAP. We're going to need it."

Chance came to a stop near the opening he had, and moved to the airlock.

"Don't you dare screw up on me, Raven," he muttered, climbing out and into the Dreadnought, leaving one kind of armed weapon for another. His body, armed and armored by a partner like no other.

He breathed in deeply, feeling Sheliel's gift rush to him as he plowed through the chaotic mess of the creeplings trying to assess the damage of his entrance.

Some of them managed to raise a claw against him, but he dropped them easily with his Glovatrix and training.

"If you're the only guys running this damned thing, this should go pretty easy," he muttered, pausing by a console to try and get into the map. "Come on ... where's the fucking command deck...."

He threw a Kat crewmember aside without thinking, then turned and grabbed him, throwing him against the wall.

"Directions, now." Chance growled in his face.

"Sixteenth level, in the middle," he stammered out quickly. "I'll show."

"If you lead me into a trap, you will live to regret it, for a very long time with very 'friendly' inmates," Chance warned him with a low growl. "Get going, and remember that I'll be aiming at your back the whole time."

"Yes. Right," the frightened tabby broke nearly into a run, but it was a strait line, not one mean to loose his captor. Without hesitation he palm-scanned the elevator door and stepped in, turning to see Chance right behind him. "No trap."

"Good," Chance muttered, following him on. The ride was short and fast, and opened right into the dreadnought's control room.

"Welcome, Chance Furlong," a deep, powerful and far too amused voice greeted him as the giant of a nearly black purple tom turned to face him with a flurry of his concealing robe.

"Hello there, Dark Krud," Chance muttered, his Glovatrix up. "I've got one of your kats here, and a razor with your name on it. Take this thing out of the city, and cease your attack now."

"You had one," the giant snorted and flicked his fingers. Without so much as breath, the frightened tom twisted into himself as he melted into a puddle of goo on the floor. "And we both know you can't kill me."

"Maybe not, but I can keep turning you into a corpse until Jake can," Chance growled, ignoring the disgusting smell and display next to him as he fired, diving and rolling out of the elevator before Dark Kat could try anything directed at him.

"Creeplings," the giant ordered. "Bury him."

Chance twisted his fist, charging it with an electrical burst that stood his fur on end and sent the first wave of Creeplings flying. Dark Kat turned back towards his console to guide the attack, firing on the Black Knights. Chance bit back a roar as he saw the Black Cloud take a hit on the wing.

"Dark Kat! I've got a deal for you!" He shouted as he trapped half a dozen Creeplings in a shock net.

"You? A deal for me?" Dark Kat raised an eyebrow at him, sufficiently intrigued to pause. "What could you possibly offer me?"

"Me, in exchange for halting your attack," Chance growled. "Whatever you want to do to me... your very own pet Enforcer Captain. You'll have the one thing from me your pet ghost never did."

He just had to stall until the Raven was back with the anti-tech ray... that's all he had to do. How creative could Dark Krud get by then?

For a moment he thought Dark Kat wasn't going to go for it, but a deep rumble of amusement echoed in the control room. "Very well. Strip your lower half and come kneel at my feet."

Chance worked his boots and Glovatrix off, unzipping his flight suit and leaving it on the floor as he undid his belt. He made sure to flip the switch on his Glovatrix so that if Dark Kat tried anything with it, he'd regret it.

He just wished there was something like that he could do for himself too.

It was too late now though; he'd made his bargain, and he'd make sure that he didn't give the Xanith an excuse to renege on his end of it.

The tabby knelt at his feet, looking up at him, his eyes showing every bit of hate he felt.

"Stop the attack, and get this thing out where it won't hurt anybody else," he growled lowly.

"Your last command," Dark Kat purred, and somewhat to the tabby's shock, seemed to do exactly that.

The view screens showed them turning towards the sound and leave the battle, no longer firing on the city below.

He really, really hoped that wasn't some sort of a trick on the screens.

"All right ... I'm yours," he told Dark Kat, swallowing hard as he did so, and prayed that Jake or the Ghosts would be up here fast to get him out of this. He couldn't believe that they'd just back off without him coming back out soon.

"Then come suck me off," the giant told him with a grin that said he knew exactly what his new pet thought of the idea.

Chance slid forward on his knees, spreading Dark Kat's robes, comforting himself... if that was the word... with the knowledge that Dark Kat would be too interested in playing with his new toy to kill him.

He just hoped that nobody else had the chance to see this... Jake would be bad enough, but if the rest of the unit saw this it'd be worse.

He unzipped and unbuttoned the Xanith's pants, noting that he was clearly a hybrid ... anything he could notice from here that would help him figure out who the fuck was behind that mask afterwards.

Then he steeled himself and went to work, nuzzling and lapping at the Panther-Tiger's sheath to coax his shaft out. It didn't take much, the situation seemed to do the job well enough, but it still seemed like forever for the Kat praying for rescue before it got worse.

"I said to suck me off," Dark Kat growled warningly at him, the hand on his head crackling with power until Chance could only scream in agony directed straight to his brain.

He sank to the floor when the grip was released, gasping for breath.

Chance fought his way back up to his knees, taking Dark Kat's throbbing shaft into his mouth. He had to strain his jaw to fit it in, but it was almost preferable to another blast like that, and certainly preferable to what else Dark Kat might do to convince him to play along.

He hadn't thought about that before ... he was glad they were moving away from his part of town.

"Mmm, yes," Dark Kat rumbled, apparently pleased with the new efforts.

Then Chance felt claws on his shoulders, a small hand grabbed his tail and pulled it up.

He pulled it back down firmly, doing his best to cover his ass. He'd given himself to Dark Kat, but even he couldn't be in two places ... whoever was behind him could go to Hell, something he told them firmly, kicking back as he kept sucking the massive shaft in his mouth, working the Xanith's barbs with his tongue.

"You'll put on a good show with my creeplings or I'll take your mouth while you are bound and they do far more than just fuck you," Dark Kat growled at him.

Chance growled back, but raised his tail, bracing himself for whatever those shriveled up little monsters would do.

"That's right," Dark Kat crooned, his thick fingers stroking Chance's hair. "Sate yourselves, my pets. There is something lower than you now."

It took every ounce of restraint Chance had not to bite down on the throbbing, musky shaft in his mouth. His ears flattened, and he braced himself for the press of hard flesh into his unprepared body. He couldn't help but flash back to the first time he had felt this, and a decidedly undignified sound escaped his throat.

Dark Kat laughed, the first bitter taste of pre spreading around Chance's mouth. "Oh, my pet, you will welcome such simple things soon. I have such plans for you."

The tabby growled low in his throat, his claws popping out against the floor as he forced himself to behave, squeezing his eyes shut in pain as the Creepling behind him slammed a surprisingly long, thick cock deep into his unprepared ass.

He focused away from it, from the humiliation of his situation as best he could. It didn't last long; the beast behind him squealed and a warm rush of its come flooded Chance's bowls.

There was no time to assess it. It pulled out and another took its place. Then Dark Kat groaned, his hips thrusting up slightly.

He wanted to bite; to fight back, every instinct screaming that he shouldn't be taking this.

Then Dark Kat pulled back, his cock jerking up and spraying ropes of thick, hot seed all over Chance's face, painting the tabby's golden fur with pearly white. Chance barely had time to close his eyes.

"You look good like that," Dark Kat observed tauntingly, lacing pair directly into Chance's brain, though it was much less intense than before. "It is going to be a real pleasure putting you on display for my troops and minions.

The ship rocked, Dark Kat cursed and bodies scrambled about as he barked orders.

Chance took the opportunity; he lunged, ignoring the Creepling that had still been pounding his ass as he went straight for where he knew Dark Kat's crotch would be.

He took the Xanith's cock back into his mouth ... but this time he bit down, sharp teeth piercing the skin and fragile blood vessels. Cock had never tasted so good, and the snarl he heard was just as sweet.

"Stupid," Dark Kat roared as he channeled much of his power into the tabby's body before he stepped back and vanished into a portal.

Chance spit out the piece of flesh that had come away in his mouth, ignoring the pain roaring through he body as he turned and dove for where he remembered his gear was. The lights were still out, the ship was clearly out of control, but he and Jake had trained for things like this.

Granted, he usually wasn't half-naked and gang-raped at the time, but the principle was the same.

He grabbed his Glovatrix, sliding it on and spinning his hand back, activating the flamethrower and roasting a group of Creeplings trying to grab him. As they screamed and flesh boiled, he used the pilot light's illumination to find his pants, pulling them on roughly and trying to make himself somewhat decent even as he fought the critters in with him. The Kat crew in the control room was far too busy trying to save their own lives by saving the ship.

The sound of blasters and barking orders in Felina Feral's very angry voice got everyone's attention.

"Keep this thing airborne and stand down all weapons!" Chance roared before Felina came in with the flashlight on her gun active. She was inside within seconds, assessing as she moved with two squads behind her.

"We have no power!" one of the toms trying desperately to making things work shouted back.

"We can turn it back on," Felina growled at him.

"We surrender. We give up. Just get the power back on or we're all dead!" the apparent captain turned to face her in the darkness.

"Will Raven take your orders?" Chance asked her, not sure if his comm to the jet was being blocked yet or not.

Felina nodded and clicked her comm. "Raven, power this thing back up."

"Yes, Ma'am," Raven One's synthetic female voice responded moments before the lights flickered, then stayed on.

"Please, please," the captain was muttering to himself, the Enforcers behind him shooting at creeplings and the occasional stupid guard ignored in favor of recovering enough to land. "Yes!"

"Are you all right, Chance?" Felina asked him quietly as the Dreadnought leveled out, concern in her voice as her nose and eyes filled in some of the blanks.

"He didn't do anything I didn't let him do," Chance muttered quietly, licking some of the blood soaking his face away. "Make sure somebody gets what I took from him," he said with a nod towards the severed bit of Xanith-flesh on the floor. "Want to get something more out of this," he growled lowly as the battle petered out, and he stalked off to return to his jet.

"Commander, if you can avoid putting him on medical leave, please do," Captain Firetail said quietly. "He handles it poorly."

"I know," she nodded.



He was alive.

Not the 'just woken from the dead kind' of awake and alive either.

Two Kats were nearby; his target and her protector by scent. They were clean now, but had mated vigorously ... the smell of their pleasure was still thick in the air.

He could hear the long fur of her tail being brushed. They weren't talking, but she was purring.

"Hello, Kousuke," the tom greeted him despite the fact that he had remained completely limp with his eyes closed. "Time we had a little talk."

He opened his eyes, looking at the cinnamon-furred Champion and the peach-furred shekat he'd been sent to kill.

"All right then," he said. "Talk."

"Do you know who I am?" Jake asked him evenly.

"Yes," Kousuke nodded slightly. How could he not know of this Kat?

"Good. Then you understand that I can carry Konuse's banner if you won't play by my rules."

"Your masters would never accept that alliance," the black-furred tom said, flattening his ears and hoping Jake wouldn't call his bluff on that issue. He just might be able to, if he could get his masters to agree.

"Given they attended my marriage to the House of Tamorl in the Temple of Pain, I think this would be a minor concession," Jake chuckled slightly. "Konuse has the one thing Halikar truly cares about; he has honor. It's not like we haven't hired you many times in the past."

"You know my master's honor, and you know why it means that our working together will be ... difficult, at best," Kousuke pointed out. "You protect the one I have been sworn to kill."

"I also know the ways to break that contract," Jake said evenly, his posture relaxed on the couch.

"I'm listening," the black tom said just as calmly.

"First, what are the exact terms you agreed to?" Jake began with a clear plan in mind.

"My payment in exchange for the death of Deputy Mayor Briggs, with a bonus for the Mayor and Commander Feral. You don't have to worry about the one currently there; she's clearly not the Commander they had in mind," Kousuke told him. "And I can't tell you who hired me."

"Fairly standard contract then," he nodded, thinking over the options it gave him. "Have you been paid?"

"My standard advance; three-quarters of my final payment, with the remainder and expenses due upon completion of the job," Kousuke said with a business-like simplicity. Callie shook her head; he was talking about killing her like Feral talked about ordering ammunition for the Enforcers. It didn't help her any that Jake seemed fluent in the business and it's quirks.

"So, between the three of us, I know of five options," Jake said as he leveled his gaze between them. "I can call on your life-debt to me to rewrite this contract. You can be locked up for life, which I'm not going for. I can kill you. Callie can kill you. You can kill her and not try a second time."

"If you revive her after I've completed the contract, I've still completed it," Kousuke offered. "I wouldn't try again without being re-hired even if my own life weren't on the line."

"Excuse me, maybe we can reconsider the whole 'killing her' part?" Callie protested with a frown.

"You'd prefer to kill him?" Jake looked at her with a bit of honest surprise.

"No, not really," she admitted. "It's just ... I can end up dead from this."

"You can't kill me without some kind of fight," Kousuke objected, rather unsettled by the idea of being killed tied to a chair. "It wouldn't be honorable."

"Fight, yes; fair, no," Jake told him as a strange kind of assurance.

"I'm making sure she understands the stakes," he pointed out. "If she kills me, I have to fight back, and I can't make any promises for her safety. If I kill her, I have choices regarding how to do it ... my employers weren't specific. I could choose a method that she could be fairly easily revived from, with immediate attention or magical healing. As for the life-debt ... that's the weakest reason to break the contract, though it is acceptable. It would, of course, mean that you had a pet assassin under your thumb, not that I think you'd object."

"It's the primary reason you aren't dead yet," Jake nodded. "I have use for you." He turned to Callie. "Your call, though he's got a point. It's fairly easy to revive someone from some kinds of death."

"What would you do to me?" Callie asked warily.

"Stopping your heart would be the simplest one to fix," Kousuke said. "I'm sure Jake knows how to without magic. Breaking your neck is one of the simplest fixes with magic, though some poisons are also simple and all but painless."

"You didn't have any problems with just shooting me before," she pointed out.

"I wanted to be sure you weren't revived before. Honor doesn't demand it, but professional pride does," he pointed out.

"And what would you suggest for killing him?" Callie asked Jake quietly. "I'm not that good a fighter."

"Gun or poisoned knife," Jake suggested. "And he's not going to be fighting at full effectiveness."

"I would recommend the gun, or blaster," Kousuke offered. "With your friend's protection to guard against my Lord's gifts."

"Isn't this incredibly weird to you two?" Callie looked between the two toms who were giving her advice on how to kill one of them to get him out of a contract to kill her.

"Not compared to what else I've done," Jake chuckled slightly.

"And I have a sideline in helping people plan murders they want to commit themselves... it's another part of the job," Kousuke shrugged slightly. "Besides... this will hurt, I'll get a lecture from my Lord, but ultimately I will live. You aren't killing me for any purposes but breaking my contract."

"You can remind him that the other option was for a champion to kill you," Jake offered.

"It's still creepy," she muttered. "But I guess it's about my only option."

"It's all in perspective," Jake gave her a reassuring smile. "So it sounds like a blaster is the best choice. I know you're a respectable shot after the amount of training I've given you. A room of distance should be enough space for it to work."

"Unless you would prefer to kill me in more active self-defense, for your own moral reasons ... though I doubt your protector would approve," Kousuke agreed. "I will be alive again within hours; perhaps we will be able to get to know each other better then."

She nodded in something akin to numb shock before she gathered her wits. "Ready to get this over with, then?" she glanced between them.

"Quite," Kousuke nodded as Jake passed his blaster over to Callie and she backed across the room. He kept his body relaxed and compliant as Jake released his bonds, freeing him before stepping back a few paces.

In a flash, he stood, and whirled about on the cinnamon-furred tom, lunging for him with a silent snarl.

Jake danced back to give himself enough space to drop into a defensive posture and tensed for the impact of Kousuke's assault.

The black-furred tom didn't have a chance to attack him though; Callie's blaster blazed, and Kousuke's corpse slammed into Jake's body, three holes drilled into him, one through his heart.

"Sweet Bastet," Callie murmured, shuddering and dropping the blaster before she ran up to him. "He came after you... do you think he was just playing along?"

"Nope," Jake chuckled with a slight smile as he put Kousuke's limp body on the couch. "He was making you feel a lot better about what you had to do."

"I ... guess he did, at that," she murmured. "How long should it be before he comes to?"

"Somewhere between a few minutes and a couple days, depending on how ticked Konuse is at him."

"What sort of plans do you have for him?" Callie asked Jake, glancing between him and the dead body on the couch.

"I'm going to make him clear his jobs with me, and I'm going to give him one," he grinned viciously. "I'm going to send him after Dark Kat."

"You think he'll actually be able to take him down?" Callie asked, considering it. She didn't like it, but it beat the damage Dark Kat did.

"Not really, but if he can, I'm not about to complain," Jake said. "He is extremely good, and he has killed champions, just not on Dark Kat or my level."

"And if he doesn't, you don't have to worry about him anymore," she guessed.

"That's the gist of it," he nodded.

"Does your conscience ever bother you?" She asked him.

"Not about these kinds of things," he shook his head. "About what I was like before my marriage ... yeah. I have regrets."

"Well, you've turned out pretty well, all things considered," she smiled, kissing his cheek lightly. "We should probably call in about this."

"Agreed," he murmured, hesitating for a moment. "Would ... how about company tonight, once this is all wrapped up?"

"I'll think about it," she smiled a bit. "See how the rest of the day goes first? I'm kind of leaning towards it though."

"Sure," he gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Whenever you're ready."

Chance groaned as he stood up, his back and ass still sore as the debriefing came to an end after two long hours spelling out what had happened and who had gotten hurt. He was more than grateful that he'd gotten a long, private shower before he'd had to come in, and he was sure Felina was why he had that time.

At least he hadn't had to go into detail about what had happened with Dark Kat ... though, to judge by Felina's expression as he saw her by the door of her office, he had a feeling that wasn't going to last.

"Ma'am, I need to get back to relieve Jake," he offered.

"He has things well under control," she flicked one ear back in annoyance that wasn't really directed at the tabby in front of her. "We are not done."

"Ma'am, with all due respect -"

"You can take leave until you can explain it to my uncle or the psych officer if you prefer," she gave him the choice.

His ears went flat, and he followed her into her office.

"You didn't have to do that," he said, as civilly as he could manage.

"You didn't have to try to dodge this," she pointed out in turn as she sat down. "This isn't exactly my idea of a great subject either, and you know as well as I do that I can't have you on duty if I'm not sure of your health."

"I was a perfectly good officer before I came clean about BKK, wasn't I?" He said, taking his own seat and trying to force himself to be polite and professional about this. Just because he knew that she'd rather not know didn't make it any better.

"That didn't happen on duty," she countered, then sighed. "I'll make this as painless as possible, but I do have to know what happened between you, Dark Kat and some creeplings."

"After A'zay's jet was hit, I offered myself to him in exchange for calling off the attack," Chance told her bluntly and saw her wince, but also the shocked respect on her face at that kind of action. "Like I said ... nothing I didn't let him do."

He still didn't feel any better about it, not even with her reaction. He also saw that he'd said enough for her.

"May I go, ma'am? My partner's probably expecting me back," he asked, hoping she wouldn't change her mind and ask more questions.

"Yes," she inclined her head. "I'm still going to advise you to take a few days to wind down."

"I might take you up on that," he admitted, standing and stifling a groan. "I'll call in if I do ... any word on whether or not anything happened?"

"When I talked to Jake he said that the assassin had been captured and everything was under control," she said. "Miss Briggs even agreed."

"Judging by the past few days, I'm sure it's very will under control," Chance actually snickered. "Good night, Commander ... I'm going to go home to Midnight for a few hours."

"Good," she smiled slightly, though her expression held real curiosity about his comment that she didn't press about.

Chance walked out to the parking garage quietly, sitting down in the car and leaning back in the driver's seat tiredly. He thought for a minute, then pulled out his cell phone, hitting Rumble's speed-dial.

She was three rings answering. "Hi Chance," she sounded a lot more concerned than he liked. "How are you?"

"Tired," he admitted. "How's A'zay?"

"Battered, in bed, but he'll be up and about before his jet," she said with obvious relief. "If you'd like a few tips on easing pain, I know just about all of them."

"Good," he sighed gratefully. "I might ask you later, but for now I think I just want to go home ... sounds like Jake's got everything under control with the asshole who tried to ventilate Miss Briggs, so it's about time I saw my kits."

"And your mate," she added with a teasing purr. "She always manages to make you feel better. I'll check on you later, like tomorrow afternoon, okay?"

"Sure thing," he smiled. "Make sure A'zay knows that if he needs anything, he should just ask. Wish I could've stopped the fight before he got hit."

"We all wish it didn't go down the way it did, for everybody," she reminded him gently. "A'zay's scars are ones he'll be proud of. The dead are no longer in pain. You're the one I'm worried about, Chance. You take care, okay?"

"I will," he promised her. "You too, Rumble. I'll see you in a couple of days, probably."

"See you then," she said before handing up, leaving him with only his thoughts and the aches in his body as company on the drive home.

He smiled as he saw Midnight waiting for him at the door, the front light on as he pulled up. He climbed out of the car, starting up towards the house, trying to hide the slight hitch in his step.

"Hey baby," he purred, hugging her as he got up the front steps. "How're the kits?"

"Asleep, for the most part," she kissed him and drew him inside. "I heard you had a rough day in the battle."

"Very," he admitted. "Lemme check on them before I talk about it too much?" He asked her, rubbing her back gently.

"Of course," she kissed his cheek. "Tamera is with Lyth."

"Thanks for the heads-up," he chuckled, going to make his rounds of the bedrooms. He smiled softly when he peeked into Tamera's room, seeing her snuggled up with her lover, the two of them sleeping contentedly.

"How often has he been over, the past few days?" He asked Midnight curiously as he came back down to her.

"They spend as much time together as they can, here or at the temple," she smiled warmly. "He makes her feel safe. I think he cares about her too, beyond any duty he might have."

"I certainly hope so," Chance chuckled slightly. "I'd hate to have to handle her if it was just a matter of duty on his part." He sat down next to Midnight, groaning slightly and closing his eyes. "She's a good kit ... so's he. Glad something good came out of that whole mess."

"So am I," she nuzzled him. "What happened in the battle?" she asked gently. "I know it went badly for you."

"What have you heard so far?" He asked her, leaning up against her slender body, reaching over to rub her swollen belly lightly.

"Just that," she looked up at him. "They don't give me details."

"Right ... it was Dark Kat himself this time, not some two-bit flunky in a second-rate Dreadnought," he told her. "We didn't expect anything like that, and it hit when we already had another attack in progress, so you can imagine how much trouble it was for everybody else ... Red Dawn went down entirely, and not all of them pulled through," he said softly. "I was able to get into the thing, and that's when it got really bad on the outside from what they said in the debriefing."

"What about for you?" she asked. "You got inside the dreadnought?"

"I found Dark Kat in his control room," he explained. "I...." he trailed off, closing his eyes and shifting uncomfortably. "I let him have me, in exchange for stopping the attack," he said quietly. "I couldn't think of anything else that'd keep him or one of his people from keeping the slaughter going ... didn't even think that would work, but it did."

"Oh, baby," she drew him close. "He couldn't just beat you or something simple," she muttered in real anger.

"I've been through worse," he reminded her. "Besides ... this time, I made him pay for it. Unless he's a real good healer, he'd better hope he enjoyed that last round, 'cause he'll have a damned hard time enjoying any more."

That raised an eyebrow, then giggled before she turned sober. "That probably put you above Jake on his hit list," she added quietly.

"And I just hope it doesn't come back to hurt all of you," he said softly, turning to kiss her gently. "I had to do something though ... bastard's killed too many good Enforcers, good people, and I wasn't going to let him get away without being hurt this time."

"Couldn't you have just shot everybody?" she asked, regretting it as soon as she had, but needing to hear why her mate's pain was less valuable than murderers lives.

"It wouldn't have stopped them in time. They'd just shot down one of my wingmates, and the rest of them were on the firing line," he pointed out. "Violence is something Dark Kat understands ... he's better at it than just about anybody else in the city. I had to find a way to try and stop him that took it out of the match, or at least controlled it. They aren't worth more than my having to go through it," he explained. "The Knights are."

She nodded and kissed his cheek. "Good," she told him. "Yes, they are, since you came back too. I'm glad you don't go out to fight every day anymore. It scares me a lot now."

"Something I should know?" He asked her quietly, turning into the kiss.

"I've just gotten used to you not being in constant danger," she hugged him tightly. "I never liked it, but it was just life. I knew what you were when we met. Now, I've gotten used to you being in little danger most of the time."

"Believe me, I'm happier that way too these days," he reassured her, hugging her back. "Tonight though, I was the safest one out there. When those Ravens hit full production, it's going to change a lot."

"It won't be soon enough for every pilot and gunner out there," she shivered and pressed up against him. "I think we need to prod him towards a helicopter next. They're just as badly out of date and see at least as much fire."

"He's not as fond of them, but I think you're right," he nodded, hugging her up against his side. "After all of this is over with ... and he's done winding down from what's been going on with Rock."

"Or to occupy him while he's waiting for it," she suggested with a nuzzle. "Do you have to go back tonight?"

"No," he reassured her. "I've been told that I should take a couple days, though I haven't been ordered to ... I'm considering it though," he smiled, kissing her gently and found the gesture returned with a touch of passion.

"Then lets go to bed, see if we can make your body forget it's pain for a while," she purred, fully aware of her mate's tendency to see sex as a comfort and assertion of his masculinity.

"Mmm ... and get properly reacquainted," he agreed, kissing her again, more deeply, before they rose to go to bed.

Dhiren snarled again as power continued to flow from his hands to regrow the very sensitive bits that the soon to be very sorry tabby had bitten off. Oh the things he would do to that Kat when he caught him. It wouldn't stop with death either. That would be just the beginning of an eternity of torment and abuse.

By the time he was done with him, he'd be begging for Berten to be returned from the dead, just so he could go to a more affectionate Master.

One of the Creeplings rushed up to him, chattering excitedly. Most of what it said was incoherent, but the word 'mother' came up repeatedly.

There was only one thing that meant.

"Show her in," he ordered before throwing it out of the room and continued to grumble to himself about his plans for the damn tabby.

He had just finished his healing work... at least well enough for now... when the Creepling returned, leading in a tall, red-furred Wolf bitch, faint tabby stripes and her distinctly feline tail one of the few things to mark her as a Wolf-Kat. She shifted the weight of the swaddled, silent infant she was carrying to one arm, reaching down to pat the Creepling on the head indulgently.

"Well, Dhiren, I see you're taking care of some of my children well," she said as she straightened up. "Hopefully you'll be able to do the same for one with your blood in his veins."

"You know I will," he stood and closed his robe. "He is my Master's new body, after all."

"Mmm ... and even if your plan doesn't progress that far, he's a lovely child," she cooed, folding back the swaddling covering his face.

The first phrase that sprang to Dhiren's mind was 'one only a mother could love.'

To be fair, that was actually the second phrase that came to mind ... the first was 'kill it.' The kitten's face was grotesquely ugly, a tiny tentacle rubbing its face from under the cloth wrap, and he could make out a tiny, hungry mouth on the end of it, gnawing on the kitten's fur.

"Do you want to hold your son?" She asked.

"Yes," he nodded with determination. He had to see what he was working with after all. "You know he won't look like this for long," he warned her, almost gently.

"I know," she nodded. "At least not on the surface ... you'll hide him well enough. Few of the Mother's blessed children can go about these days without being hidden," she sighed as she passed the kit over to Dhiren, and he folded back the swaddling.

He took back everything he'd thought about the face. The rest of his body was long and lanky already, without the normal kitten-fat he would have expected. The dark, black fur that covered his face gave way to a sickly, gray-green color from the chest down, except for the dozen or so hungry tentacles that sprouted from his abdomen. The tail that came down between his legs was more like a thick trunk than a tail ... and when he looked, he could see a third eye, tightly closed, sprouting from the kitten's hip.

It would take heavy clothes over almost all his body to conceal his nature, without magical aid. With it, and technology, he could appear physically perfect without loosing the monstrous nature that the Master wished in his avatar.

"How many of the Mother's blessed ones are alive, of breeding age?" he asked with absent curiosity as he began to see the infant less as a Kat and more as the subject he was.

"In MegaKat City?" She asked him as she stroked the kitten's forehead, pulling down her blouse slightly as one of the tentacles probed at her chest, exposing a full breast and letting the tiny, toothed mouth start to suckle. "More than most think, but they live in the homes of the faithful. They're more common back home. So, what happened this time?" She asked him knowingly.

"A pet didn't know his place," Dhiren's ears flattened. "He escaped during the battle, but I'll get him."

"Oh, I'm sure you will," she chuckled. "Did he do any damage, besides your new toy?"

"Not really," he muttered as he began to formulate a spell to conceal the kitten's appearance from outside eyes. "He should still appear as he is to you. The spell will be against outsiders."

"Well, that's good," she smiled. "And I'm glad... he's one of the most unique children I've had... you're quite the sire," she purr-rumbled, stepping closer and giving him a light lick on the cheek. "It wasn't the young fem you had here the last time I was around, was it?"

"No," he turned to nuzzle her affectionately. "She's off on her mission to destroy Commander Feral. The misbehaving one is Chance Furlong. Mmm, if you ever get close to his mate, Midnight, she'd make a fine mother to one of Lamashtu's kittens."

"Midnight ... Midnight Raven?" Arba asked with a vicious, gleeful grin.

"Yes," he looked up at her with interest. "You know of her?"

"Oh yes ... we all know about her. Raven is marked by Bastet," Arba explained. "Oh, the things I would do for her kittens...." She trailed off, her tail wagging enthusiastically behind her. "Lamashtu would be so pleased, to place her mark on those kits. The only ones better would be Bastet's Champion's." She looked up at Dhiren with a sly grin. "Of course, I'm sure you know who he is, don't you?"

"Oh yes," he turned fully to face her as they sat on his huge bed. "He has many, though he keeps tabs on few. Are you going after him?"

"Not for the usual reasons," she smiled, kissing their kitten lightly as he pulled back the tentacle that had been nursing her, taking him over her shoulder and patting his back lightly until he burped. "I don't want to kill him ... not right away, at least."

"What are yours plans?" Dhiren leaned forward to kiss her. "You know how it turns me on to hear your ideas."

"I know," she chuckled, pulling him back down onto the bed with her. "Mmm ... you want to hear it from the beginning?" She asked him, starting to undo his robes. "From when I hunt him down and seduce him?"

"Yes," he purred into a hiss of pleasure when her hand slipped down to cup his heavy balls. "Tell me everything."

"I think I'll hunt him down as a Champion... let him know what I am, but not who," she rumble-purred, nuzzling his chest as she fondled his balls. "I'm a half-breed... it's easy to pass myself off as somebody's love-child, so I'm a shoe-in for Mokra's Champion, especially since she's not in MegaKat City."

"Ahh ... yes," he pressed up into her touch and glanced sideways to make sure a Creepling had gotten the kitten and taken it away. "What will you do to him?" he asked before kissing her hotly.

"Seduce him, make love to him... find his deepest, darkest fantasies and make them come true, as best I can," she grinned, quickly shucking her clothes with his help. "I will bear the kittens of Bastet's Champion," she shivered excitedly. "Do you think it will be hard to convince him?" She giggled, rubbing her leg against Dark Kat's stiffening member.

"The only hard part should be convincing him you serve Mokra and not Lamashtu," he rumbled in intense pleasure at the thought as he squeezed her full breasts, his claws drawing slight furrows of blood along them. "You will enjoy him incredibly if his wedding is any judge."

"Oh," she moaned, pressing into his claws and rolling on top of him. "Mmm ... I have my ways. I expect to enjoy him quite thoroughly ... I've even brought some new toys. Will you ... mmm ... will you want to see?" She asked him with a grin, grinding her sex against his as he clawed her breasts, blood mixing with light trickles of her milk.

"You know I do," he shuddered and thrust up against her, no longer at all worried about fighting her gifts for drawing out his most intimate pleasures with a clarity that couldn't be trained in his best pets.

"Mmm ... do you have one of your pets here?" She asked him with a lusty rumble, reaching down to rub his chest and hard stomach, knowing just where his pleasure points were ... she was the closest he came, among mortals, to somebody he considered an actual lover.

"Yes," he breathed, his freshly healed body already aching to drive into her and make them both roar. He focused briefly and sent a magical whisper off to fetch his plaything here.

"Patience, lover," she crooned. "Mmm ... wait for your pet, then we'll make sure you're well sated. Can I give her my gift?" She asked with a lusty grin.

"Master, Mistress, I'm here," a Tigress in her early 20's said quietly, not looking squarely at either of them as she walked in, her fur perfectly groomed as she approached the bed and shed her long silk robe to expose her nakedness.

"Yes," he rumbled, looking up at Arba. "That would please me."

"Master? Mistress?" The Tigress asked curiously.

"You're going to be a mother, Aiyesha," Arba grinned at her. "Now, come here and I'll help you get that way," the hybrid rumbled, leaning back seductively, Dhiren's throbbing shaft standing proudly between her legs.

The young Tigress nodded submissively and crawled onto the bed, nuzzling her master's powerful abs.

"Come here, dear," Arba rumble-purred, pulling Aiyesha up and kissing her, pressing her sex against Dark Kat's member and pulling the Tigress' against the other side. "Mmm ... let's make your Master roar," she grinned.

Aiyesha quickly began to move in rhythm with Arba, already familiar with the idea and how to please her master quickly and well.

The two of them kissed, their hands on each others' breasts as they rubbed against each other and Dark Kat's thick, barbed shaft, their petals rubbing his most sensitive flesh as they put on a show for him. Arba reached down, putting a hand on Aiyesha's belly ... her palm glowed as she channeled the power of Lamashtu into the Tigress, stirring her blood.

"Ohhh," the young Tigress moaned as she felt hormones surge, her body preparing for the kittens soon to implant in her wombs.

Dhiren breathed in deeply, their mixed scent and the building heat-scent from his pet bushing his arousal higher. He began to thrust, his body eager for release between their slick, hot bodies.

"Oh yes ... that's right," Arba groaned as her clit rubbed against Dhiren's barbs. "Mmnn ... yes ... closer...." She turned them so that they were straddling his waist, letting him look at Aiyesha's back before she pushed the Tigress down, sliding forward to press his cock up and into his pet's hungry, dripping pussy, sandwiching her between their bodies.

Dhiren growled and grabbed Aiyesha's hips as he began to thrust hard and fast, no longer even trying to hold back. His claws dug into her skin as she went over the edge with him to Arba's mews of pleasure echoing in his ears.

The hybrid turned around, presenting her sex to the Tigress, who started to lap at it hungrily as Arba's own broad, soft, slightly roughened tongue washed over Aiyesha's clit and Dhiren's pounding cock. Arba was careful to pay more attention to him than her; as much as she enjoyed the taste of the fem's arousal, the lust that was pouring off of Dhiren was a far more intoxicating drug for her.

The giant tom roared again and buried himself painfully deep inside Aiyesha's body as he flooded her with his seed. Arba could only grin when he picked up again with the endurance she reveled in. She half-wished she didn't have plans for her next kit, but he would breed her whenever she wished.

Janet sighed as Ulysses paced by her seat on Khan's private jet once again. They'd left Tusandrin in a rush once word of the attacks had come through... roughly twelve hours had passed, and Feral was still cursing himself for not being there.

"You couldn't have known this was going to happen," she pointed out. "The part of the report I saw said the city was intact and both attackers sent packing."

"I know, I know," he grumbled, his tail lashing in frustration. "But I'm not retired yet. That was the biggest battle the city has ever seen and I wasn't there!"

"No, but your second in command was," she said firmly. "Ulysses, you're allowed to have a life outside of your job ... it was bad timing, yes, but it's not like you left knowing there was an attack coming!"

"I should have," he objected. "The signs were there, I just didn't see them."

"You should have seen signs of an attack that every Enforcer analyst thought would be months in coming now? Along with two others that were completely unrelated?" She pointed out incredulously. "You can't blame yourself for this, Uly ... not even the people making the attack knew everything that was going to happen!"

"With Dark Kat being one of them, don't count on it," he growled, though it wasn't at her, or even himself. "He does the impossible time and time again."

"Ulysses, if you let the fact that Dark Kat is in the city rule your life...." She trailed off with a sigh. "I'm sorry, I just can't stand you beating yourself up about this."

"It comes with the territory," he muttered.

"Sir. I am sorry to disturb you, but there is a priority call from MegaKat City for you," the Tigress stewardess came into the main cabin and offered him a cordless phone.

"Probably Felina," Janet murmured, sitting back as Ulysses sat down next to her.

"Feral speaking," Ulysses said gruffly. "Felina? What's happened."

"I'm sorry to disturb your vacation, but I need some advice," she began. "There have been three Omega attacks, all at the same time. Dark Kat got away, the bank robbers were captured and the Champion of Assassins that was after Deputy Mayor Briggs has been dealt with," she took a deep breath in the pause.

"I've heard," he said, trying to sound understanding rather than worried. "How bad was the damage?"

"Bad, but not irreparable," she assured him. "Captain Furlong stopped Dark Kat's dreadnought before it reached headquarters. We lost the equivalent of two squadrons in pilots and over fifty jets, but ground force losses were light. Civilian casualties are estimated at just shy ten thousand, but from what I saw in flyovers, I'd put at twice that."

"Lost, or wounded?" He asked her softly.

"Lost or crippled. They'll never fly again," she answered, the grief clear in her voice. "Wounded but expected to recover is another fifteen."

"How's the cleanup progressing... and how are you holding up?" He asked her, more gently than Janet had expected, given what little she could catch of Felina's end of the conversation.

"The Ghosts and a few senior officers are handling more than they should, but the city will recover," she promised. "I wish you were here. I'm out of my depth," she admitted with difficulty.

"I'll be back in just a couple of hours. We started out on one of Khan's private jets as soon as we had news and clearance," he told her with mixed emotions about the small sound of relief on the other end.

"I'm sorry, uncle," she said quietly. "I wish I had better news for you."

"Felina, you did your best," he reassured her. "I'll see how things are when we're back. Did Furlong come out of it all right?"

"Alive and healthy, yes. All right ... not really," she told him uneasily. "I don't know if he'll take leave or not, though I hope he does."

"What happened to him?" Ulysses asked, more concern in his voice than he'd intended.

"Not until you get here, uncle," she said firmly. "It is not for an unsecured line."

"I can probably guess at parts of it already," he said grimly. "I'll see you soon; get some sleep, you probably need it."

"I'm doing okay, sir. Cat-naps here and there. We still have a major mess on our hands. But I'll try until you get here."

"Good luck, Felina," he said, hanging up after she answered, then keying the intercom to the cockpit.

"If there's any way to get us into the city faster, do it," he told the pilot. "Tell anyone who complains that you're transporting the Commander in, and they can take it up with me."

"Yes sir," the Tiger's professional tone replied and they felt a noticeable increase in speed. Not so much they had been taking it slow, but the jet was now clearly pushing its limits. "Clearance just came in from Enforcer Headquarters to land on arrival and MegaKat City Air Traffic Control has acknowledged our new flight path and speed."

"Good," he nodded grimly, leaning back for the rest of the trip as his mind went over all the damage control protocols and possibilities to not think about the time it took to get back home and just how stressed Felina had to be to admit she needed the help.

"Uly," Janet's voice brought him fully to the here and now just before the jet touched down.

He stood up as soon as the jet had stopped, waiting for Janet.

"Do you want to get back to your apartment right away, or come along?" He asked her.

"If you don't mind, I'd like to stay and help," she said firmly and walked with him to the door even before it was opened.

"You're quite welcome, I just might have to ask you to wait outside the office for part of it," he warned her, giving her shoulder a squeeze before the door opened and they started down the ramp. Neither were surprised to see Felina there to greet them, or the haggard look she did a remarkable job of hiding given her relative youth.

"Commander," she saluted him, the relief in her voice hard to miss. "Welcome back."

"It's good to be back; I just wish it was under better circumstances. At ease, Lieutenant, get me up to speed."

She took a deep breath and nodded as they headed inside, several Enforcers already helping the jet's crew to prepare it for it's return flight. "First came a chopper with an anti-technology beam. Their goal was robbery. They blacked out the entire financial district and some beyond it. There were a handful of civilian casualties and we lost jets, but there were no Enforcer deaths."

"You said you'd caught them," Feral nodded. "They weren't connected to the other operations?"

"Not according to them," she shook her head and opened the door to a briefing room. "Dark Kat and the assassin may well have seen the opportunity and taken it, but it didn't seem to be planned."

"That's for the best, I'd say," he nodded, following her into the briefing room. "What about this assassin; have we caught him?"

"That's the weird one," she admitted as they found seats and she began to pull up data for them. "Pretty much everything we know is based on Captain Clawson's say-so. The Champion of Assassins was hired to kill Miss Briggs. The first attempt failed thanks to Captain Clawson and she was put in a safehouse. While Captain Furlong was out helping with the Omegas, Jake 'dealt with' the assassin. Miss Briggs backs him up that it's over, but the story is hard to believe."

"For any reason beyond it being unusual?" He asked her. "Generally speaking, things involving Captain Clawson are hard to believe."

"There is no body and no arrest," she told him. "The assassin is alive and free and no longer a threat."

"The Champion of Assassins," Feral pointed out. "There are different rules involved with them ... have you familiarized yourself with the Champion laws, and the rules they work under?"

"Yes, sir," she stiffened slightly. "I know what he did was legal under the laws in handling it champion to champion. The laws I've found do not look like anything he used."

"I'm not trying to say you didn't do your job, Felina," he told her. "I imagine that what happened is that Clawson forged an alliance with the assassin... a part of that would have involved calling off his attack on Miss Briggs. Did he say anything to suggest that?"

"He's said very little, and to be honest, I've been too occupied with more critical things than getting a detailed answer out of him," she admitted. "It's all gone down in the last twenty-four hours. Half the damage assessments are not even in yet. I was a little too pleased to have the Deputy Mayor back in her office to question it much yet."

"Understood; I can get the report from him later... or you can, if you'd rather, now that you don't have to keep everything moving. Now... about Dark Kat. Did he seem to have any sort of goal in mind, or was it just havoc?"

"I will, sir," she nodded. "He seemed to be headed for Headquarters, but it didn't take much to turn him around, so I suspect that it was more to cause havoc and take advantage of our split forces. He may well have known you were not in town as well."

"Do you think that's why he turned, or do you think its part of why he attacked?" He asked, resting his fingers together and considering what she was telling him.

"It's not why he turned," Felina said with certainty, a glance that flicked Janet's way making it clear she wasn't going to elaborate in front of the other female. "I doubt it was why he attacked, but it may have played a roll."

"Janet, would you step outside for a moment?" Ulysses asked her. "It's time for the part I told you I'd have to discuss alone."

"Of course," she nodded, getting up and stepping outside, closing the door behind her.

"Tell me about Furlong," the Commander said evenly.

"He was flying solo while Jake guarded the Deputy Mayor," Felina settled in for a short story she really hated to tell. "He broke into the dreadnought, made it to the bridge. When he saw Black Star go down along with most of the Red Dawn squad, he offered Dark Kat himself in exchange for stopping the attack. It worked. The dreadnought broke off the attack and headed into the badlands. Not long after Raven One arrived with the anti-technology device retrieved from the bank robber's chopper and shut it down. We got Furlong out, but not before Dark Kat and his creeplings had made very effective use of the time for sex."

"Sweet Bastet, what's wrong with that tom?" Feral muttered. "How's he holding up?" He asked grimly.

"I'm not entirely sure even he knows yet," she shook her head with a sigh. "He's putting on a good show that he thinks it was worth it, and I find a hard time coming up with an argument it wasn't. He saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives. He's at home with his mate now."

"I'll have to talk to him later," he murmured. "Of all the crazy... he's lucky Dark Kat didn't kill him."

"He'll be even luckier if Dark Kat doesn't make a priority of it," she shuddered. "In the chaos of our storming the bridge and the lack of power he bit off Dark Kat's penis. The lab boys are working with it now."

Feral looked at her disbelievingly, then shook his head.

"If it weren't for the situation surrounding it, I think I'd laugh," he said. "At least we'll finally have a profile on him. Do you have a casualty list?"

"Yes," she nodded and pulled it up for him. "We lost a lot of good teams."

He looked at the list, reading it, then up to her.

"It wasn't your fault, Felina," he told her softly, all too aware of the cost to her of loosing so many on her watch.

"It won't be the last time either, if I follow through with becoming Commander," she said, her eyes on the table just in front of her interlaced fingers.

He knew from experience it would be days before it really sank in. Like Chance probably was, she was still operating in the immediate situation. Her mind would shove everything but the next needed command to the background until the emergency was over and she'd slept enough to start thinking again. Sometime on her next normal shift, it would hit her, and he knew they were enough alike that it would hit her devastatingly hard.

It was at that point she would question her career choice, her orders, her ability to endure what it really meant to be a Commander.

"No, it won't be," he acknowledged truthfully. "You are strong enough to do it. I wouldn't have brought you this far if I didn't know that."

"I'll have to decide if I want to," she nodded slightly. "I ... know you usually do, but I want to make the next of kin notices."

"I understand," he nodded. "Felina... you know you can talk to me about this," he said, reaching across the table to squeeze her shoulder lightly.

"I know, uncle," she nodded before she stood. "Thank you. It'll be a few days I think before I'm ready to talk to myself, much less anyone else."

"I understand," he nodded. "Could you send Janet in before you go?" He asked her. "I've got to get caught back up, but I should tell her myself."

Felina nodded, turning to leave the office she'd been using for the last week and a half to its rightful owner.

Jake thrust the barbell up as he lay flat on his back. The weight was far higher than he normally used, but this was to work stress out rather than strengthen his body. What in Hell were they doing to Rock?

He almost ignored the phone, but thought better of it on the third ring and set the bar on its hook.

"Hello?" he asked, his breath a bit quicker than usual.

"Jake? It's Felina," she said, her voice not nearly as steady as he was sure she hoped it was. "Are you busy tonight?"

"Nope," he shook his head, though he would have cancelled just about any plans just from her tone. "Just working out some stress. Want me to come over?" he asked softly.

"Please... I need to talk to somebody, and I really don't think my uncle's the best choice right now."

"I'll be there as soon as I can," he promised. "Want me to bring anything?"

"Just you... maybe a change of clothes, if you have to be anywhere early tomorrow?" She offered.

"Not that I know of," he told her as he made short work of packing a handful of items for the night and that might help soothe her. "Try to relax. I'll be there soon."

"I'll see you soon," she said, relief clear in her voice as they both hung up and he hurried out to the car.

He wasn't sure what he thought of being the one she called, but he wasn't about to say no ... he just hoped they lightened up on Rock. This wasn't the night to be jazzed on their gift.

He pulled up into the parking garage for her apartment complex, and walked to her place. He wasn't surprised to find that the door was unlocked, or to smell her distress inside as she came to greet him.

"Thanks for coming," she said sincerely as she hugged him as soon as the door closed.

"I never turn my back on a friend," he said gently but firmly as he hugged her in return and rubbed her back. "Sit, talk to me. We'll get through this."

"I know ... I just hate feeling like this. So ... needy," she half-laughed as she sat down and he joined her. "Gods, that night was horrible ... have you talked to Chance?"

"Briefly," he nodded. "I didn't get much about the battle though. I did get most of what happened from the broadcast though. Doubting your will to be Commander?" he asked gently.

"I don't know how he can handle it," she admitted. "It's bad enough when it's the wing you're leading ... at least then you're out there with them."

"Half the time he is," he pointed out, never stopping rubbing her back. "But I know what you mean. From what I hear up there, he handles it poorly. His temper, making notices himself, leading from the front every time he can. It's how he holds it together. He doesn't always manage, you know."

"I know," she admitted, pressing against him. "I should have seen it coming, Jake... not all three, but the Dreadnought at least."

"You had a lot on your plate already, Felina," he tried to focus her attention on the big picture. "From what I got, you made all the right calls at the right time. That's really something impressive at your age."

"I still got a dozen pilots killed or crippled," she shuddered. "It doesn't make it any easier, talking to their families. Especially not when they asked why I was the one talking to them, not the Commander."

"Felina, you did not get them killed," Jake said as firmly as he could. "Most were already in the air. Responding to that threat is our duty. Every Enforcer is a volunteer. You did not order anyone to do anything they were not inclined to do on their own."

"Jake... do you think I'll be able to handle it?" She asked him seriously, turning some to look at him clearly. "Long-term?"

"If you want to, you will," he nodded before meeting her eyes. "Felina, you have the talent, the training and a significant leg up on the experience. All you lack is the level of self-confidence he has, and you know the history better than I do. He came by that the hard way, do or die way, and young. You're already in better shape to take command than he was when he had to."

"I know ... and the chance I'll have to again, for good, scares the shit out of me," she admitted, pressing back against him. "You can stay the night, right?"

"Planning on it," he kissed her cheek lightly. "Make a nice, deep nest on your bed, curl up with popcorn and a couple good movies?"

"Mmm ... garlic parmesan?" She asked him, returning the kiss and trying to sound better than she felt, though even the back of her mind admitted his presence and words did help. "I'll go find something nice and easy to watch."

"A suggestion, if you think you're anything like me," Jake offered as they stood. "Either a completely outrageous comedy or something sexy. Things that will take your mind off all things serious."

"I'll see what I can find," she said, turning to go through the movies she had while he worked in the kitchen.

Jake shivered against a chill breeze ruffling his fur and reached for a blanket that wasn't there.

The bed was hard, smelled of stone and musty places.

Light ... too dim to see for some time, but his palms told him he was in trouble before he could see the solid stone cell with no apparent windows or doors.

He felt the bed shift along the floor, heard the grinding of stone against stone, and knew he'd have to find a way out soon ... the walls were starting to close in on him.

It set off every fighting instinct he had as he called on Halikar's power to light the small space, searching with every sense at his command for an opening, or at least a weakness to breach through.

It seemed too easy when he spotted it... a door on the other side of the room, the knob just like Felina's door.

It couldn't be this simple, could it? Surely it was a trap, but it wasn't one that he couldn't survive.

He reached out, trying to be careful to avoid needles or other traps as he turned the knob.

Careful as he was, as the tumblers clicked into place he felt a prick, a thin piece of metal popping out and jabbing his fingers. It didn't seem to do anything at first ... then he felt the first waves of arousal warming his body.

"Ah, krud," he hissed as he darted through the door before the walls closed completely. "Someone has a warped sense of humor."

The next room looked quiet enough... the exit sealed by stone now, there was a locked door on the other side of a small, clear poor, and a series of holes along the bottom of the wall. As water started to pour into the room, a shark-kat mermaid rose from the pool, key between her bare breasts on a necklace, giving him an inviting smile with broad, sharp, dangerous teeth.

"Um, hi," he hoped she might be interested in something other than him as a meal.

"Hello," she grinned, swimming closer to him as the water reached his knees. "You're a handsome kat... care to join me for a swim?"

"Thank you. I really need to get through that door before the water is too deep for me to breath," he told her with an apology in his voice that was much more believable for the way his naked body was responding to her and the warm water.

"As long as you are with me, you will breath water as easily as I do," she crooned, reaching out of the water to feel his balls.

He wasn't entirely sure what made him gasp more; her touch or the prospect of breathing water. "Do you have a name?" he asked, his gaze flowing down her long red hair and full breasts, along her tightly muscled body, to where kat met shark and the slit between where her legs would be.

"Shakela," she told him, the water spilling into the room and rising above the level of the pool. She rolled to her back, displaying her attractive body and still fondling his balls. "I can tell you like me," she grinned up at him, nipping a leg lightly without breaking the skin, despite her triangular shark teeth. "And you know you're safe from me...."

She had a point. She was not a champion, she couldn't kill him for long. Neither could the water. Why was he in such a hurry, anyway?

She pulled herself up along him, kissing him deeply.

"Join me," she said more forcefully, twisting her tail to push herself against him, knocking him from his feet into the water. "I'll give you the key when you're done," she promised with a grin.

"Great pleasure for the key?" He cracked a smile and kissed her in return, not quite ready to find out if he could breathe underwater. He didn't wait for her answer before he dusted his hands along her body, waking her most primal mating desires and fanning them to a white-hot flame.

She moaned, kissing him and climbing up on top of him. She sealed her lips against his, and pressed them both under the rising water, breathing into his mouth ... then letting water flood his lungs and belly as she pulled back, rubbing her scaled tail and slit against his throbbing member.

There was the moment of panic that not even his repeated deaths could dim, then he relaxed when his body acknowledged it was still getting oxygen.

"What do you like best?" he asked, his voice sounding strange filtered through a water-filled voice box.

"Kittens," she grinned, taking his hands and swimming back down into the pool, where there was a bed of kelp, bones laying nearby... kat bones, he couldn't help but notice.

He wasn't going to become part of her collection though... he couldn't, in more ways than one.

"Are you bound to this place?" he asked as he grabbed the powerful body where her hips would be and sank into her, more than willing to indulge for now.

"Mmm!" She purred happily, kissing him as he started to pump his shaft in and out of her, the drugs coursing through his veins making him aroused enough to go at this without worrying about her unusual body. "I am, but I can let you through easily enough after this." She nipped his shoulder lightly, purring hotly as his blood started to seep into the water.

He didn't doubt that fact that it turned him on even more was incredibly hot for her, but he couldn't care. It felt good for them both and it got him out without a fight, it was the way to go.

"Ohhh," Jake couldn't help but moan, his claws kneading her ass as he worked to get them both off.

She gnawed on his shoulder, rumbling hotly as his claws poked into her scaly hide, not piercing it but certainly getting through to her. He felt her tongue on his flesh, scraping at it, his nerves alive with pain as she swallowed his rich, red blood and milked his cock with her tight, hot pussy, hungry for his seed.

"Love this passion," he moaned as his balls tightened and his thrusts became more erratic, more forceful.

"Enough to mate more before you go?" she crooned, her face tightening in her own spiraling pleasure. Her tail curled up between his legs so he could wrap his legs around it and thrust all the harder.

The pain of the sandpapery skin on her shark half rubbing against his balls broke what little resistance he had left and he cried out in pain-filled ecstasy.

She sang out, the sound echoing through the water as she came around him, milking his cock throughout his orgasm until his consciousness began to wane, his system overloaded.

Jake opened his eyes slowly, his body still tingling from the painful pleasure of mating a shark-mermaid and floating in the warm water he could still breath. The light was dim, murky, but he could see Shakela off to one side of the pool, straining to expel what looked for all the world like packages.

She finished, leaving the small brown 'packages' attached to the lip of her pool, and turned back towards him with a grin.

"You're awake again!" She observed cheerfully. "Mmm ... you're quite the stud," she purred, swimming over towards him. "I normally don't get half that many eggs from a tom."

"Eggs?" he looked between her and the objects in confusion.

"Of course," she chuckled, kissing him. "Mmm... you didn't think I'd get pregnant like one of your fems, did you? This is much easier... and it means I'm good for another litter any time."

"Where do the little ones go when they hatch?" he asked, not yet willing to be queasy about the surprise.

"Oh, most of them go into their brothers and sisters," she chuckled. "I get a couple myself... others swim out through the holes and find their way to the open water somewhere."

"Isn't that a waste of energy?" he asked, somewhere between curious and unsettled. He knew it was common among fish, but still ... they were his blood too.

"What? Eating the ones who can't get away? It's their own fault," she shrugged, then grinned wickedly. "Sort of like my mates."

"Are you reneging on our deal?" he half growled, more in annoyance than anything.

"Of course not," she said, taking off the key and handing it over to him. "Just wondering if you're up for another round before you run off."

Jake hesitated, glancing at the egg packets, then at her. She wanted kittens, she wasn't a bad mother by her racial standards; some of them did survive. Duty to Bastet demanded he mate her again to spread his seed and Her influence through it.

"I think so," he secured the key by its chain around his wrist and reached forward to caress the slit of her sex.

"Good," she purred, kissing him again and pressing up against him, stroking his cock, her claws teasing him to hardness. "You're the best sire I've ever met... you'll have strong kits."

"It is Bastet's gift," he moaned into her mouth, his hands running down her sides, then one slid up to fondle her breasts while one stayed at her slit. He slid his fingers inside her, working her arousal as she worked him with claws and soft fur. "I am one of her chosen."

"A good point... a born sire who enjoys playing rough? A pity you have to leave," she moaned softly into his ear, stroking his cock and moving down to nip at his neck.

"There are times I regret having to leave a lover as well," he licked the edge of her ear as he continued to finger her, sliding them in and out until she began to quiver.

"Fuck me, Jake," she moaned deeply, thrusting her hips towards him. "Give me what I need!"

He grinned and removed his fingers, replacing them with his cock with an easy thrust and deep moan. "Your pussy is so good."

"It better be," she moaned, squeezing down around him. "Mmm ... lots of practice, and just rough enough for you to like it," she grinned, kissing him and rubbing her scales against him firmly.

"Oh yes," Jake hissed, his pleasure already spiraling out of control. "Gods I'll miss you."

"You don't have to leave you know," she rumbled, twisting her tail down between his legs to rub against his balls. "You can stay here forever."

"I have duties," he moaned. "A mate. A partner."

"I'm all your duties in one," she rumbled, nipping his shoulder roughly. "Stay with me... breed... and feed," she half-growled as she nipped again, this time biting hard enough to get his attention.

"I can't," he insisted without breaking his thrusting rhythm.

"You're wrong," she moaned, coming hard around him, biting down on his shoulder, deep into the meat of it, her jaw shifting to saw into his muscle. It was more than enough to make him come with a scream of agony-filled ecstasy.

"Enough bite," Jake gasped. While nowhere near his threshold, he knew it could be temporarily crippling if she went much further.

She ignored him, closing her jaw, her razor-sharp teeth meeting and tearing away a piece of his flesh as she sank her claws into his ass with a low, lusty, hungry growl.

"Bite again, and you'll never have kittens again," he warned with flattened ears as he drew on the power to make the threat real if he needed to.

She shrank away from him, even as she swallowed the meat she'd bitten away and watched in fascination as the wound closed and quickly healed.

"Now, keep your teeth to yourself and you can have another litter by me," he said in an offer and warning.

"You enjoy the pain, and it wouldn't last," she pointed out, sounding almost hurt.

"Yes, I enjoy the pain," he agreed as he pulled out of her in annoyance. "I asked you to stop."

"I will," she sighed irritably. "You would have enjoyed it," she pointed out, only to moan softly when he came close and sank into her again. The pace he set was fast and strong, pushing her to an orgasm well before he was ready and fucked her all the way through her songs.

She didn't bite, but once she was done she licked and nuzzled his wound, working her sex around him, trying to share their next orgasm, feeling his barbs working the insides of her body.

"You didn't mind that much, apparently," she groaned, already close again when she felt his balls twitching against her body.

"I only minded that you didn't stop when I asked you to," he groaned and grabbed her ass tightly, giving him a more stable body to thrust into as he took them both over the edge again.

Her song and his water-muffled bellow echoed through the water as he filled her again. When he was done, she pulled off of him, licking his seed from his shaft.

"Maybe come back later," she purred, returning to her kelp-bed.

"Maybe I will," he smiled and swam over to the door. Before he turned the key to open it, he prepared for the potentially unpleasant sensation of emptying his lungs of water when her magic wore off.

The water poured out of the room, and erupted into steam as he was swept into a sweltering-hot room, spilled onto a red-hot metal floor, vomiting up the water filling his lungs and belly.

He felt the heat on his palms, his fur beginning to singe as his first real breath boiled in his lungs. His eyes poured out tears to protect his vision long enough to find the way out.

He hoped he was right as he started to crawl, his pads burning as he made his way across the floor, unable to see through the thickening clouds of steam, feeling like every breath was drowning him as he made his way towards what he prayed was the exit.

With every inch and every pain his body betrayed him. His cock remained hard, his balls pulsing, sending shivers up his spine that generated moans that had nothing to do with the punishment his body was taking.

His lungs and throat felt parched at the same time he couldn't breathe for the water in the air; he could feel the skin scalding, hardening, tightening inside him as he made his way towards the heavy cloth covering of the door.

Before he threw himself forward through it, his balls tightened against his body, spraying his seed against the floor. It sizzled and spat as it hit the hot metal, and he tossed himself through the exit, desperate for a breath of real, dry air.

He felt only one breath before darkness claimed him. Biting cold, as dry as the Antarctic, froze his flesh from his lungs out and his skin in before he could comprehend it enough to curse it, much less fight it.

Awareness came with a sob. Then a snarled curse escaped his painful flesh as it began to thaw. What sick sort of bastard had built this place? From water to fire to ice... what was next?

As he began to regain his awareness, he realized that something was wrong. The blood was rushing to his head, and he was dangling upside down, something grunting nearby.

It was hard, but he focused until the shaggy white-furred biped twice the size of a large Tiger came into view. He knew he knew the name of this supposedly mythical beast, but he wasn't coming up with it at the moment.

It seemed to be stoking a fire... he had a feeling he was on the menu.

What was up with creatures around here wanting to eat him?

This one wouldn't be nearly as reasonable as the last, either, he was sure.

He turned his focus onto what was holding him upside down. Ice. More damn ice. He focused and called on Halikar's fire to free himself with little care for what else got hit as the flames flared around him.

The creature turned with a startled roar as he slid out of the ice and began to hall. It brought up a clawed hand to swing at Jake, a paw easily the size of his head with claws that had to be four-inches long. It was like a mammoth blend of ape and bear, and very pissed off with him for being alive.

Freefall turned to awkward flight as Jake moved back from his attacker, not particularly interested in a fight, but pissed off enough by now to go for it easily.

The monster rushed him, swinging again and swatting him back. His leg raked along a spike of ice, the sharp tip biting into his leg.

"That does it," Jake snarled and lashed out in frustrated anger with all the fire at his command, fueled by his emotions. There was a hideous roar, and the creature fell to the ground, immolated by Halikar's flame. Charred bone and meat was all that was left by the time the flames finally flickered out, ice re-freezing around the corpse, crystal clear and letting Jake see his handiwork.

It was enough to churn his stomach as he hovered there, staring at it for a long moment.

With a shudder he turned towards the light he hoped meant an entrance to this cavern. Even with nearly all his attention on flying, it was awkward and slow at best. Faster than walking, but far from Halikar's grace.

He found the entrance... and found his way into an arctic wasteland, with nothing for miles and miles around him.

"Wonderful," he muttered as he settled on his feet on a high ice ledge, his body all but immune to the simple cold of this place. He searched the sky, sighting the sun, moon and the handful of planets and stars visible before working out roughly where he should be if he was still on Aristal.

With a deep breath and leap of faith, he took to the air again, aiming as best he could for where civilization should be.

The farther he flew, the more the wind picked up, slowing him to a crawl and whipping the snow up into a blinding white-out. It melted against Halikar's flames, steaming around him and compounding the difficulty of seeing through the growing storm.

Jake shook his head sharply, throwing himself off his flight path in an effort to keep his focus.

"Damnit, damnit, damnit!" he snarled to himself as he struggled to regain altitude against a sharp, heavy wind that blasted almost straight down on top of him. He felt himself grunt on impact with the snow, but not much else.

It only took a few minutes before the cold sank in, and he faded away for the second time in this frozen Hell.

When he finally came to, he smelled something cooking, felt his body thawing out ... and felt a fire nearby, something that smelled good over the fire.

"Are you all right?" A gentle voice asked him.

He would have jumped if he had enough muscle control. As it stood, he only managed to shifted his head enough to look at the voice and focused until the brown tabby caring for him came into focus. She was attractive ... well-rounded, with all the signs of a hard life up here. He wouldn't be surprised to find out that the brown tabby had built the one-room sod hut they were in.

"Will be," he managed to mumble as his brain soaked in the reality that the home may be primitive, but it was extremely effective against the biting cold and winds he could hear howling outside.

"Are you up to eating something?" She asked him, ladling out some thin soup into a wooden bowl.

"I'll try," he said as he struggled to sit up enough on the narrow cot to do so. He felt soft furs slid down, but the room was still warm.

"Here you go... be careful," she told him, giving him the bowl. "Don't drink it too quickly; I'm surprised you're awake already, so don't rush too much."

"Yes, ma'am," he murmured and lifted the smooth bowl to his mouth for a small sip of the broth-based soup. It brought a welcome warmth to his core, thawing him from the inside out.

"Good," she smiled in relief when he drank it. "You must be doing better now... what were you doing out there?"

"Trying to get out of out there," he said with a crack of a grin. "Somebody's been teleporting me all over the place, most of them decidedly unpleasant."

"Well, I hope that you don't blame me," she chuckled slightly. "I'd like to think I've got a fairly pleasant place here. Who are you?"

"You do, but out there is nasty when you aren't prepared for it in the least," he chuckled ruefully before sipping more of the thin soup. "I'm Jake Clawson."

"Good to meet you. Sondra Evine, though nobody calls me that these days," she smiled, brushing his hair back from his face. "It looked like you'd been through Hell."

"Drowned, cooked, then frozen," he muttered, though he gave her a smile. "What do you like to be called?"

"Oh, Sondra's fine," she chuckled, returning his smile. "There's just not much of anybody else out here. I left the city and most of civilization behind years ago... lucky I can remember my name some days," she admitted.

"Is that how you want it?" he asked, finding it more than slightly appealing on many levels still.

"More or less," she said, taking a bowl of soup for herself. "I wanted to come out here ... not always so sure about being the only one, but most days it's not too bad. Just me and my dogs ... they're outside," she added. "Do a pretty good job of keeping the animals away."

"Even the big ones?" he tried not to be surprised.

"They're not used to dogs, and if they do come too close it's not that hard to scare them off," she explained. "Besides, the biggest animals around here I don't mind. It's mostly the yersing and the bears that I have to watch for, and the bears are almost pathological about steering clear of the dogs."

"How common are yersing?" he asked between sips of broth.

"Not too common... they get bolder towards the end of winter, but I usually only see one or two every year. I think one of them's the same one year in and year out... he's stubborn, and doesn't particularly mind the dogs, but I've got some traps out in case he ever comes too close."

"I think I may have killed that one," he murmured, his face towards the soup. "Tried to make a meal of me. I kind of object to the idea."

"I don't blame you," she murmured. "If you did take that one out, you did me a favor... he's what took that chunk out of your arm?" She guessed with a nod towards his shoulder, still healing from before.

He glanced at it, having long forgotten about the injury. "No, that was a kat-mershark a couple stops ago."

"Ouch," she winced. "You have not had any luck lately, have you?" She sighed, pulling out a medical kit and looking over the wound carefully.

"Not much," he chuckled ruefully. "Keep your supplies. I'll heal quickly enough."

"You're missing a chunk of your arm," she pointed out dubiously. "That's a Hell of a lot to heal from."

"I'm a champion, Sondra," he told her. "Healing is something I'm very good at."

"I didn't know you're a Champion ... I suppose that explains you being sent all over creation a bit better though," she mused. "You have any way to get back to where you're trying to go?"

"Given so far 'where I'm trying to go' has pretty much just been out of the last trap I was in, I'm not all that worried about getting there now," he said as he relaxed in the cot. "I'll be found when I'm needed somewhere."

"That works for me too... I can live with a little company for a while," she smiled, kissing his forehead lightly. "So, anybody waiting for you at home?"

"Eventually," he murmured, looking up at her before finishing the soup with a contented sound at the warmth it instilled in him. "He probably won't be home for weeks yet, though."

"I'll just have to make sure that you're sent back whole then," she smiled and reached out to stroke his hair, then his ears. "Maybe you'll be able to come out here during the summer some time. It looks like you're right about the healing," she observed, noticing that his shoulder was already better healed than the first time she looked at it.

"Perhaps," he agreed with a soft purr. "A retreat far away from people is a welcome thing after a crisis."

"I imagine it would be... me, I just liked the idea of not being around the crises all the time," she chuckled. "It's a lot quieter out here. If you don't mind cold and dark half the year, it's a good way to avoid people. Of course, you seem more like the tropical type."

"I am, and I draw the crisis to me," he admitted. "It's part of my fate to lead an interesting life."

"Teleporting all over Aristal certainly counts," she mused. "Well, consider me your island of boring, if that helps," she chuckled. "Are you warm enough?"

"Yes, thank you," he smiled and settled back down on the cot with a soft sigh. "A little boredom would be nice for a while."

Jake murmured, not quite awake as he stroked the warm body in his arms. Her scent was comfort, the taste of her fur was safety, the feel of her swelling belly was the future.

It was good to be alive.

"Good morning," Sondra purred softly as Jake's hands caressed the curve of her belly, up to her sensitive breasts, cupping and stroking them as he woke more fully. Her own hands wandered back to his hips, and she hugged him awkwardly against her, her tail flicking lightly against his legs as his morning wood pressed into her back. "Sleep well?"

"Very well," he purred, nuzzling her neck. He breathed deeply of her scent, every small sound his fingers drew from her an intense spike of arousal. "Still enjoying fooling around in the mornings?"

"Good," she purred lazily, rubbing more intentionally against his shaft. "Mmm ... it makes the days go so much easier."

"That it does," he purred, sliding a hand across her belly to fondle her sex lightly.

Sondra inhaled sharply, her scent quickly responding to her mate's touch. She lifted her leg, moving it back over his hips and pulling him up closer, giving him free access to her sex.

"Take me," she whimpered as his fingers worked her clit. "Let our kittens know who their father is."

"As often as you desire," he moaned as he pressed into her with a smooth, slow thrust while his fingers pressed her clit down towards his cock.

"Gods yes," she hissed lowly, tightening her body around him. She knew exactly how to work his cock with her body, the best ways to touch him. Her hands glided along his legs, sending pleasant shivers through his body as he started to thrust up into her fertile sex, his free hand stroking her gravid belly as she moaned happily at his attentions.

He thrust slowly and evenly, drawing their pleasure out to a gradual building rather than the fast, hard explosions of her last heat. By the time they had shifted so she was resting on her forearms with her knees spread he was pressed against her back with her scruff in his jaws and the pace picked up.

She rowled loudly, ferally, pressing up into him, reaching up to wrap an arm around his shoulders and back.

"Sweet Bastet!" She moaned, her body trembling on the edge of an orgasm. "Please, Jake, with me!" She whimpered softly.

"Always, Son," he moaned around her scruff. His hips began to jerk as his balls pulled up. "Always," he promised, one hand fondling her breast while the other worked her clit.

She cried out, her body tightening around him as the first spurts of his seed poured into her hungry sex, her body spasming around him and drawing every drop of his essence down into her body, deep into her sex where their kits were growing.

"Mmm," he nuzzled her as they gradually came down. "I don't think I'll ever tire of this," he murmured against her fur.

"I know I won't," she purred throatily, snuggling back against him. "Mmm... going to have to make the place a bit larger, when the thaw comes," she mused, then moaned as he slid out and encouraged her to roll to her back before sinking into her sex again.

"It will be worth the work," he groaned as their pubes pressed against each other.

"So worth it," she moaned, pulling him down for a kiss, savoring the feel of his body pressed against her heavy belly. "Love you so much, Jake."

"I love you too, and our kittens," he panted, working their bodies together to send her pleasure spiraling out of control again. "Such a simple life."

"Oooh... just one thing that'd make it better," she agreed, kissing him hungrily. "Besides our kits, of course," she added with a low purr.

"Having a second father to them here," he purred, his thrusts even and practiced as he pushed them towards another peak before breakfast. "I miss him."

"I'd love to meet him," she moaned, bearing down, tightening her sex around him as he pulled out, his shaft rubbing along her g-spot. She pressed up into him, rowling lustily as she came again, milking his cock with her pussy as he let go and poured his seed into her body again.

They both cried out with each orgasmic thrust, the mutual pleasure driving them both higher until Jake roared and slammed his hips against her pelvis, locking them together as he cried, panted and quivered above her.

She clung to him desperately, her entire body trembling with pleasure as she almost seemed to try and become a part of him, their bodies molded together in pleasure and emotion that went far beyond the physical release.

"You are incredible, Son," Jake kissed her as he caught his breath. "Only Rock's been able to make me feel like this before you."

"It's love," she purred, snuggling him close to her, murring softly as he rested his head against her swelling breasts. "Mmm... I can't wait to have you both up here. Just the three of us, our kittens, and living in peace together."

"You remember there will be times I am called away," he said softly, openly regretting it. "Likely Rock as well."

"I know," she murmured, kissing him tenderly. "But there'll be a time when it's all over... when the three of us can just find somewhere quiet, and stay away from the rest of the world, let the insanity all go away." She sighed deeply, snuggling against him. "I love you, Jake."

"Love you, and the idea of retiring," he nuzzled her affectionately. "Breakfast? I probably should go hunting today too."

"Mmm ... I'll get breakfast and some food for you to take with you," Sondra murmured, kissing him again. "Don't forget to check the traps first; no reason to go hunting if we've already got what we need."

"I will," he promised with a chuckle and kissed her affectionately as he helped her up. With only a couple months showing she hardly needed the help, but he liked to, and she didn't object.

"I just don't want you spending too much time away," she purred as she started to make breakfast. "I think supermarkets are the one thing I miss about the city... them, and indoor plumbing," she admitted sheepishly.

"I thought I'd miss the technology, but I'm finding I still love how quiet it is out here," he purred as he came up behind her and slid his arms around her before kissing her neck. "The only thing I'm really missing is bathing. If you don't mind, I want to try and fix the no hot water situation."

"You'll want to wait until the thaw, but if you can figure it out go right ahead ... it does get a little heady around here sometimes," she admitted with a sheepish grin. "I didn't have that problem until you moved in," she added with a sly wink.

"I dare you to tell me you'd rather it was the way it was," he grinned back and nuzzled her. "You could always tell me no."

"Mmm ... I'd have to lie," she purred, pressing back against him. "I don't mind, though I think the dogs worry about us sometimes."

"I think they're jealous of us, myself," he chuckled and speared a chunk of sausage from the warming stew. "That and they don't get to pull the sled as often as they used to."

"Which only means they have less reason to be jealous," Sondra winked, swatting his hand in a mild rebuke. "They've had more time to play with each other in the past few months than they have in ages."

"Or hunt on their own," he purred, rubbing her belly. "Just be ready for me when I get back. You know what hunting does to my blood."

"I'll be ready for you," she grinned, dishing out a bowl of stew. "Just take care of yourself, and the dogs. Don't want to have to replace either of you... and replacing the dogs would be tough," she teased him.

"It will take nearly a year to train the new pups to run," he chuckled and took the bowl. Happy to eat, looking forward to getting out so he could really enjoy coming home.

Jake shivered against the cold despite the parka he was wearing and months to get acclimatized to the chill and high altitude. The small, low tent was set up, he and the dogs each fed their rations and they were settled in for the night. He did one last check on his makeshift parameter alarms and crawled into the tight space that would soon warm from his body heat.

His second night out, the weather was starting to get worse. The first day had been fine, but there was a snowfront moving in ... he just hoped it wasn't going to turn into a blizzard before he got home. A couple rabbits from the traps weren't going to make enough to last them through a late-season blizzard.

He closed his eyes, conserving his energy for the morning. He'd only had to stop an hour early ... with some luck, he'd dig out in the morning and be able to move on without delay and the traps would be full enough to eat well. His kittens needed the nourishment.

Sleep came easily, and like with Rock and Sondra, was all but dreamless until a flurry of upset barking exploded outside.

He hurried out through the snow that had covered his shelter, erupting out of it. The dogs were all up, barking and snarling....

Four of them were, at any rate. Sasha, his lead dog, was missing, spots of blood on the snow amid large, scaly footprints that were slowly filling in. If he hadn't heard them barking, all he'd have known in the morning was that Sasha had disappeared.

"Follow," he snapped an order he knew they would obey and took off after the trail as quickly as he could. Any beast that took one dog like this would be back until all of them were dead.

And then Sondra'd be the one who was dead, stranded at the cabin until the thaw... if she lasted that long. She couldn't risk coming out on a hunting trip while she was pregnant... the fact that he could take over hunting was the only reason they'd risked a litter that wouldn't be born until early in the summer.

The side of him that was faithful to Bastet said he should return, take care of his mate and kittens ... but Halikar's influence countered it. Anything that would attack the dogs out here would attack them at the hut, and then it would be close enough that it might not stop at the dogs.

He hurried off into the darkness, following the footprints, occasionally a tail-mark ... they seemed disturbingly familiar, but he couldn't place them just now. All he was sure of was that they weren't of any animal common to the area, including the yersing.

The howling barks of his companions helped drive him on. Even when he lost the trail, they hadn't. They could smell their leader and her killer, and were more than eager to follow his command to hunt.

They bayed as they came up on something, and Jake made his way through the snow to them ... Sasha was there, dead, throat and guts ripped out.

Before he had a chance to register that the killer, obviously, wasn't here, he heard something swooping down with a keening cry. He ducked down, narrowly missing long, curved claws that cut into Pratja and Peter, carrying off the two malamutes with barely a yelp of protest as they bled out, their guts spilled in the snow in front of Jake.

"Oh crud," he hissed as he grabbed the Blondie and Half's collars. "Heel," he hissed quietly at them, silencing both dogs mid-bark as he turned tail and bolted along their trail, back to the relative safety of his camp.

He'd have to pull them into the shelter with him... have to get clear somehow, keep them all safe until he could make it back to the cabin and really secure it.

He'd recognized it now ... it was the Demon, or one of his underlings at least.

It was bold, to be this blatant in attacking him. Not good. Not good at all.

The rest of the night was miserable... it was cold and he was wired and not even the warm, furry presence of the Blondie and Half helped comfort him any. Once everything had set in... he had to admit that he was scared. He had to consider that the Demon would know about the cabin and Sondra... might even know about the kits on the way.

What was it going to do to them, if he didn't get back quickly enough?

He spent most of the next day trying to get back, but it was slow going. He had to stop to rest the dogs more often, since they were doing more than twice the work they had before, and neither of the two half-breeds had the stamina the straight malamutes had had. He cut off about an hour before night, grateful that the days were getting longer this close to the summer thaw. He used the time he had to set up some traps and alarms around the camp, then huddled down again with the two dogs to wait out the night.

He woke up to a frightened yelp from Blondie, Half snarling, and something outside the shelter roaring with pain.

He didn't even think as he grabbed the primitive hunting rifle and charged outside. He pulled the trigger the instant he recognized the thing at the camp's perimeter wasn't a Kat. It was two shots later before his brain fully processed that he was firing on the same kind of creature that had killed the three dogs.

Probably the same one. It had hit one of his traps, and caught an ice-spike to the leg. It was enough of a distraction that he was able to shoot it, bullets ripping through a thick body, spilling black bile and blood onto the snow. With a shriek, it flew off.

"Heel," he called the dogs back to him as they started to rush after the beast. "At least it can be hurt," he muttered and turned to resetting the trap with a slightly different location on the trigger line.

With a sigh he crawled into the tent with both dogs and hugged them close. There wasn't any point to trying to sleep for the hours left before dawn, but he could try and relax, reduce his metabolism to conserve the food they had.

Jake nearly cried in relief to see the thin trail of smoke rising from Sondra's cabin two days later. Each night the demon had attacked and been driven off, but now he was alone, the sled long abandoned when only Half had been left as he struggled to make it home before it became the target instead of him.

He heard a keening cry, and his blood ran cold. The Demon was out there, flying around above the cabin ... in the daylight, at that. It had never done that before. It started towards the cabin, where Sondra and his entire life were entirely vulnerable.

He summoned up powers that came with great difficulty here and launched into the air, desperate to make it to the demon before the demon made it to the cabin.

It was faster than him though... it reached the cabin, but kept on going up the mountains, passing it by.

After all these attacks, why skip the cabin ... had it already taken her? Had ...

His heart stopped at the monster screamed at the mountain directly up the pass the cabin was in and the snow began to tremble.

He rushed for the cabin, desperate to try and get Sondra out before the avalanche hit. He barely reached the door when the rocks and ice slammed into the back wall. The last thing he heard before the cabin crashed on top of him was Sondra's scream.

Breath came with difficulty, but it came. Sight was mere darkness. Silence was nearly complete beyond a tiny drop of water somewhere far away. All he could smell was musky. The floor under him was stone, cold but not icy.

He finally found a full breath and struggled to his feet, checking himself out as he moved. His clothing was the winter leathers and furs he had been wearing. Physically, he was fine. Mentally, it was all he could do to focus on the here and now and not think about Sondra and their kits.

If he was safe, there was a good chance that they were too, after all ... whoever was leading him on like this would probably want the bait they'd serve as.

He started to inspect the room, and quickly found another locked door. At least the walls weren't closing in on him now. With only touch to go on he began to pick the lock. The sharp curve of a claw made short work of it and he pushed the door open with a slow creak.

It opened into another locked room, no door visible. As he slowly walked into the tiled room, they slipped and he hit the ground hard as they moved beneath him, dropping him onto bare stone.

And the door behind him disappeared.

He got to his feet and studied the tiled floor, the blank walls and ceiling, and struggled to place what the hell it reminded him of. He knew this, knew the answer. He was sure of it. But what, and what was the point of those moving tiles?

He got back down onto his knees, looking at the tiles carefully. They were grouped in sets of 4-5 tiles each... different shapes....

It was almost like some sort of game, everything fitting together except for one tile, one bare patch of stone.

He remembered something he'd played with years ago, a cheap little game... slide all the panels into place and make a picture.

He also remembered finally taking the damned thing apart to put it back together right, when he'd gotten irritated running through all the possibilities.

"Great," he muttered. "And this time I don't even know the picture beforehand."

With a deep sigh to center himself as best he could he focused a much sharper, much more experienced mind on the task at hand. This time he at least knew the theory for completing the puzzle without taking it apart.

First thing: figure out the picture.

He made his way around the room carefully, considering the various tiles of different colors, mentally running through the ways they could possibly go together. He had to assume that they formed a contiguous pattern, they seemed like they were supposed to line up. They all came together somehow, and there were only so many patterns....

It took him about ten minutes to figure it out, and when he did he almost wished he hadn't. The Demon's symbol.

"Ah, crud," he flattened his ears in real distress, his mind scrambling to put together just what kind of trouble he was in.

"Focus, Clawson. Focus." He growled to himself as he set to trying to work his way through putting together the picture he needed to. Whatever it would do, it was better than dying of thirst in here.

At least it'd be faster.

It took him the better part of two hours, mapping out the pieces in his head, figuring out how they would move and all fit together, but he finally managed it. Just before sliding the last piece into place, he braced himself for whatever might come of it....

And was somewhere between relieved and completely freaked out when all that happened was a door appearing on the side of the room by the 'blank' stone square that was left.

With an uneasy feeling he stepped into another room with no exits and began to search for the key to it.

Jake put a fist through the wall six rooms later, his frustration pushed past his limit as he turned to brute force to get out. The wall shattered under his assault, allowing him a look at a metal room with no doors other than the one he had just uncovered.

He was about to turn to take down a different wall when the rumble of an earthquake heralded a cave-in of the stone room he was standing in.

He jumped into the metal room, swearing loudly as the exit was sealed off. Trapped again... no big surprise. The last six rooms had gone a lot like this.

This one just didn't have any clear way out... not even something like the tiles. He could see that the metal panels weren't bolted together, they could move ... but they were on a much larger scale and situated around the edges of the wall.

With a grumble he stalked around the edge of the room, taking in each panel as he passed it, nudging several to see if they moved easily.

None of them moved easily ... but as he made his way around, and his weight shifted from the entrance, he felt an entire quarter of the room begin to shift and roll away from the balanced point it had been at. He scrambled towards the door, only to see the sparkle of water beyond it.

He grabbed hold of the frame and studied the reservoir below him, one that had no obvious exit.

Wonderful... the room twisted, at least in parts, and if you slipped out of it, you risked drowning.

On the other hand... it meant he probably did have to twist the room in order to get a door he could actually use to get out.

He held on near the door, sensing the movement of the room as it slowed and settled into a new center of balance.

This part of the door was in the floor now... the rest of it was still 'behind' him. It looked like he'd have to rotate it over to the opposite wall... not too hard to figure out, but the balance of it would be a pain, especially getting all four parts of the door across. Maybe he could get away with only getting part of it cleared.

He focused on the memories of how the room had moved when he had and turned it over to the section of his brain dedicated to aerial maneuvers.

With a steady look around the room he selected the next segment to get into place and moved.

He was eventually able to line it up ... and after he did, he had to leap to the door in order to get at it without shifting the room out of place again. Clinging to the door, he managed to get it open, swinging it in and crawling through, around the wooden barrier. His claws were killing him when he finally got out and into the next room.

After a moment to catch his breath and work past the pain, he took in his surroundings and scowled.

There was a row of daggers along the floor, a longer row of swords exactly above it. Each wall along the edge was lined with blades ... and the door was right there on the other side.

With a niggling feeling that it wasn't the right choice, he bolted for the door, ready to shift his movement when something happened.

He made it about ten feet into the twenty-foot room when the wall on his side began to fall towards him. He leaped over the row of daggers to the safe side... and when he hit the floor. that wall fell next, collapsing on top of him. He gasped sharply as he felt half a dozen blades pierce his body, stabbing through his lungs, his back, his legs. Agony sliced through him as he coughed up blood, the life ebbing out of him.

How was he supposed to have gotten through, if both sides were trapped?

"By walking down the middle, stupid," a taunting voice chided him as the pain flared back up along with the consciousness of being revived.

He tried to move, only to feel that his legs still had the long, sharp blades through them.

"I thought you'd need the lesson driven home," the voice taunted. "Of course, I could take them out of you ... for a price."

Before answering, he tried to shift his upper body enough to look at the damage, assess it and his ability to undo it himself.

It would be agonizing, at the very least... his legs were impaled, a sharp blade through each. If he removed them, the bones would knit, but he'd have to pull them out by hand... and that meant running a solid six inches of steel back out of his body. Worse, they seemed to have only cut part-way through the nerves there.

"Remove them without the pain and damage that taking them out myself would involve?" he finally turned his head to look at the smoke-like, vaguely Kat-like form hovering nearby.

"Of course... though that'll cost you more," the voice almost teased, floating back by the blades, literally ghosting over them. The blades seemed to chill slightly, though Jake wasn't sure if it hurt any less or not.

"How much?" Jake asked, glad he was with it enough to find out before this creature actually did it.

"I want to ride you," the spirit told him. "I want out of here."

Jake took a moment to focus past the pain in his lower body and on just how vague that demand was.

"You'll leave me once we are safely in a temple?" he asked.

"Just as soon as I'm able... believe me, I have no desire to be with you any longer than I must," the spirit reassured him. "Frankly, I'd rather not spend months stuck in some shack."

"Hu?" Jake blinked at it, debating the wisdom of this and going over what little he knew about spirits without a body. "All right, deal. You help me get out, I'll help you get out."

"Very well," the smoke agreed. It touched the blades, and they seemed to turn to smoke, passing through Jake's body.

He sighed in relief as his body healed, then struggled to his feet and looked around the room. "So how do we get out of this one?"

"Oh, this room?" The spirit chuckled as it faded into Jake's body. "I'll have to let you work on that one on your own for a while," it said. The room was perfectly round ... there didn't even seem to be a door into it. There was a sign on one side, seemingly printed in cursive on an oval panel of stone in the wall.

"This door will only open with a corner," it said.

"With a corner?" he glared at the sign as he worked out the possible meanings. None were easy, but the hardest part was working out what to try first.

"Whatever you try, you'll need to find a corner in here somewhere," the spirit offered smugly.

Jake shrugged and shifted up free his groin from his pants. His penis slid out easily and remained soft as he peed a triangle in front of the sign. Unfortunately, the liquid proved far too... well... liquid for that to work. It flowed towards the bottom of the room, not leaving a real corner anywhere.

It did give him an idea though. He took off his coat and arranged it in a careful L.

Still, nothing happened.

"You'll never get a proper corner out of these sort of weak materials," it taunted from inside his head. "Pathetic."

Jake growled at it, but changed tactics anyway and called on the more destructive gifts from both his patrons to cleave a chunk of stone from the perfectly circular walls.

The sign pulled back, leaving a small opening for Jake to crawl out through. Apparently the ragged edges left behind were enough. It was annoyingly tight, but the passage at least lead somewhere. Hopefully that somewhere was out of this mad maze.

He walked down a short corridor, then stopped at a chasm in the floor. There was a rope about halfway across it, and a platform leading to a door on the other side.

It looked simple enough. It was all the reason Jake needed to not trust the setup in the least. He focused inward and called on Halikar's wings to carry him across to the platform.

He studied the door carefully. It was old, sturdy and locked. Again, it seemed too easy, but he knelt to pick the lock anyway.

He heard a tumbler click into place ... and then something further back click, the entire door rocketing out at him on a spring, hurling him back towards the chasm!

He hit the rope, and felt tiny barbs inside it start digging into his flesh as he slammed into the stone edge on the other side of the chasm. He started to fall, the barbs ripping up his back as he slid down, swinging back towards the opposite wall as the rope and barbed metal cable pushed him towards the middle of the chasm again.

Despite his struggle to call on Halikar's wings to stop the decent, they caught him with only enough time to reduce his momentum when he hit the long spikes at the bottom.

He felt one slam through his skull, and everything went black.

When he came to again, it was with something cool and tight around his cock, held up by a spike through his pelvis. His head was in a pair of strong hands, and a long, thick cock slid into his mouth before he was fully conscious.

"Dead twice in three rooms," the taunting voice groaned. "At least this time you died so I can enjoy it!"

He growled against the intrusion in his mouth, his teeth making a very clear threat against it before he even processed what was going on.

"You don't play along, you can get yourself off these spikes and up to the platform," shi pointed out playfully. "I told you I wanted to ride you... mmm... and you're a very nice ride!"

It was enough to make him relent and turn to feel the pain as the sexual pleasure he knew it could me. He moaned around hir cock as sensation began to kick in. His hips moved of their own accord to fuck hir female sex, though movement was severely restricted by the spikes running through him.

If he let himself enjoy it, it was a deliciously twisted sort of pain and pleasure ... he knew he should be dying again, but somehow, he wasn't. Instead, he was able to suckle the ghostly cock in his mouth, the pussy around his cock rippling and working him skillfully, making odd sensations run through his body.

Soon the tenor of his pleasured moans changed, warning hir he was close to the point of no holding back. Bloody and torn, his arms still came up to grab hir hips as he began to thrust into hir hard.

His blood oozed out around the spikes, and shi moaned, pumping a thin, smoking sort of seed into his mouth as shi came around his dripping cock. His own seed arched through hir body to splatter his face, dripping into his eyes and nose as blood loss began to catch up with him, but not enough to make him black out again.

"Mmm... want back up there now, stud, or want another round?" Shi asked, kissing his forehead.

"Up there," he said firmly. "I'll fuck you again there if you want."

"I live to serve," shi said sarcastically. Jake felt a deathly chill pass through him, then they were up on the platform safely. "The other way around though next time, I think," the spirit rumbled, fading back into his body for now.

"Just what has you stuck down here, anyway?" Jake asked as he started up the stairs on the far side of the door he'd picked.

"I ran into one of the other traps later on... I'll lead you around it, if I can," the spirit explained. "Skip the third step from the top."

"Right," he said even as he did as shi suggested. He felt the pressure plate on the step below the top, but nothing happened, even after he leapt off it and into the hall beyond the top.

He curled to his feet in a crouch and took in his surroundings, desperately wishing he had his uniform and glovatrix. It looked quiet enough in here, to be honest ... but that was part of what worried him. There wasn't anything obvious before the door to the next chamber.

Despite it, he moved forward, his step light and all his senses alert for the trouble he knew had to be coming. All the way to the simple wooden door with no handle nothing happened. With his gut tight he pushed lightly on the door, and watched in a bemused disbelief as it swung open.

One step into the hallway beyond, and he felt the floor give way directly under his foot.

He felt metal spines in the hollow, but they were tipped down so they wouldn't cut into him when he went in ... but getting out was going to be agonizing.

"I really, really hate this place," Jake muttered to himself before he focused his mind to ignore the pain completely and brought his leg up in a single, swift motion.

"It's not that easy," he heard his spirit companion taunt him just before he felt the rush of heat from a poison he couldn't name instantly. "At least this is a fun one," it observed cheerfully as Jake's cock sprang to hardness, his entire body starting to burn with a lust that made the Blue Heat from earlier seem like nothing.

"You are really getting on my nerves, you know that?" he hissed in frustration even as he began to hobble forward before his leg had healed.

"I tried to warn you," the voice said innocently as Jake moved towards the door, praying there wasn't going to be anything he'd have to deal with before getting there. His nose was going into overdrive, picking up the smells of creatures on the other side, male and female both.

"Okay, so how about being useful and telling me how long this stuff lasts?" he growled at hir.

"Oh... just a few hours," shi said idly as the need dropped him to his knees with a snarl of frustration. "Of course, it's a few hours of sheer torture if you don't find somebody, and you'll need more than just me to play with."

"More than you?" he panted, trembling as he fought to maintain control of himself.

"Somebody who's all there," she told him. "Somebody who can breed. Just open the door, and you'll see what I mean."

"Somebody's going to regret this," he muttered as he got to his feet. Just the feeling of his clothes erotic beyond endurance by the time he turned the knob.

"It won't be them," the spirit promised silently before Jake practically fell into the room, getting the attention of the two four-legged panthers in the room... or at least they looked like panthers until he saw the flat-ended grasping tentacles on their shoulders, and the third pair of legs beneath them as they stood and walked over to investigate him, their yellow eyes shining with cruel intellect.

He could barely spend the time to notice the altar they'd been laying by ... he couldn't recognize it off-hand, but he knew it wasn't one he'd seen in person before. He filed it away to look up later, and then it was all he could do not to grab the female that came close to him first to nuzzle his groin.

Time melted as his clothes were torn from him with his own assistance. A male mounted him, pushed him to all fours as a female rolled to her back and scooted under him with the help of her tentacles. She took his entire groin into her mouth and suckled him with surprising skill as the scent of her arousal drew him to eat her out.

He had no idea how many there were, or how many times each of them came, but as the drug wore off only one female was still seeking his attention. He could smell and feel that it was far from the first time he'd taken her as he obliged and thrust into her tight sex.

"My, you are quite the stud," the spirit teased as he kept mating the panther-beast. "Three hours and still going? She'll have quite a nice litter from this, I'm sure."

"Not likely," he said after he came again, causing the female the mew in appreciation, her tentacles on his ass to help him thrust and keep him buried deep.

"Mmm... now why would you think that the Mother wouldn't reward such a wonderful performance?" Shi grinned as Jake finally pulled out of the monster with a groan, his seed pouring from her well-used sex, his own ass stretched and dripping cum.

"Because I doubt she's stronger than Bastet," he said, looking around to see if anything remained of his clothes and if there was any water to clean up a bit before he moved on. His pants and underwear were ruined, but his shirt was still reasonably usable, if bloodied... and of course, no water to be found.

With a shake of his head he pulled the shirt over his head and walked to the door beyond the alter where the panther-beasts were all resting.

The next room, at least, had a pool of water in it... a comfortably deep one too, actually, faintly steaming from the warm water pouring in from fountains on the outside. Since the door behind him didn't seal, it didn't seem like it was going to fill the room.

Despite his wariness that this was likely a trap like everything else around his, the desire to be clean won out. He took his shirt off before stepping into the steaming pool with a groan of deep pleasure as the heat soaked into his fur and began to work the grime, seed and blood from him and what was left of his clothing.

He sank below the surface to get his hair wet, and was surprised to feel the same sort of lightness he'd felt in the mershark's pool... did this water have the same properties?

If it did, it would be a pity he couldn't bring any back with him. It had usefulness that sent his mind whirling.

Everything fled his mind when a flash of bright movement in the deep center of the pool.

Looking down further, he could see tiny, silvery shapes glinting towards the bottom, moving around. His stomach growled loudly as he realized there were fish down there.

He took an intentional breath of water, overriding his reflexes as the liquid flooded his lungs.

There were no words for how very gratified he was to find he was right; he could breathe under this.

The fish swam about beneath him; as he went down to try and catch some, he realized that there was some sort of circulating system here... probably feeding into the fountains.

Whatever it was, it meant the water was well aerated as he darted after unsuspecting fish, eating as he caught them until he noticed the water had cooled significantly during his hunting feast.

He started towards the top as the cold water filtered down towards him, forcing the blood in the water towards the bottom. When he reached the top, he realized there was a thick layer of ice already formed above him.

With a grumble he called on Halikar's fire to blast through it near the edge of the pool and climbed out, glairing at the icy pool with a lashing tail.

It quickly crusted over again... and he felt the water in his lungs grow heavy, starting to drown him despite being above the pool.

"Crud," he gurgled and began to make a concerted effort to cough up the liquid before his lungs froze solid. It hurt, but he managed to get it out, the liquid draining back into the pool.

"I didn't run into that one," the spirit observed. "You'll have to be careful from here on ... I didn't make it past the next trap."

"Which is?" he asked as he shook the ice from his fur and combed himself out with his fingers.

"Living hieroglyphs; they turn into very nasty warrior-beasts."

"Great," Jake grumbled as he headed for the door on the far side of the room. "What are their weaknesses?"

"Would I be dead if I knew?" The spirit pointed out with an exasperated sound.

"You could have learned something useful before, or after, you died," he pointed out like the seasoned warrior he was. "Do they bleed? Vulnerable to magic, fire, water ... what did you try and what worked or didn't work at all?"

"I didn't have any magic then, just a knife and what was left of my wits after digging through this place. They're stone, whatever they are, and very nasty. One good swat and I was out like a light... they don't move too fast though, not most of 'em."

"So how is this trap avoided?" he asked before moving on.

"Don't try to leave," shi said seriously. "You open the door to leave, they show up ... at least I think it was the exit."

"That's not exactly a way around the trap, you know," he grumbled at hir. "You have anything better than 'don't try to leave' to help us get out of here alive?"

"I already told you, I didn't!" Shi protested. "I went through, I opened the door, they popped out, I got killed... I'd been hoping there'd be a way to lead you around this, but it looks like there isn't. But hey, you're the Champion of Halikar, right? Maybe that'll help... you can't stay dead, at any rate."

"Assuming all they do is kill," he sighed to himself and focused his will to call up what magic he had for armor, weapons and every edge in combat he could. It wasn't as easy here, when all he was defending would be himself.

For once, the spirit that had bound itself to him was quiet, staying down while Jake headed into the room, looking at the bas reliefs and hieroglyphs, trying to guess what would happen if he opened the door. Beasts of all sorts ... monsters that, honestly, he couldn't even begin to identify.

It was all highly stylized, angular side-view that dominated Balkitan wall art from before it's unification to well after it's assimilation into the Asherian Empire four thousand years later. Few were designs he knew, but the style was unmistakable.

Maybe he'd get unbelievably lucky and his status would allow him past.

Otherwise, this was so not going to be fun.

He opened the door, and the creatures stepped away from the wall. They look at him warily, sizing him up. As one shifted to face him head-on, it disappeared entirely.

"Two-dimensional," Jake murmured, momentarily too fascinated by what he was seeing to worry about the threat.

The creatures continued to come out from the wall, but didn't come any closer as they studied him and he studied them. "Have to remember to ask about these when I get back to civilization."

"Can we try to leave while you're still breathing?" The spirit asked nervously.

Jake nodded and wrapped Halikar's golden armor around himself, the hawk's wings flowing from his arms in a cape as he walked purposefully for the door on the far side.

The display of power seemed to have some effect. The creatures backed off, letting him through to the door without attacking.

"Well, that's anti-climactic," shi observed as he opened the door to a cave tunnel with a forest visible beyond it, though shi didn't sound overly upset by the fact.

"Miracles happen," he said quietly as he stepped to the entrance and looked out on an all too familiar landscape. "Or not," he shuddered deep to his core. The darkness provided no relief. His core was on fire while his fur caked with ice. It has been years, but he knew this place, this terror that had a name without a face.

He heard a booming, deep above him, a flash of light, and icy rain began to pound down onto him, streaking his fur with glittering beads of frozen crystal. Another flash, and he saw a shelter, maybe a crude cabin, in the distance.

With a wary look at it, he scanned the other horizons during flashes, trying to sort out what was him and what was manipulated by the Demon that ruled this place. Trees... increasingly dense, threatening trees, hedged him off from anything else.

There didn't seem to be anything else nearby ... the only thing beyond the obvious trap the Demon had shown him was a black, disturbingly phallic stone edifice rising endlessly above the horizon in the distance. Despite it not being anything he had seen or was partial to, it felt like he belonged there, so he headed that way against some of his better judgment.

The trees seemed to move to block him, walling his way to the stone tower ... and then he heard a scream from the house, panicked and pained, and cut off with a gurgle.

Damn it, that monster knew how to manipulate him. Yet for all knowing it was a trap, he turned towards the crude cabin and ran for it. Inside, he saw a creature, a tall, black, ape-like thing lunging for a nude and already bloody Kyale. Owl-Eyes was on the ground, his insides spilling over the floor as he tried futilely to crawl away from the fight with the last of his fading strength. Kyale was fighting back, but Jake could smell fear mixed in with her rage and the stench of death.

The corner of his mind that never quite shut up noted that she must be softening a lot to feel fear at death enough to smell of it.

The rest of him was just pissed as he narrowed his world to the battle and lunched at the beast with his customary fearlessness, but also with the full power of Halikar roiling up in him at such a direct assault against his people.

The creature grabbed him as he latched onto its back, effortlessly flinging him against the sturdy walls of the cabin. His entire back snapped as he hit it, and he felt at least one vertebra crack.

Kyale roared and lunged at it, claws out, sinking into its skin. With a lightning-quick move, it twisted to slam her into the floor, foot on her throat and chest, pushing down enough to make her stop, but not enough to kill her.

Jake growled and focused his will to send a tight vortex of sun-hot flame at the beast's chest. He could only blink when the monster sort of laughed and knocked the blast to the side. As the shack's wall burst into flame, he got to his feet again and really set his mind to fighting smarter. This was clearly well beyond a normal animal.

"Come and get me," it growled lowly. "Come and protect your lover ... see if you do any better than she did," it grinned, nodding to Kyale's pinned form, who was still growling at him, her hands wrapped around it's trunk-like ankle, just waiting for an opening.

Instead Jake reached out with the senses Bastet and Halikar had given him, seeing to find this creature's weakness, be it social, physical or mental.

Physical: throat. It was well protected by a bone plate few creatures had, but still it's most vulnerable place. Inside the thigh near the groin was also good.

Mental ... that would be how to get close enough. It probably wouldn't even hurt, given how tiny ape cocks were.

He reached out with power again, this time Bastet's, to trigger the beast's mating drive and direct it at himself.

As he watched, its cock stiffened, slipping from its sheath... it was bigger than he'd expected, and wickedly curved.

"Clever kitty," it laughed ... then reached down, pulling Kyale up by the scruff of her neck as she squirmed and tried to fight to little effect.

"I think he wants to watch us play," it crooned at her, before throwing her down to the ground and mounting her from behind.

She choked, more in response to the suddenness of it than any real pain yet. Still, it infuriated Jake to call on all his power and training in a frontal assault on the beast, intent only on killing.

As he rushed the thing, a vise-like hand closed around his ankle, sending him slamming into the floor, his nose breaking against it, filling his senses with blood and pain that only fueled his rage.

"You can play with my little friend," the monster grinned at Jake, pulling Kyale's tail up and pushing his cock into her tight, unlubed ass. She gasped in pained surprise this time, squeezing her eyes shut.

Jake felt a large body crawl on top of him, the decaying scent identifying Owl-Eyes, and something snapped in his brain.

New course. New tactics.

This was a dream. No more. No less. A dream in his head, hijacked by another. He knew this system. He couldn't win. What he could do was make it infuriatingly mute for his tormentor.

So he relaxed, fully aware of the situation his mind's eye was seeing, and turned over ideas for how to pissed the Demon off. It was so hard to focus though, with Kyale quickly starting to scream as the beast raped her ass, and the dead Hyena starting to fuck Jake's.

In the difficulty breathing in his own blood, the pain of their bodies, he let out a small moan as he found the pleasure in this. It didn't take much longer before he got into it, pushing back against the cold body mounting him.

"Jake... gods... help me!" Kyale begged as the throbbing shaft in her ass pounded her harder, her claws digging into the floor as blood oozed from her torn anus.

"I can not," he told her through a low moan. "Remember, pain and death are not an enemy."

Whatever her answer was, it was lost in an agonized shriek as a particularly hard thrust tore something inside of her. Still her friend and lover ignored her, seemingly enthralled with his own pleasure, even getting off on hers.

Owl Eyes shifted his grip to Jake's shoulders, licking his neck with a cold, dry, dead tongue as he pinned the tom down with less concern for controlling him. The Hyena's insides pressing against the tom's back as he pounded into his ass, but it didn't bother Jake anymore.

Jake shifted, just moving his arms in a bit and turning one hand over. With a complete lack of the dramatic, he slid a claw out and hooked it through his jugular and smiled as his blood drained out.

"Jake?" She said quietly, wriggling out of his grip and clear of his claws as they flexed and he started to struggle with something in his dreams. It didn't take long to become clear he hadn't heard her.

She reached over, shaking his shoulder firmly.

"Jake, what's wrong?" She asked more loudly, hoping he'd wake up.

"Jake!" She shouted, shaking him again as she grabbed for her phone. She wasn't sure what was up, but if he wasn't waking up it couldn't be good. Before she turned it on, she popped her claws out, pushing them into his shoulder in one last attempt to get him to wake up on her own.

When he didn't even react, she hit the speed dial for the Ghost duty office.

"What is the situation, Felina?" a familiar voice she didn't think about enough to identify asked.

"Captain Clawson is in distress, asleep, and can't wake up," she said briefly. "I need somebody who can get into his head over here, possibly along with medics."

"Understood," the Ghost's shift coordinator said as she typed in the requirements. "Dr. Evers and Hawk Firepoint, the High Priest of Halikar will be on their way shortly. Is he in immediate danger?"

"I have no idea," Felina admitted. "He could be, but he seems to be in more mental danger than physical, once I start holding him down."

"Understood," she replied. "Help should be there soon."

Felina hung up, opening up her nightstand and pulling out her cuffs as her lover twisted and half-fought an unseen enemy.

"If you weren't about to scream, this'd be fun," she muttered to herself, cuffing Jake's wrists to the headboard and straddling his waist to keep his legs down. "What the hell is going on in there?" she asked, not expecting any reply when she realized he was hard as a rock and as much aroused as angry.

She really, really hoped they got here soon ... or that he went down, before this turned into a really awkward scene to explain.

In the end, it took about a quarter of an hour ... enough time that Felina's body was starting to respond to his thrashings, and she had to fight to keep from getting really turned on. Focusing on how very irritated she was with the whole situation helped.

She was still relieved when there was a knock on her door. She grabbed a robe on her way to answer it.

"Has he gotten any worse?" Hawk asked, the powerful Tiger's body tense as he and Dr. Evers came inside.

"No, but whatever's going on ... it's either really unpleasant, or he's got stranger tastes than I thought," she admitted, closing the door behind him. "He's in the bedroom, I've restrained him to keep him from hurting anybody."

"Including himself," Hawk inclined his head and walk forward with a smooth movement that was nearly a stalk. "He does have strange tastes, but this is a well-known occurrence with him from years ago."

"Well, there's nothing about it in his files, so it's not well known to me ... what's going on?" Felina asked the priest.

Hawk placed his hands on Jake's squirming body, stilling the physical reaction to the mental tortures without force. "A great power has taken it upon itself to try and break Jake's mind through the dreamscape. It has been many years since they were this violent."

"Why can't we wake him up then?" Felina asked, trying to keep her voice steady.

"Because the creature tormenting him is blocking the simple methods of doing so," he told her quietly. "That is also most unusual, and unlikely to hold for long. An attack on a Champion by such a power is a direct challenge to Bastet and Halikar."

"If there's anything I can do to help get him out sooner, let me know," Felina murmured, watching Jake as his face contorted into a mask of rage and fear, his claws sheathing and unsheathing as his muscles twitched, contesting Hawk's control of his body.

Suddenly Jake's entire body jerked with a sharp gasp as his eyes snapped opened. Within a heartbeat his expression went from terrified to relieved as recognition made it to his brain. Then he relaxed with something of a sob.

"Jake, are you all right?" Felina asked, moving around the Tiger to put a hand on his shoulder, reaching up to undo the cuffs and found herself all but pull off her feet as he grabbed for her blindly.

She squawked with little dignity as he pulled her down, but she soon wrapped her arms around him, speaking soothingly, nuzzling his neck and trying to relax him.

His entire body was trembling, fear beginning to edge out the anger in his scent as he clung to her without any care for who saw. When she could, she looked back at the two newcomers.

"I think it's under control," she told them, hoping they'd show themselves out for now.

"Jake?" Dr. Evers spoke for nearly the first time.

"I'll 'b okay," he mumbled, still shivering in Felina's arms but clearly settling with every minute that passed in the waking world.

"If you ensure he comes to Bastet's main temple here tomorrow at nine in the evening," Hawk raised an eyebrow at her, willing to leave, but only if his duty was also done.

"I'll be there," Jake managed to tell him.

"I will," Felina added. "I don't think he needs everybody here right now though... thank you for coming, and I'm sorry for waking you Dr. Evers."

"Not a problem," the elder orange tabby shekat smiled at her before turning to leave with Hawk. "It is a relief to receive a call that requires so little of my attention."

"Rest, meditate, but try not to sleep for a while, Champion," Hawk advised. "It will take some time for the effects to dissipate."

"I'll make sure he stays up," Felina promised him. "For a little while, at least."

"No problem," Jake agreed with a soul-deep shudder. "Thank you, Hawk."

"You are welcome, Champion," the regal Tiger inclined his head before he left with Dr. Evers.

"I guess I scared you?" Jake looked up at Felina apologetically.

"A bit, yeah... what happened?" She asked him, snuggling up against him and pulling the covers over them both.

Jake sighed, really beginning to relax as he laid half on top of her and in her arms. "An old enemy decided that now would be a good time to mess with me again, since Rock's out of town. That used to be a nightly occurrence."

"I'm sorry," she murmured, kissing his cheek softly as he closed his eyes for a brief moment. "Want to talk about it?"

"N-not really," he shivered. "But I should," he continued, sliding a hand along her side. "It's the basics ... alone, trapped, powerless to help. He's getting more creative though, more intimate with the ways to make my ideas work against me."

"Are they ever more than just a way to try and twist your brain?" She asked him gently.

"Not that anybody's figured out," he sighed as he relaxed a little further under her strong fingers working his muscles. "Maybe at some point there was a hope of corrupting me, but I doubt it's a real point anymore."

"At least it's not prophetic or anything," she murmured. "Must have decided to go at you again since Rock's gone... any idea when he'll be back?"

"Not soon," Jake squeezed his eyes closed. "Maybe not for months. Training to be a Champion ... it's not a quick process when you aren't born to it."

"If you need somewhere to stay until he's back ... I know I can hold you down, at any rate," she said honestly with just a bit of a smile. It saddened her how startled he seemed by the offer. How could he not realize by now how many people cared about him, how many would be thrilled to offer help he needed?

"I ... that does sound pretty good," he murmured, nuzzling her weakly. "Better than a temple, as long as it doesn't get any worse."

"Good... tomorrow night though, you're expected at the main temple. They'll just want you to stay there, where it's safe?"

"It's for a debriefing," he chuckled grimily. "They want to find out who's behind it, and get all the details for the records. I won't have to stay."

"Ah... with the time, I'd thought they'd be keeping you there," she chuckled tiredly. "I know I promised I'd keep you up for a few hours, but I don't know if I'm up to making sure," she admitted. "Think you'll be okay?"

"I'll be fine," he reached up to kiss her lightly. "I've gotten a little soft about it lately, but I'm still used to little sleep. Besides, I know you have access to the databases from here."

"Just try to remember that I wanted to wake up with you," she smiled, returning the kiss. "I hope you don't have another of those tonight."

"I won't," he assured her with a playful smile. "And you'll wake up with me."

"Good," she purred, kissing him again before he climbed out of bed. "Good night, Jake."

"Good night, and rest well, Felina," he smiled softly at her, absently wondering how much was an affection for him and how much was taking care of a fellow officer.

Felina moaned, her body tingling pleasantly as she drifted towards consciousness. She was absently aware there was a warm body next to her in the bed, and it was much smaller than her. Not a hooker then.

"Ohh, Jake," she moaned as she placed his scent and the pleasure of his body rubbing against hers as he teased one nipple with his mouth and her other breast with a hand. She wrapped her arms around him, kissing his head.

"Good morning," she purred throatily as she pressed against him, running her hands down his back.

"I hope so," he nuzzled between her breasts before squirming up to kiss her mouth. "Feel up for burning off some energy?" he grinned at her impishly.

"I think so," she murmured into their kiss. "Keep me from thinking for a while, Jake," she whispered, kissing him again, more deeply.

"It will be my pleasure," he smiled and slid down her body a bit. His hands slid down her arms and lightly guided them above her head, testing for her willingness to be bound.

She pressed her wrists up to the headboard willingly.

"I've got cuffs in the nightstand, and a blindfold too," she offered, earning a smile before he shifted to fetch them, then locked her arms above her head.

"Just focus on me and your body," he crooned as he blindfolded her. "You won't be able to think anymore," he promised.

"I hope not," she murmured, spreading her legs and opening herself up to him as she tried to narrow her world down to just the two of them, and not the troubled world outside that was waiting for them both.

His fingers trailed down her chest, her abs, her legs, just enough to make the pressure points and erogenous zones tingle. Then she could only gasp when her body lit on fire with the need of a full-on heat at it's most intense.

"Fuck!" She gasped, eyes wide behind the blindfold as the need of a full-on heat at its most intense rushed through her. "Sweet Bastet, Jake, what're you doing?"

"A little trick I learned recently," he purred, kissing just above her pubic fur as his fingers slipped between the lips of her sex. "It's meant for breeding, to put a female in heat when it's convenient, but with a small twist it only brings the desire without the fertility."

"Nnngh... I hope you've used that twist?" She asked with a groan as she pushed her body up against his fingers.

"Always," he promised seriously as he spread her labia with two fingers while his center finger slid across her sex, pressing against her clit and slipping just a bit into her body. "Fertility is only when it is asked for."

"Good," she whimpered. "Gods that feels good! Does it... mmm... does it go all the way, except that?"

"Yes," he purred as he slid a finger a bit deeper into her body and let his palm rub her clit. "It will end when I ask it to."

"Oh ... you could drive your partner nuts like this," she moaned, shivering a bit at the thought of what Jake could do, especially with his partner and his wife.

"I know," Jake grinned wickedly as he shifted the intent of his touch to getting her off. "It's for you right now. Everything I have to offer," he promised as he kissed her strong abs.

"That better include your cock," she growled playfully, starting to pant and breathe heavily as he pushed her towards the edge with a skillful touch. "Damn, Jake, getting close," she moaned.

"It will and that is the point," he chuckled against her fur as he slid up her body a bit more. "I've learned a few things I want to show you. You won't leave the bed unsated."

"I should hope not," she groaned, kissing him hungrily as his lips came close, moaning into his mouth as she came hard around his fingers. A whimpering cry escaped her throat as he continued to work her with his hand as he shifted to his haunches.

He only pulled his fingers free when he was ready to sink his hard erection into her with a groan of his own.

She strained at the cuffs, kissing him hungrily and rippling the walls of her sex around his barbed shaft as he began to thrust. She didn't understand how it could be so much better than her most intense kinks when it was the most simple of acts.

Right now, all she could do, all she even wanted to do, was go along for the ride Jake was taking her on and revel in the pleasure he offered her.

She had no idea how long they played, how often he made her come, or how many times he spilled his own seed into her hungry, wanting sex. But eventually, she felt the heat pass, and he undid her cuffs and blindfold.

"Fuck that was intense," she purred lazily, kissing him. "Mmm ... how long before work?"

"A couple hours yet," he kissed her affectionately. "Long enough for a very pleasant shared shower and breakfast."

"Good," she purred. "Mmm ... shower first though, I've got to smell presentable when I go in to see how my uncle's doing."

"Mind if I join you, or would you rather clean yourself?" he asked with a line of kisses down her jaw line.

"I like showers with you," she purred, scratching the back of his neck. "About the only person I do like to share them with," she mused. "I'll make breakfast though, okay?"

"Okay," he nuzzled her before he got up, taking some care to give her an attractive view of her lover. "You'll find someone to share them with regularly when you're ready for it."

"We'll see," she chuckled, climbing out of bed herself. "Mmm ... I'm not as big on water as you are; I'd rather have a nice, submissive Xanith with a good sense of humor who's willing to put up with my schedule."

"I know several," he smiled over his shoulder at her as they walked to the bathroom. "Any preference for species?"

"Mmm ... Panther, maybe?" She asked with a chuckle. "I don't have the thing for stripes my uncle does," she winked.

"Male, female, herm or a set?" he asked as she turned on the water.

"You make it sound almost like going out shopping," she chuckled as she turned the water up hot.

"I'm just narrowing the list down," he shook his head, an unspoken apology in his voice. "There are hundreds of submissive Panthers out there."

"Fair enough," she smiled. "I think a herm... that, or a male and a female who are a couple themselves. You know what it's like... could you imagine trying to keep two long-term partners happy with our schedules, if they didn't do it themselves?"

"Very, very difficult," he nodded and joined her under the hot spray. "Half the time it works with Rock because he has as much going on in his life as I do."

"Mmm ... so, like I said, it'd work best if they could amuse themselves, or if I only had one person to take care of," she nodded, grabbing the fur shampoo and squeezing some into her hand. "My schedule can even be worse than yours, sometimes."

"Agreed. What about a single that has a home-based job? An artist, web designer or the like?" he suggested as he turned his attention to making her enjoy getting cleaned up nearly as much as getting dirty.

"I think that'd work," she smiled, purring as he worked through her fur. "An artist might be nice ... if he was a bit bigger, I could do worse than your friend, Tommy," she chuckled.

"Yes," Jake smiled fondly for his long-time friend. "He's much more into toms too. When you feel like you might be interested in something lasting, let me know and I'll introduce you to a few good prospects."

"Will do," she chuckled. "Mmm ... have you always been a matchmaker, or is that more of Bastet's influence?"

"A little of Bastet, but mostly I just know a lot of people who fit your interests," he turned to washing himself. "Favor for a friend."

"Just curious," she smiled. "Want me to get your back?" She offered as she rinsed herself off.

"Love it," he purred, groaning in unabashed pleasure at her touch. "Maybe I like to think I'm helping a friend too. It wasn't an easy lesson for me, but life is much better when you have someone at home to lick your wounds and make dinner when you've had a too-long shift."

"I know it," she smiled, rubbing his back thoroughly, massaging it as much as washing it. "If you know anybody who'd fit in who's already used to the Enforcer family life, that'd be even better, I think."

"Enforcer family life or the equivalent," he agreed, pressing back into her hands. "Some are from cultures that don't just freak about death."

"That'd work too," she nodded as he turned to rinse off. "I've lost a couple people who just couldn't handle the stress and worry every time an Omega showed up."

"I understand. It's not an easy thing even when you're ready for it. Rock and Midnight both have a hard time, for all they understood what they were getting into when it started," he reveled in the hot spray longer than it took to rinse himself. "I know what to look for for you."

"Thanks," she smiled as the air blowers were turned on and she reached out to grab a couple brushes. "I'll let you know when the time's right ... right now, I don't think it's the time."

"I'll keep an eye open for when you are," he smiled and took one of the brushes to lay his fur out as it dried.

"I dare you to be surprised he's still here," Jake said dryly as he walked with Felina to her office and heard Ulysses' stringent voice barking orders.

"I'm afraid I can't be," she sighed, shaking her head as she opened the door. "How long has it been, Cammy?" She asked the young brown tabby shekat who was the Commander's current secretary.

"He hasn't left yet, Ma'am, unless it's been down to the command center or a control room," she answered without any effort to hide her concern. "I doubt he's gotten so much as ten minutes sleep, though he is eating."

"It's been worse then," she sighed. "You have Janet's number yet?"

"Yes, Ma'am," the brown tabby nodded, openly confused.

"I'm going to go talk with him," she explained. "If I can't talk him into going to take a nap, I'll need you to call her ... she might have a bit more pull than I do."

Jake could tell just how much that bothered Felina, deep down, but before he could say anything she walked up to knock on her uncle's door.

"Who?" he snarled at the closed door, his tone all three knew was distracted.

"Lieutenant Commander Feral reporting for duty, sir," she responded professionally, crisply.

There was a stillness on the other side. Felina and Jake could both see his surprise in their mind's eye. He was so predictable sometimes.

"Come in," his tone was much more even. "You know the command center could have told you where you'd be needed just as well," he chided her as she opened the door.

"I do sir," she said, stepping in and closing the door behind her. "But I understand you haven't had the chance to get any sleep, so I thought I was needed most here."

He opened his mouth to say something, then considered her and stood. "The Tower is yours for a shift."

She blinked, clearly surprised he'd listened so easily.

"Yes sir," she nodded. "I'll call you if we've got any sign of trouble," she offered, joking weakly.

"Listen to the Ghosts," he offered her as he walked by. "They've overseen rebuilding this city more times than I have."

"I will, sir," she promised him as he left. Who knew a Kat could change so quickly, and what did it really mean?

Meanwhile, at Janet's apartment, she traced a claw lovingly down Nick's body, kissing him as she lounged against him in bed. She traced her hand over his sheath and balls, then down his thigh ... and sank her claws into his slowly cooling flesh, carving out a piece and popping it into her mouth as she reveled in the opportunity to savor a kill, the faintly growing smell of death, the blood soaked into her sheets from skinning parts of him to munch on. As she enjoyed the flavor, her fingers played lightly over her clit, her fur matted with blood and semen from their playing before she'd sucked him dry.

The phone rang, and she growled lowly as she reached over to pick it up.

"Mercer," she answered as she swallowed.

"Janet," Ulysses' voice sounded like he was correcting her. "Mind if I come over for a few hours?"

"Uly?" She asked, surprised. "Uhm... it might be a bit better if I came over to your place," she said apologetically. "I was doing a bit of cooking, the place is a bad-smelling mess."

"My place then," he agreed as the engine to his car turned over. "I'll see you there."

"See you there," she promised, hanging up after he did and looking over at Nick's corpse with a sigh. Hauling him off was going to be a pain ... best to get to it now, then she could get a shower and head over to Uly's.

As she worked the dead tom up onto her shoulder to move him, an idea came to her, and she giggled madly as she considered it.

She pulled Nick over to the top of the basement stairs, then tumbled him down to the bottom, where the Creeplings she'd been slowly moving in could take care of him. Then, she started the oven and pulled an unbaked pie out of the freezer, heading in to take her shower while the oven heated up.

After all ... it wouldn't do to use baking as a cover story and then not take along any of the results, would it?

Ulysses Feral fidgeted on the way to his penthouse apartment, even the relatively light traffic of this off-hour was enough to make him flatten his ears, though he resisted the urge to turn on the siren to clear the way. He wasn't that desperate yet.

He had to wonder, though, if Felina knew why he'd chosen not to argue with her, or just how proud he was of her to show up with that kind of fire and care for others after barely ten hours away. She'd need better stamina to be the Commander, but to have as much as she did at her age and experience made him very proud of his choice in her. He knew already that she would prove all doubters wrong; anyone who thought she got the position because she was his brother's daughter would find out soon enough that she had the mettle to be a top-notch Commander in her own right.

He just hoped that her doubts were under control... he knew she was still upset about what had happened, but she seemed to have it together this morning.

Apparently the traffic hadn't slowed him down too much; he was pulling into the garage at the same time Janet was, and she smiled as she climbed out and noticed him.

"I'm glad I wasn't late," she grinned as he got out of his own car, before she reached in and pulled out a small box. "In the mood for a hot lunch?"

"I'll have some, but I have eaten recently," he smiled at her and drew her close for the short walk to the penthouse elevator.

"I'll leave some leftovers for you, if you like it," she purred, pressing her head against his shoulder lightly. "Hard day at work?"

"It's only the end of the work day to give Felina another shot at the real grunt work of Commander," he said before claiming a bit of a lingering kiss as the elevator doors closed. "Otherwise I'd be there for several more shifts yet."

"Mmm ... you do realize that the idea of vacation time is that you don't have to work your time off as overtime?" She pointed out dryly as their kiss broke and the elevator reached his floor. "Hope you don't mind my place being off-limits for a while," she chuckled sheepishly.

"No," he grinned ruefully as they stepped off. "I've been on the doing end of making a mess. I know some folks who can clean anything from anything if you need help."

"I'll call you if it's too much for me to handle," she chuckled. "But I think I've got it under control that much... I've just found out that some spices really ought to be used in moderation."

"Quite true," he agreed as he opened the door to his apartment. "And some people have no business cooking."

"I'm not that bad," she gigged, following him in. "You'll see, after you try it," she promised. "I'll reheat it, you make yourself comfortable," she said, giving him a quick kiss before disappearing into his kitchen.

He let out a sound of relief and found a spot on the couch before clicking the TV on and immediately brought up the digital movie collection he had available. Without realizing it, he found himself skimming through the porn, soft and hard, and looked towards the kitchen and Janet. She was usually quite willing, and it was a very pleasant way to work off the stress of the last couple days.

She'd probably have said something if she wouldn't have been willing. She knew him well enough to know how he enjoyed winding down, he hoped.

He licked his lips and selected a relatively long hard porn with a Tiger tom taking a Panther shekat in heat. Vocal, messy, and fairly basic in it's pounding lust.

In the kitchen, Janet got the pie into the oven, listening to the movie Ulysses was starting. She purred deep in her throat, then disappeared into his bedroom to change. On her way out, she set the timer, then continued out towards him in the green sari they'd bought after the merchant had finally tracked them down and met their price.

"I love that one," she purred. "And the mood it always leaves you in."

"I rather hoped that would be your reaction," he grinned as he stood and began to strip his uniform off, his nearly-full erection already visible in his slacks.

"Mmm ... well, no wonder you had to leave work," she purred, walking up to him and kissing him deeply. "Though I think I might like taking care of that while you're there, some time," she winked playfully, stroking his bulging crotch.

"I'm not going to stop you," he grinned back and pulled her against his hard, broad body, intensely turned on by the near-taboo of the idea.

"Mmm ... you wouldn't?" She purred with a broad grin. "Wouldn't stop me from sucking that big, hard shaft of yours in your office, then letting you fuck me until I scream loud enough that your secretary checks on us?" She teased with a sultry rumble, undoing his pants and rubbing her own silk-clad body against his member.

"Not the first at least," he moaned and ran his hands down her body to squeeze her ass, pressing her body against his harder. "For now, I want you on all fours."

"Aww, but it's not half as much fun as going all the way," she teased, licking his nose. "We'll talk about it later," she purred, climbing onto the couch and raising her tail invitingly.

"I'm sure we will," he rumbled and grabbed her hips, his thumbs spreading her tight ass cheeks before his palms spread her sex. She barely got more warning than that before he drove into her sex, his fingers tight around her hips to hold her against his thrusts.

"Fuck yes," she moaned, tightening her sex around his throbbing cock. "Damn, you need to come to me from work more often!"

"Any time you want to move in," he growled as he leaned forward to grab her scruff in his jaws to control her. It freed his hands to roam her body, squeezing her breasts and rubbing her flat belly as he thrust with the intent to get off as fast and hard as possible.

Her body milked his barbed length, and she whimpered as her body started to tingle deep inside.

"Mean that?" She asked him with a grin.

"Yes," he moaned, his tone serious before he roared and began to pump his seed deep into her body. She cried out as his seed spilled into her, her body rippling around him as she came hard and pressed back against him, riding the reflexive thrusts of his orgasm to push her even higher.

"Ooh... I'll think about it, after we know how you like my cooking," she moaned as they both began to come down.

"I can cook, you know," he rumbled in amusement, licking her scruff and squeezing her breasts before he pulled out of her and swept her up in his arms to take her to his bed.

"Mmm ... maybe so, but you did promise to try it," she giggled, tickling his chest lightly and snuggling up. "Besides, I want to give you some time to think about the invitation yourself."

"I've had longer to think about it that you have," he pointed out with a heated kiss before he lay her on his bed and settled on top of her for a more lingering kiss.

"You have a point," she purred, kissing him back, cupping his face in her hands and pressing her body up against his as she sipped a tiny bit of his energy, and spread her legs in an unmistakable invitation that he eagerly took.

Felina sighed as she sat down to the paperwork strewn across her desk after a short break. She wished she was still needed in the command center directing the organized chaos of the cleanup and security, but her uncle had finished the work she'd started and now paperwork took the top slot for her time and energy. No wonder Ulysses was so willing to leave for a few hours.

She'd barely started typing the next report on her computer when a sharp knock on her door drew her attention from it.

"Yes?" she called out.

"Captain Furlong, reporting for duty," Chance told her from the other side of the door. "I understand the Commander's out for the moment."

"Come in, Furlong," she looked up to focus on him as he walked in and shut the door behind him, trying to gauge his mood and condition. "Yes, he is. We got him to go home for a few hours and get some rest. You're back early, though."

"I've had a couple days already; you guys need me back on the job," he pointed out. "I'd have already headed out if the Commander hadn't ordered me to report to him before I went back on duty."

"For good reason," she said firmly. "We are not desperate enough that the health of officers should take a back seat to numbers on the field. Chance," she signed. "What happened to you is well past the normal regs and you know it."

"I've been through worse too, and you know it," he pointed out quietly. "I'll be better trying to find that son of a bitch than I will be grounded."

She shifted, fully aware that her agreement with him showed, right along with her reluctance in letting him go back to full duty so soon after what had happened.

"Look, Lieutenant Commander ... Felina ... you know what it's like being grounded," he pleaded with her while she was clearly undecided against him.

"Jake's reviewing the data in his workshop," she finally told him. "While it's my shift, you can take any level of active duty as long as he's with you. I won't give you a clean bill of health without a psych review, and I know my uncle won't."

"Why don't you bring in a priest of Izaris?" He suggested. "We can ask them about where Dark Krud is after you hear I'm fine, and it'll be faster than a psych review."

"Yes, it would be," she considered him for a moment. For a typical officer, such a consultation was rarely authorized. For a Ghost, especially when it was requested by the Ghost, it was all but required to authorize it. "I'll send for you when one gets here."

"Thank you, ma'am," he nodded. "Should I let Jake know?" He asked her as he began to turn for the door.

"If you want to," she said simply. "He'll know when you are cleared for duty. How much more is up to you."

"I'll see you in a while then," Chance nodded, turning to head out to Jake's lab. It wasn't much of a walk, but it was enough to give him time to think, and to wonder what would come next. He'd certainly just made himself a primary target of a very powerful Omega. That likely made those he cared about a target too.

"Hey, Jake, how's it going?" He asked as he reached the lab. "Heard you were going over the data from the last attack?"

"Yes," the lean tom nodded, and Chance abruptly realized that something had gone very wrong in Jake's life in the last day or two. "Nothing very useful, but I am."

"Something wrong, Jake?" He asked, walking over to the computer his partner was working at.

"Remember the nightmares I used to have?" he glanced at his partner, giving him more information on just how worn out he was than Chance really wanted.

"Yeah, I do," Chance nodded.

"Came back last night, updated and with a vengeance," he shuddered. "Gave Felina a few new scars trying to wake me up."

"Thought those had stopped ... after you moved in with Rock," Chance sighed. "Shit... first time last night?"

"In a long time," he nodded. "Worst part is that I couldn't wake myself up," he murmured. "Took Bastet's intervention to wake up."

"Shit," Chance sighed, rubbing Jake's shoulders. "You going to be okay?"

"Yeah, it's just hard to catch a nap right now," he admitted. "She did intervene, so it's not like I'll get stuck, but it's not very restful."

"Damn... can you try sleeping in a temple, like when Berten was on the loose," Chance suggested.

"I was planning on trying that, but after this is sorted out. I'm still used to doing with very little rest," he pointed out.

"Right," Chance nodded. "Maybe you can help me think of something while we work... I need a way to keep Midnight and the kits safe from Dark Krud," he said, taking a seat and looking over some of what they had.

"Why would they be targets any more than usual?" he glanced at his partner in concern, now fully aware that a lot had gotten left out when they'd talked shortly after the battle.

"I managed to make a lasting impression on Dark Kat the last time we met," Chance chuckled darkly. "I'm probably pretty high on his shit list right about now ... I can take care of myself, but I'm worried about Midnight and the kits."

"Okay," Jake drew the word out, not sure he really wanted to know details. "The safest place is going to be a major temple of Bastet, particularly in a land like Veldt or Tusandrin that he doesn't mess with for good reason."

"Anything you can think of that won't break up my family for the foreseeable future?" Chance asked him quietly. "I've got faith in you, Jake, but you and I both know it's going to take time to catch that bastard."

"It will," he agreed with a grim nod. "Does she know she's a likely prime target now?"

"She knows what's happened, but I didn't tell her... she's probably figured it out though. Midnight's not exactly naive."

"Not after a lifetime hanging around me," Jake actually snickered. "Seriously though, I have a few things in the proto stage that might be useful. Personal force field, teleporter, a few stun-weapons that wouldn't take long for Tamera to master. It might not be bad to really encourage her to spend time with her boyfriend in the temples though. She's the most vulnerable of the family."

"At this point, yeah," Chance nodded. "I'll talk to her about it ... I know she'll be game to learn how to defend herself though," he chuckled.

"Maybe, but starting with him is like learning to swim by jumping into a lava pool," Jake shook his head in bemusement. "If she's serious, I can set her up with one of Halikar's. Some of the best self-defense trainers out there."

"Short of you?" Chance asked with a half-grin.

"Many are better than I am," he grinned back. "I'm much more the offensive type than defensive."

"You've got a point there," Chance chuckled. "I'll see if she's comfortable with it."

"It's not a bad idea anyway," Jake added, then flicked his ears. "You expecting company?"

"Expecting a call, but that's it; hear somebody coming?" Chance asked, looking back towards the door.

"Yes," he nodded and stood to greet their visitors. "One's Felina. I think the other is Detective Toama."

"Sounds about right," Chance nodded. "They're going to decide if I'm fit for active duty," he explained, rolling his eyes.

"Do you want me to leave?" he asked, glancing back as he opened the door.

"Only if you want to," Chance said, shaking his head. "Unless they start asking questions beyond the ones I think they will."

"Unlikely," Felina said as they walked in. "I trust you remember Detective Toama."

"Of course," Chance nodded, shaking the albino Cheetah's hand. "We've worked together on and off since Jake and I were still in the Academy."

"During which I remained a Detective and you became Ghosts," she smiled warmly at the pair. "I always knew you were destined for great things, but your speed managed to surprise even me."

"Heh - they've always said I move fast," Chance winked playfully.

"True," she smiled at him before glancing at Felina. "What is the truth you wished me to tell?"

"Am I fit for full duty?" He asked her, going for the bluntest way to put the question, the way that gave the least wiggle room.

Toama looked at him, her gaze going out of focus briefly before she returned to the real world.

"Yes, you are," she nodded slightly. "It may not be in your best interest to press the subject, however."

"Because of the danger to my family?" He asked her quietly.

"Not because of your mental state," she hedged around answering with a sigh. "I can not say more."

"Is Dark Kat going to try something?" He asked her again, hoping a different question might help.

"Not right away," she shook her head. "It does not center on what has just happened. I am sorry I can not say more."

"I understand," he nodded. "Lieutenant Commander Feral, requesting permission to return to full duty."

"Permission granted," she nodded to him. "Start with going over your reports and seeing if you can add anything to what you gave us about Dark Kat. The lab boys will give us a DNA profile, but it's not that useful without someone to compare it to."

"Will do," Chance nodded, turning back to start working with a sense of relief and exhilaration that paperwork rarely warranted. He was without any doubt that he'd be allowed on the real hunt, with Jake, once they had finished reviewing what they had. Jake would have wanted to do that anyway.

Rock couldn't help but wonder what a combat training system designed by the masters of pain would be like. He'd already been through more pain-resistance training than most folks who could walk through damn near anything unphased.

Just what would Jake think of it? His mate was something of a combat style junky, and anything pain-centric got him hard in a hurry. Why did he ever think bringing his laptop was a good idea? He'd known Jake had improved it. Why didn't it occur to him that it would also have an apparently unblockable internet connection to tempt him every day?

He had to wonder if they'd known it would happen... it would have been their style, to leave him one way to get word out to Jake, but still expect him to ignore it. An entirely different sort of mental torture than the ones they usually offered.

He entered a large, empty room, the only other person there a lean, black-on-gray tabby shekat dressed in the priestly robes of black and red ... Lady Cathie, if he remembered correctly. It was difficult to conceal how surprised he was that the ancient shekat was the combat trainer, but it wasn't the strangest surprise he'd had around here.

"Welcome, Rock," she said, her tone friendly.

"Thank you, Lady Cathie," he bowed to her, absently noting that he barely even reacted to how sore his body was despite being fully are of it.

"A long night?" She guessed with a low chuckle. "You're adapting to the pain well," she observed.

"No longer than most here," he chuckled ruefully. "Thank you. It has proved to be worth the effort for the insights."

"I'm glad you think so," she smiled. "I assume you were told that you're here for combat training; are you familiar with Tamorl's Mercy?"

"I've heard of it," he said, thinking back. "I've think I've seen a few of the moves in MMA fights."

"Possible," she nodded. "Though we try to avoid using it too much in that sort of context... MMA fighters have a knack for picking up moves they see," she chuckled.

"And I live with one of their better non-touring fighters," Rock added with a knowing grin. "Jake can pick up pretty much anything he sees."

"Tamorl's Mercy is the technique His faithful developed. I should warn you now that it's against the laws of the faith to teach it to outsiders without the Inflictor's permission."

"I understand," Rock sombered instantly, fully aware of how unpopular that restriction was going to be with Jake and Kyale. "I will abide by it."

"Thank you," she nodded. "Once you see what we can do, you will understand... you won't be able to complete your training while you're here, but I'll teach you the basics, and a bit more. You'll have to go to the local Temple to learn more. Where would you like me to start; with the history, or a demonstration?"

"The history, Lady Cathie," he decided.

"All right," she nodded. "Tamorl's Mercy was developed shortly after the church became organized. The idea was to defend the faithful, without having to kill... to demonstrate our skill and power in a way that would at least leave somebody to carry the word not to bother us away, if they didn't convert. The moves are all calculated to cause excruciating pain, without doing any real damage to the target."

"I can see how that would be effective," he nodded. "Why the restriction on teaching it, though?"

"It helps to keep a certain degree of mystique," she smiled. "Tell me, if you come across somebody who says they know kung fu, and shows off a couple basic techniques, do you find it to be particularly intimidating or worthy of concern?"

"Not usually," he acknowledged. "I have higher standards than most, but I understand. You want it to have wide name recognition, but few who actually know how the moves."

"Exactly," she nodded. "It's good for people to know about it, and to have seen it in action once in a while... or to know somebody who has, at any rate. But, if everybody knows how to use it, then it loses a certain amount of its ability to intimidate. Besides... I, for one, would not want to see the secrets fall into the hands of somebody like Dark Kat," she pointed out.

"Is it really that powerful?" Rock looked less than sure of the possibility. "Dark Kat has a lot of other things to use."

"He does, but his agents could put it to excellent use. It's not so useful for his usual massive assaults, but if you wanted to strike fear into the city, there would be little better way than to have an agent go into Enforcer Headquarters, disable everybody he meets with a touch, and then kill the Commander while he's crippled with pain. We've found that the fact it isn't lethal is as frightening as anything else to many people; they worry about what it could do if you did want to kill."

"I can see that," he nodded with a murmur. "A little too well. That would be a huge mess, if he didn't have the city before it was over."

"And that's one of the other major reasons we don't want it getting out. No quality control over who learns it. The style has been refined over the last several centuries, as we learn more and more about the nervous system; we've mastered it in respects to Kats, Kantin, Xanith ... most species. Still working on humans, but we have remarkably few examples to work with," she chuckled.

Rock blinked. "How many alien races are on Aristal?"

"Eight to ten or so, as far as we know; Izaris' faithful might know about more," Cathie told him easily. "If there's a hundred individuals on Aristal between them all, I'd be surprised, but we have records of others, just in case. There are creatures that Tamorl has shown us which are like nothing that has ever lived on Aristal, and we don't know if will be friend or foe yet, if they ever come."

"Given what has already come, what Jake's told me about what he's seen and been told, there are thousands out there," Rock said quietly. "I just didn't think I'd see one before he did."

"If you want, I suspect the Seer would be glad to meet him after you're done with your preparation," she offered. "She enjoys meeting people with a destiny."

"She's already arranged for it," he couldn't help but smile in amusement. "I asked if Jake could nose around her ship. She wants to be there for it."

"Oh dear, this could make for several interesting years," Cathie chuckled. "Well, would you like to get started then?"

"Yes, Lady," he inclined his head to her.

"All right," she nodded. "For now, we'll start out with regular clothes, but as you progress you'll learn to make your blows count through body armor. The most basic part of the training is pressure points and nerve bundles; tell me the major points you can think of where you can cause pain without causing damage."

"Jake can use a lot more than I can. He knows this stuff," Rock admitted as he put his knowledge in order. "The elbow, armpits, femoral artery, sciatic nerve, solar plexus. There's a spot just under the ear that can knock you out in a blink. Jake can hit it fairly often, but I only know it's there."

"That's a good one, but a more advanced technique. There are several others as well, obviously... nearly the entire body can be used, with the right technique. Would you like a demonstration?"

"As much as I suspect whoever is around Jake will wish I say no, I would," he nodded, strangely looking forward to feeling just what kind of pain it really managed to create.

"All right," she nodded. "Try to attack me; I'll be gentle with you for now," she winked almost playfully.

"Right," he dropped into a defensive posture at first. It was where all his training was, in self-defense. He flattened his ears and dropped chin to protect his throat before making a charge to make good use of his significantly greater mass.

She reached out, stepping aside to avoid his blow and slipping her hand beneath his outstretched arm. It felt like she'd jabbed him in the arm with a cattle prod, his hand going limp and useless as every nerve from his shoulder down started burning.

The deep breath of pain expanded his lungs s he twisted away, too startled to even snarl at her. He knew his full recognition that he was out-classed showed in his eyes, but he managed to keep it off his face as he focused past the agony and limp arm to stalk her, trying to fight as intelligently as he could.

"It can fade with time," she told him as she waited for his next attack. "It can also be done so that the only way to reverse it is with a master's touch. Tamorl's Legacy, we call the technique. I've used the first form on you. Try again, if you're up for it."

"Before I leave this temple, I'd like you to use that on me, to see what kind of healing kicks in," he said, his voice nearly level despite his arm. He moved on her again, though this time it was with a snap-kick powerful enough to shatter ribs if he made contact. Just because he knew he wouldn't didn't mean he wouldn't try his best.

"I will," she nodded, ducking beneath the kick and bringing her hand up into the back of his knee, striking his sciatic. He nearly screamed as the pain shot through his leg and up into his back, and when she repeated the blow on his other leg, he collapsed to the ground and had to bit his lip to keep from screaming.

"Just don't tell your mate that I'm the one who's done this to you," she chuckled, straddling his waist and touching a point along his spine, dispelling the pain almost instantly. "Better?"

"Yes," he said, still panting as his brain and body caught up to the reality that he was no longer in agony and relaxed fully under her, both in relief and in submission to her greater skill. "He'll forgive you for teaching me how to fight and protect myself now that I'll be in the middle of things with him."

"Very true," she nodded slightly. "And, I imagine, for showing you how you can use these on him when you're alone," she chuckled, moving off of him. "Why don't I show you what I just did, it's a good place to start."

"It sounds good," he nodded and stood, more eager to learn this than he had to learn anything in a long time. It was deeply exciting to just contemplate being able to stand at Jake's side in the coming battles and be an asset.

Jake sat down in a conference room that was even more serious than usual. While no one there was new to him, the mix was a little unusual. Chance, Felina, Ashley McKysn, Recka Thomas and Toama were common enough, but Priest Graydon of Jenz was a rare sight, and Mandy Harris, Ulysses' secretary, was downright out of place here and looked to be no more comfortable being here than most were in having her here.

"All right, since everyone is here, let's get this started," Ashley stood, her thick, rosette decorated tail swishing unhappily. "We have gotten an anonymous tip from inside that Commander Feral's new lover is not who she says she is, and has less than the best of intentions. While the message was not signed, it contained enough details to show that the writer has known Janet Mercer for many years and believes there was a significant and unwarned personality shift just before she began to date Ulysses Feral."

"So, the question is if she actually has... does anybody here know her from before then?" Chance asked.

"I knew her before she was killed forty years ago," Ashley nodded to him. "While that is the incarnation Ulysses still thinks of, she has been understandably changed by the events. She has much in common with her former incarnation, much has changed as well."

"It's that Janet?" Jake blinked, then groaned.

"Okay, I know how I know the name," Chance said, turning back towards Jake. "But where do you know it from?"

"Halikar was still grumbling about her when I came along and gave him a new stubborn to compare her to," Jake shrugged. "She was an Enforcer, killed in the line of duty. She believed she was not finished strongly enough that she won the right to be reborn with her memories intact."

"I didn't know about that part," Chance murmured. "So this really is the same Janet, not just somebody who looks like her? Or could that be where the personality shift came from?"

"Yes, it really is the same Janet, and I don't know," Jake admitted. "But if someone who knew her recently, like the note said, thinks she changed, it's unlikely to be from the rebirth."

"True," Chance nodded. "I guess I just wish I knew more about the details here."

"The Commander did know her before her death," Toama pointed out. "Better than you did, most likely," she added, looking at Ashley.

"Agreed," the Snow Leopard nodded.

"Wouldn't matter," Chance said, shaking his head. "It'd take something major to get past what he feels for her ... eating puppies or something," he half-joked.

"So he's always been that smitten with her?" Ashley focused on him.

"No, but... well, we're talking about the Commander here. He'd been attracted to her... it probably wouldn't have turned into anything more if she hadn't died the way she did, but that's not how things turned out. Give him forty years or so to idealize her and drop her right in his lap ... I don't think I'm surprising anybody here when I say that, as far as she's concerned, he's got the blinders on pretty seriously."

"No surprise," Ashley nodded. "It's why we take these notes on his lovers so seriously. She's simply worse that way than most."

"I know," Chance nodded. "I'm just not sure how to conduct this one. If either of them finds out there's an investigation going on, the other's going to learn it fast, and then there'll probably be trouble."

"That's why I am here," Priest Graydon, a red-on-orange tabby tom, explained. "Your efforts here are protected under Jenz' blessing."

"Which is not to say we can get away with anything, but they won't be stumbling across the information accidently and will not be as suspicious of what activity they do see as they might otherwise be," Recka Thomas told them as she chewed lightly on a pen.

"Which helps greatly," Toama nodded. "Miss Harris, have you noticed anything about Janet, or her relationship with the Commander, that we should know about?"

"I haven't noticed anything I thought was out of line, but I will tell you what I know," the secretary said quietly, more than slightly cowed by being the focus of so many powerful Ghosts, instead of her preferred place in the background.

"Ready for our night out?" Chance grinned at his oldest daughter as he stuck his head into her room and tried to ignore her taste in music. How did a daughter of his ever get into classical?

"Oh yeah," she grinned back and hopped up from her chair, her studying now the last thing on her mind. "Pizza?"

"Sounds good," he chuckled. "Any movies out you're up for too?" He asked her. "It's not a school night, so we can take our time unless something comes up."

"How about the latest Treasures of Aristal?" her grin widened. "Then some time at the gym?"

"Sounds good," he chuckled. "Actually, want to talk to you some time tonight, the gym's as good a time as any if we don't get the chance over dinner. So, need some time to get ready?"

"Nope," she giggled and grabbed a tote bag already packed for the night. "I'm ready."

"Well, somebody's been looking forward to a night out," he chuckled. "Come on kiddo, let's get going," he said, nodding back over his shoulder and stepping out of the doorway.

"Of course," she snickered, tagging along after him. "Midnight isn't into weight lifting."

"Yeah, well, right now that's for the best," Chance smiled. "I've missed you the last couple nights."

"I'm glad you're back," she smiled and got in the car with him. "The attack was scary."

"Yeah, it was," he agreed with a sigh as he started the car. "This time especially. Though it looks like it didn't scare you too much," he added, grinning knowingly at her and got a blank look in return.

"I checked in on you when I got home that night," he chuckled. "I noticed that Lyth was there with you."

"I sleep better with him there," she blushed without even being sure why. "Midnight seems to like having him around too."

"It's okay," he smiled. "I certainly don't mind... just tell me if he ever starts treating you poorly, okay?" He told her seriously.

"Midnight would kick his tail before you ever got to him," she half giggled. "Seriously. I will."

"Good," he nodded. "Have you hit your first heat yet?" He asked her, hoping that he could introduce the topic quickly enough to keep this from being too uncomfortable a topic.

"No," she shook her head. "Midnight thinks it will be soon, and so does Lyth. I'm older than some already."

"Yeah," he nodded, chuckling a bit. "To be honest, I've kinda been grateful for it, it put this talk off for a while. How much have you been over in sex ed about your heats?"

"Probably more than you want to say," she giggled as he drove to her favorite pizza parlor. "I can get pregnant on the first day, and I shouldn't have sex for several days before I expect it to start. Pregnancy doesn't require penetration, or even for him to come. While it's possible to not get pregnant during a heat, it's unusual enough not to count on, much to Midnight's annoyance."

"We've had some screwy luck that way," Chance admitted with a chuckle. "Do you have any girlfriends you've considered asking for help while you're in heat?"

Tamera thought about it, going over her plans and how to bring it up with her father.

"Umm, I was thinking of Lyth, actually. He says he can control his fertility so I won't have kittens," she said before he could react to the first part. "Midnight agreed it is something he could know how to do by now."

"I'll want to check with Jake to make sure it is, first," Chance told her. "But if he says it should work, it's okay. If something does happen...." He sighed, shaking his head with a slight chuckle. "Well, at least you'll have plenty of support dealing with it. I just really don't want you to have to go through that."

"I don't want surprises either, dad," she reached out to squeeze his leg. "I looked it up in the temple library, and asked Aunt Melia. It's a real ability. They usually use it to help folks have kittens, but she agreed it can stop it from happening too if the intention is good."

"Good," he smiled, taking her hand and squeezing it at a stop light before he pulled in to park. "I think you'll be in good hands then... are you planning on staying at home, or going to the Temple?"

"The Temple," she said softly, more uncomfortable with this than telling her father she wanted to have a tom with her for her first heat. "Aunt Melia kinda warned me how hard it can hit Furlong toms."

"To be honest, I think it's a good idea, for just that reason," he told her, leaning over to give her a light kiss on the forehead before turning the car off. "It'll be a lot easier on Midnight, at any rate," he chuckled slightly.

"Somehow, I don't think she'd mind as long as it stayed directed at her," Tamera giggled.

"Honey, it hits me hard, but not that hard," he told her seriously. "Come on, let's get dinner."

"Oh yeah," she wiggled excitedly as they got out of the car. "Dinner is always good."

"You're definitely my kit," he chuckled, following her into the restaurant. Both their noses went into overtime as they spotted the buffet just beyond the hostess, who smiled a welcome at them.

"Two for the buffet?" she asked.

"Yes," Chance nodded and followed her to a small table for two.

"Just help yourselves, plates and glasses are up there," the hostess told them with a knowing smile. "I'm sure you remember where all the best bits are."

"Oh yeah," Tamera grinned in delight.

"So, how's school been?" he asked as they headed to get their plates and first round of food.

"I'm still passing everything," she sounded as proud of the fact as the work it took should make it. "Some of the girls tease me for being stronger than most toms, but I've got a good boyfriend and they don't."

"Better than most of them will get for a while," Chance agreed with a smile as they went back to their seats with plates full of pizza, fried potato wedges, garlic bread, and fried chicken. "Do they know about it yet?" He asked her with a chuckle.

"Yap," she giggled with a wicked grin. "Midnight brings him along when she picks me up from school sometimes. Couple of them saw us kiss with her watching."

"Oh really," he chuckled. "Did they back off a bit after that?"

"No, but I still have something to rub in their faces that they can't say I'm making up," she shook her head a bit and paused to consume a slice of 'everything' pizza. "Sometimes it makes me wish I was in a school with more Furlongs," she admitted. "I wouldn't stand out so much."

"You wouldn't," he admitted, "but it's still one of the best schools you could be in right now. Besides, being different's a good thing sometimes."

"Like?" she prompted him.

"Well, for one thing, you don't look like everybody else," he pointed out. "If you didn't already have a boyfriend, you'd be surprised how handy that can be. But beyond that, and more important, you know that there's more important things than looks," he told her seriously. "You're a smart kid ... how many of the ones who give you grief can't keep up with you in class?"

"Most, except in Katian," she nodded. "Some of the others ... well, they ask if I'm really a tom playing shekat," she said quietly before digging into her chicken. "That I'm into a lot of guy stuff doesn't help."

"Please, if you were, you'd be trying to act a lot more feminine," he muttered. "They're just trying to be jerks. They don't matter in the long run; you're not going to have to deal with them any more after you get out of school."

"I know, but it still hurts, especially from the guys," she smiled at her father in thanks. "Sometimes I wonder why they're mean like that. I don't think I've done anything to hurt them."

"You haven't, hon," he told her before having a piece of his own chicken. "They're just trying to make themselves look better by pushing everybody else around them down."

Tamera cocked her head, thinking about that and looking at her own behavior for it. She spotted a few moments, and cringed inwardly.

"Has it ever bothered you that your partner is so important?" she asked him quietly.

"Nah," Chance said, shaking his head. "I know just about everybody else thinks of Jake as the Champion of Bastet, but to me, he's my partner. Besides," he chuckled, "he'd rather put me in the spotlight any day."

"Must annoy him how rarely it works then," she snickered around a breadstick.

"Oh yeah," Chance chuckled. "I think the only two times I've seen him be happy to be in the spotlight were his wedding, and the day he unveiled the Raven."

"Before the shooting started at least," she nodded. "It's been quite a week, hasn't it?"

"Tell me about it," Chance half-laughed, shaking his head. "By the way, I needed to talk to you about something. I was hoping you'd be willing to work with somebody Jake knows, on learning to protect yourself."

"Beyond what you can teach me?" she asked.

"Yeah," he nodded. "I'll still practice with you, but I'm too much street to really teach you well. Besides, the folks Jake knows could kick my tail," he admitted with a sheepish grin.

"Better than Jake could?" she asked with a teasing giggle. "Sure."

"Heh - well, he says so," Chance chuckled. "He says he'd have you work with a priest of Halikar."

That caught her by surprise. "Wow, sure. I thought it would be one of his MMA buddies."

"That's what I'd thought at first too," Chance admitted. "But he thinks it'd work better this way ... something about the focus on defense instead of offense."

"If he tried to set me up with Chema or Sheira, it would be different," Tamera nodded. "Talk about a combat monster."

"Only if you're going into the military," Chance chuckled, shaking his head. "This'll be good though... I want to be sure you can watch yourself. I kinda pissed off Dark Kat pretty bad this last time," he admitted, trying to keep it from seeming as bad as it was with a sheepish grin.

"Bad enough he might be after the rest of us?" she stilled, unsettled by what could have managed that.

"That...." He sighed. "Yeah, he might be," he nodded. "I don't think he will, but it's possible... and you're the most vulnerable person in the family, so I want to be sure you're safe."

"I'll do my best to learn," she nodded seriously before focusing on her meal.

"You always do," he smiled. "So, what've you been up to outside of school and Lyth?" He asked her as they settled down to more casual topics. "Still enjoying football and wrestling?"

"Oh yeah," she grinned, her tail twitching in excitement. "I wish you could make it to more of the matches, but it's still great. I love getting to pin an opponent, run right through them. Still good at it too."

"I know you are ... but I'm going to try and schedule shifts so I've got some time to make it to a few more of your matches, so you can prove it," he grinned. "Think the team'll make the finals?"

"Football, probably not, wrestling, oh yeah," she grinned wildly. "You have to come to the regionals, even if you can't make any others."

"I always do, hon," he grinned back. "If it's at all possible. Bet you'll kick their tails."

"That would be boxing or junior MMA," she winked with a giggle. "Don't worry, I'm not going into those."

"Good - if you did, I think Midnight'd skin me alive for talking you into it, even if I didn't," he laughed.

"Oh, I bet she'd nail Jake for it. It is his hobby," Tamera pointed out with a snicker before downing another piece of pizza and some soda. "You'd only be in trouble for not talking me out of it."

"Which'd be bad enough ... besides, you'd be better as something other than a fighter, I'm sure," he smiled. "You've got the brains not to need to fight."

"I know, I know, but I like the physical contests," she half objected. "I don't want to make a living at it, but I've got a good talent for it."

"I know, I just don't want to see you end up getting into it... it's the protective end," he chuckled. "Weight lifting and wrestling are different from boxing or MMA. A lot less bloody, for one thing."

"A lot less money and scholarships for them too," she said, and instantly wanted to take it back. "Sorry," she mumbled and focused down into her drink.

"What for?" He asked her, cocking his head slightly. "Tamera, it's perfectly natural to be thinking about it ... I'm a little surprised you are already, but there's nothing wrong about it."

"You wouldn't mind if I got in for sports and not grades?" she looked up at him.

"They won't take you if you don't have the grades to get in," he pointed out. "Where you get the money for it... I'm a realist. I got into school on minimal grades in everything but math and physics, and because I agreed to go to the Academy and serve time in uniform. You'll beat that, I'm sure."

She nodded, thinking about that. "What I'm still not sure of is what I want to do with it," she said. "I mean, I really like wrestling and I'm good at it. Same with flying, and I never thought I'd enjoy working at the zoo like I do. It's such a big decision, what to do with my life."

"You're working at the zoo?" Chance asked her with a blink, startled by the news ... and just how well it proved he wasn't a part of his kits' life like he wanted to be.

"Volunteering a couple hours a week mostly," she nodded. "Midnight insisted that I do something, but I really like working with the animals, even the menial stuff I usually do."

"Well, you could always go in for zoology, though there's more writing with that...." He chuckled slightly as he thought of something. "You could blend it with flying too."

"How's that?" she flicked a very interested look at him.

"Well, you could start out working as a wildlife pilot," he explained. "Hauling animals for people, moving cargo and research teams ... with a little luck and more schooling, you might even be able to start doing the research yourself, become a field scientist. Maybe even get on TV too," he chuckled with a half-grin.

"They want cute, sexy shekats for TV," she shook her head, though he could see that the bulk of what he'd said had appealed to her. "It certainly couldn't hurt to suggest that I can to the zoo folks. A lot of animals and supplies get moved around."

"Suggesting you could help with some of the piloting certainly wouldn't hurt, as long as it was short trips and we knew about it ahead of time," he nodded. "I might even be able to join you for some longer ones."

"The biggest hurtle in that would be affording a proper transport plane," she said thoughtfully. "Something that could land on dirt, snow or water while still having a sizeable cargo capacity for large animals and the cages they travel in, plus the people and supplies on those kinds of trips. It's a fine line for the design."

Suddenly she stopped and blushed. "Sorry, dad. It sounds like such a cool job."

"I've got to get you talking to Jake about it," he snickered. "Could start him on a whole new line of monsters."

"You know I'm always happy to test out his new toys," her tail flicked in excitement. "If you think he'd find it interesting."

"A non-combat cargo plane that can land on anything and carry anything? If you're lucky it won't break the laws of physics," Chance snickered, earning a delighted laugh from his daughter.

"That would be so cool," she was nearly vibrating with excitement.

"Well, I think I've found a dream job for you," he grinned. "Maybe you can get some help from the zoo too."

"If nothing else, they'll know where the shipments are coming from and going to," she continued to grin widely. "There has got to be a need for pilots and planes that can and will go anywhere with nearly anything."

"I mean with getting to school," he chuckled. "I imagine they've got some sort of scholarship program."

"They do, but it's really hard to get," she said. "It's mostly for animal husbandry and veterinary medicine."

"Okay," he nodded. "It seemed like a chance. Well, at least now that you've got something to shoot for, you've got an idea what to focus on."

"Oh yeah," Tamera agreed eagerly before she got up to get another plate of food. "It's going to work. We're nothing if not stubborn."

Felina groaned in indulgent pleasure as the heat of the large whirlpool bathtub soaked into her deep muscles. It was an incredibly pleasant way to end a shift, and Jake's finger food dinner offering made it all the better.

"So, have you had any luck tracking down Dark Kat?" She asked, snagging a strip of spiced meat as he poured a small amount of fragrant oil into the tub.

"Not really," he admitted as he joined her and picked up a slice of orange for himself. "Admittedly not surprising. If he was easy to track we'd have found him long ago."

"True," she sighed. "How much did Chance tell you about it?"

"I didn't get the gritty details, but I think he covered it pretty well," Jake said with a groan for the steaming water as it soaked into his fur to his skin. "Though I have to wonder just what happens in his head that he's really fit for duty so quickly. It's not like he fooled a shrink."

"I know," Felina sighed. "It sounds like he's been through this before though... something like it, at any rate. Maybe he's just gotten used to dealing with it."

Jake thought about that as he chewed on a piece of pepper jerky dipped in cheese.

"I think it's context," he said after a while. "It happened for a good cause, it worked, so it's not much different than getting shot protecting a wingkat. He has had practice getting over trauma, and what trauma it's best to not completely get over."

"I just hope he really is okay with it," Felina murmured. "He's a good officer, and a good kat... I'd hate to think he's killing himself to stay in the air."

"Do you really think Toama would have said he was fit for duty if there was a real chance of that?" Jake asked in surprise.

"I just worry about how the question was answered," Felina admitted. "He asked if he was fit for full duty. He didn't leave her any way to answer anything but the short-term question. You remember what she said, about it not being a good idea to push it?"

"If it makes you feel any better, I know that tone," he reached over to squeeze her hand. "It's not going to be anything related to the question. She's hinting at something unrelated where it would be better for him to be off duty, only now he won't be."

"Well... I think that's a good thing," Felina sighed. "I just can't help but feel that he's doing more than he should be right now. Any officer who wasn't a Ghost, he wouldn't be back on duty."

"I know," he nodded as he sank a little further into the hot, swirling water. "But there's his head to consider in the equation to. Chance is one of those people who really doesn't take to a sedate life well, even temporarily."

"So do you think it's best that he's back on duty?" She asked him bluntly.

"For him and his recovery, yes," Jake nodded easily. "For whatever Toama was trying to warn about, probably not."

"I wish I knew what that was," Felina muttered. "Any way we could get her to say more about it?"

"We, likely not," Jake sighed. "If she could have told you, she would have after you left. I might be able to though, even if I can't tell you in turn. As a Champion, they can tell me a lot more than they can mortal authorities."

"And just why can't 'mortal authorities' be told, hmm?" She asked him, her tail flicking irritably beneath the surface of the water.

"Because you are only responsible for mortals," he shrugged. "Just like there are different rules for champions, priests, mages, aliens and such, most of us have rules we have to abide by that don't apply to other kinds of folks. Sometimes it's for your own good, sometimes because of how we get the information."

"I still don't like it, especially not when it means people end up getting hurt," she sighed, sinking down further into the water.

"Half the time I hate it too," he agreed, rubbing her leg. "It's just the rules we have to live by because they're enforced by folks capable of making us obay."

"I know," she murmured, leaning up against him lightly and felt his arm slip around her shoulders. "I suppose I'm glad I don't have to live by the same rules. Having to make command decisions without considering something I knew was going to happen ... that'd drive anybody insane."

"A major reason you aren't allowed to know some things," he murmured with an affectionate nuzzle. "As hard as it might be to think about, it's inevitably worse to live through."

"How do you do it?" She asked him, turning to kiss him lightly before she took a piece of apple from the bowls.

"I'm not given information I don't get to act on," he admitted with a chuckle. "But Toama's not the only one favored by Izaris I've spent time with. There's good reason so few make it past acolyte."

"You're probably right," Felina nodded. "Though I wonder how many who weren't up to it thought it was worth losing their rank. Anyways, if I keep thinking like this I'll get morbid again. How'd your meeting at the Temple go?"

"Worse than the nightmare," he winced. "Going over every detail of it, every move, thought and event to work out what was me and what was the Demon. The only saving grace of it was the ability to do most of it without talking."

"Wonderful," she grumbled. "So, anything I should know about?"

"Everyone agreed it was basically an assault on me, as a champion," he murmured against her hair. "Meant to unsettle me, hurt my readiness for whatever's coming soon, and it's the same creature that's been terrorizing me most of my life. Not fun, but nothing particularly new either."

"That's good ... so, on a better topic ... any truth to the rumors I've heard about you and Miss Briggs?" She asked him, cracking a bit of a grin.

"Depends on the rumors," he kissed her cheek.

"True," she chuckled. "I've heard she's one of your newer lovers though ... which surprises most people, she doesn't usually date unless she's in heat."

"Yes, though much more casual a lover," he murmured, rubbing her shoulder. "Her interest is in an eventual sire that isn't a mate."

"It usually is," Felina chuckled. "Not always a sire, but she hasn't been looking for a mate since at least the Pastmaster's first attempt to katnap her. Mmm ... maybe some time I should ask her about a threesome," she winked playfully.

"If you would like to, I'm not going to object," he chuckled. "She definitely has a thing for being watched that she's in complete denial of."

"Oh yeah," Felina grinned. "Mmm... would you be weirded out if I told you I've been one of her heat-partners before?"

"Not at all. I guessed a while back," he chuckled at her surprised look. "We did spend a couple days together with very little to do but talk and find out what got her hot."

"Mmm... did denial play ever come up?" Felina grinned as she snuggled up a bit more closely.

"No," he grinned wickedly. "A kink of hers?"

"Oh yeah," Felina purred, licking her lips thinking about the memories. "Especially when she's in heat... she wears a chastity belt so she can't get any attention up front, then gives herself to her partner entirely. Managed to keep her on the edge for about two hours before she broke down, stopped begging, and ordered me to fuck her," she giggled.

"You know I can bring all the fire of a heat on without the risk of kittens," he purred deeply. "So any time we can all get together, we can have a little fun with it."

"Mmm ... oh, we could have some real fun with her that way," Felina purred, her hand tracing up his thigh under the water. "Let her scent work you up ... then make her watch while you fuck me hard and fast, until she can't take it any more."

"Maybe have her watch you fucking me too, give her a nice long look at what she wants in her so much," he shifted to kiss her mouth as he spread his legs a bit.

"Mmm ... I could do with that," she purred, moving her hand to stroke his sheath. "Maybe make a Callie Sandwich, unless you'd prefer to be in the middle?"

"I like the middle, but I'm not about to complain if we do both," he murmured with a breath of pleasure for her touch. "Just how much do you get off on playing the tom?" he purred seductively.

"That depends on the strap-on I've got ... or how much the 'fem' enjoys it. You have something in mind?" She rumbled, slipping a fingertip into his sheath to tease his tip and rumbled at the way it made him tremble.

"Yeah," he was almost panting as his body responded to her touch and the promise of what could come. "Whatever you like, we probably have for when Kathie visits, and I know we have what I like."

"Mmm ... I'll go take a look," she purred. "Any favorites?" She asked as she slipped from the tub, her fur dripping with hot water.

"Anything in the bottom drawer of the nightstands," he grinned up at her. "Cockrings and cuffs included."

"Those I remember you like," she grinned, padding off to the bedroom, enjoying the slightly scandalous feel of the draft on her wet fur in a house that wasn't hers. The only think she knew she had to rule out were electricity. It would strike her too, and she didn't have nearly his tolerance.

She looked through the drawer ... and grinned as she spotted a particularly interesting pair of toys. She took one of the harnesses, privately amused that she and Kathie were so close to the same size, and fixed a long, blue dildo shaped like some sort of tentacle to the inside of it, for her sex, a smaller waterproof vibrator to the mount for her ass, and put it on, groaning a bit as she turned on the vibe.

Then she took a long, ridged dildo that she wasn't honestly sure did belong to any real creature, sliding it in for Jake before she grabbed one of his favorite cockrings and the cuffs, heading back out.

"So, what's this supposed to be?" She asked with a grin as she stepped into the bathroom.

"A dragon," he grinned at her and turned as he stood into the deeper water. "I got a very good set of specs from one of Pastmaster's beasts. Did you know that Zeta gives you a free dildo of anything you provide the specs on if they put it into production?"

"Ugh... given recent events, I do not want to know how you got the chance to inspect it," she giggled, slipping back into the water with him. "Though I've heard about that before. Mmm ... now, just what are you thinking of?"

"I sit on your lap while you do anything you want with me," he suggested with an eager twitch of his tail.

"I want you facing me," she purred, pulling him into her lap and kissing him deeply as he wiggled to spread his legs and straddle her.

"So I can play with your boobies?" he asked teasingly as he slid his hands down to caress the firm mounds, rubbing his thumb across her nipple.

"With my what?" She laughed, even as she kissed him and pressed into his touch.

"Furlongs rubbing off on me," he chuckled and rubbed against the dragon dildo trapped between his body and hers. "Your body feels so good like this," he nearly moaned, kissing his way down her jaw and neck.

"Mmm ... bet it feels better when this beast's inside you, instead of between us," she rumbled, leaning her head back to let him nuzzle her throat, reaching between them to put the barbed ring around his cock.

It was hot, the sound he made as the pricks of pain danced through his groin. Probably even hotter than the dildo and vibrator inside her body as he kissed and fondled her, his breath hot and fast against her wet fur.

"Want your hands free, or cuffed?" She moaned softly as he started to rub against the dildo, making the two inside her body and the clit stimulator built into the harness move with them.

"Cuff me," he said, licking water from the soft fur of her neck as he slid his hands behind his back near the base of his tail. "Take me, use me, make me forget everything but your body."

She cuffed his hands behind his back, kissing him tenderly as she did so, taking his mouth with her tongue. She reached down, gripping his hips, then pulled him up and moved to sink the dildo into his tight ass, moaning into his mouth as the movement pushed the strap-on harder against her sex, her ass tingling hotly with the vibe inside of it.

"Ohhh, yes," Jake hissed, his head falling back as his eyes closed. His body reflexively relaxing to allow the strangely textured intruder in, then tightened to hold it there. "Yes, more."

She started thrusting, leaning forward to nip hard at his collarbone, grinning as he started to get into it. Her fingers closed around his cock, and she stroked it hard and fast beneath the water as she thrust up into him, rubbing against his prostate as she worked it deeper and deeper into his ass. It was hard to tell which drew the sweetest sounds from him; the strike to his prostate or when her hand came down and pressed the needle-studded cock ring into the incredibly sensitive flesh just above his sheath.

It hardly mattered, really. Not with the way he reacted to her. Most females weren't so responsive. It was enough to draw a moan from her that wasn't entirely from physical stimulation.

She hoped that, after this, he'd be willing to let her up on top ... like this, she wanted to see him, kiss him, taste him ... but with him beneath her, she wondered just how loudly she could make him scream if she really cut loose. She already knew she couldn't go too far, and just that was an intoxicating idea.

Soon she pulled him forward, holding him against her body tightly as she continued to thrust up into him, both of them on the very edge.

She cried out as the tentacle-dildo in her sex rubbed against her g-spot, her hips grinding against him, working the dildo in his ass against her prostate as she stroked him hard and fast, eager to feel him come.

It was almost without warning when his cock jerked in her hand, the pearly stream dampened by the water, though it still broke the surface as he arched his back in with a shameless cry. His body no longer his to command he let go completely and let his body do as she willed, exemplifying his helplessness to her.

She leaned forward, taking his throat in her jaws and holding it tight as she hugged him close... and heard a low, awkward cough behind her.

"Company," she muttered around Jake's throat. Despite the shift in his body to acknowledge they couldn't continue playing, he remained relaxed.

"Priest of Halikar," Jake told her.

"Wonderful," she groaned as she looked back over her shoulder, sinking beneath the water to conceal her breasts... and wishing she could sink further when she saw who it was. "Hello, High Priest Firepoint," she murmured sheepishly.

"You do not need to feel bashful of your body, Felina," he smiled at her gently. "It is a fine example of a warrior in youthful prime."

"Thank you," she chuckled. "Though what I'm doing with it and your Champion is, perhaps, another issue," she admitted.

"He clearly enjoyed it," the old Tiger chuckled. "I do wish I do not have to interrupt an evening you are both enjoying, but there is a matter that requires the attention of Halikar's Champion."

That had Jake's full focus in an instant.

"She may hear," Hawk answered before the question could be asked. "There is a temple that requires your personal attention. It is not renegade, but only for the technicality that we have not convened to announce it yet."

"Ouch," Jake winced in sympathy. "Is there any hope for sorting this out?"

"We do not know," Hawk admitted as Jake pulled himself off the dildo, gave Felina a kiss and got out of the tub. "They have publicly back an invasion of a neighboring country by the government."

"Except that the preemptive strike has no founding in reality and they refuse to listen," Jake didn't have to guess.

"Yes," Hawk nodded. "Take whomever you wish. I ask you to try to reason with them one more time before razing the temple and it's people."

"What nations are we talking about?" Felina asked seriously, turning and standing up with no more concern for her somewhat undignified state. "This might be an Enforcer issue before long."

"Unlikely," Hawk assured her. "The aggressor is Tambron, their target is Sanderice."

"Wonderful," Felina sighed, shaking her head. "At least we don't have official relations with either one, as far as I know."

"They've been in boarder wars for as long as anyone has records of," Jake shook his head and stepped into the shower to dry off quickly. "Felina ... I want to keep Chance out of this, but he's my partner and I have nothing in this mission to stop him from coming."

"I do," she told him easily. "Chance is assigned to the Dark Kat pursuit ... since he's not a Champion, this doesn't negate his assignment like it does yours."

"Good enough," he smiled thanks at her and shook the last water from his fur. "Who among the priests wish to come?" he turned to Hawk.

"As many of us as you're willing to take," he said seriously. "This is an affront to everything we stand for; pre-emptive is one thing, but based on no evidence... that's not defense."

"How many are allied to the temples in Tambron?" Jake asked, stepping out of the shower stall and heading into the bedroom to dress.

"According to records, sixteen," Hawk told him. "I would expect fifty warriors or more, but only a hand of priests who are more."

"Select the fifteen finest warriors we have, and five who have not been bloodied yet," Jake told him as he dressed in jeans and a collared shirt. "I expect a few others will join us."

"Who are you going to call to join us, Champion?" Hawk asked with a stoic uneasiness.

"I'm going to invite Sheira, Murin, Talos and Kyale," he said. "Gather everyone who is coming at the Halest Airfield, or to meet us in Tambron. I want to leave no later than forty-eight hours."

"Yes, Champion," Hawk bowed in a clear acknowledgement of Jake's rank as mission commander. "I will contact you before supper with the list and their specialties."

"Thank you, Hawk," Jake nodded to him. "Clear skies, my ally."

"Clear skies, my Champion," Hawk said ritually before he turned and left.

"This is going to be messy, isn't it?" Felina asked him quietly as she stepped up behind him and slid her hands across his shoulders.

"Most likely," he nodded. "For it to get to me, they've already had a dozen warnings, sanctions and visits from some very powerful folks. I'll try to reason with them, but the odds of it working are next to none. There are not likely to be any survivors."

"Understood," she nodded. "You know we can't authorize any Enforcer resources beyond the jets you've built for us ... good luck."

"Thanks," he leaned into her touch. "It's not going to be anything resembling a fair fight. It's just sucky timing."

"It does give you the fight you've been looking for," she offered, kissing his cheek lightly. "If you don't have to leave right away, we can finish what we started if you want," she murmured.

"True, and true," he turned his head to kiss her. "Just hit autopilot there. I need to make a few calls, but then I'll be all yours again."

"I'll make sure you've got something special to come back to," she winked, heading back into her bedroom to wait after returning his kiss, leaving him to make his calls.

"Miss Sinnian, Miss Sinnian!"

Abi looked up from the pot she was working on as Michael Rockford ran up from the dig. She was back in Katsylyan territory, in the valley around the ancient family castle.

"Miss Sinnian, I think you'll want to see what we've found!" The young tuxedo tom said breathlessly as he ran into the small building she was using as an office.

"What is it?" she asked even as she stood to follow him. Excitable or not, he did know an important find when he saw one.

"I think it's a new chamber of the catacombs... and somebody important is inside, if I'm right about the writings on the door," he grinned. "It looks like it says something about a High Councilor."

That would be big... they hadn't found tombs of the family's leading members at all, which had struck her as strange. If they'd all been buried at the back, to protect them from grave robbers... that made sense.

"That is excellent," her excitement built as he showed her there, the winding distance inside ancient tunnels. It was dark enough, even with all their technology and a few bits of magic, that you had to watch where you were stepping. Traps had been everywhere, though so far few had taken more than an hour to disarm and almost all had been a visible deterrent.

It was that rare one that was hidden and complex that you had to be careful of. They weren't all designed to go off when you first passed by them. One memorable one had gone off after they had been working a passage for more than a week.

"How heavily locked is the door?"

"To be honest, we haven't tried to get through it yet," he admitted. "There's one large lock, I'm told it looks more ornamental than functional. As for riddles and other puzzles ... I can't read half of what's on it, if I'm lucky. The pictures look complex enough they could be part of a puzzle lock, but it doesn't look like the main door was made to be all that difficult to get through. Almost like somebody figured they'd have to move through it fairly often."

"Interesting," she murmured as they turned the corner and she stepped into the cramped work quarters and the half-uncovered door.

Looking it over, it didn't take long to realize that he'd mistranslated the name. It wasn't a High Councilor... it would translate more into 'Dread Lord.' And the name... 'Hazred' sounded familiar, but she couldn't quite place it.

"They were definitely afraid of him, but not enough to imprison him," she added to his thoughts as she inspected what she could see with careful intent at very close range. "Dread Lord Hazred is what they seem to have called him. He may have been one of their undead lords."

"I thought they were just a rumor... did you find out more about them?" He asked her as she went over the door. "Should we stay away from this one?"

"They are a rumor, but after what I've seen, I've found that such rumors are often more truth than fiction," she said, reading the last of what was on the door. "It is likely safe enough. I doubt he's in residence any more, or we'd have been hit already."

"I hope you're right; any idea how to get through then?" He asked her.

Looking it over, she noticed tiles that seemed familiar; they matched parts of stained-glass windows she'd seen before. Always the same design too....

Pressing each of the tiles she recognized, they sunk in slightly, and the door rattled before rolling out of the way, opening up to a cave-black chamber.

"I guess so," Michael murmured as his eyes tried to adjust to pear into the gloom.

Abi didn't wait. She picked up one of the electric lanterns and stepped inside, careful but not afraid.

As she stepped in, it was like walking back into a different world ... the chamber was more like a hallway, with several other rooms leading off of it. It was decorated in faded finery, time and dust having made a banquet table set for thirteen look far less appealing than it had when it was in use.

Each of the thirteen chairs had a different symbol on it ... one that matched each of the thirteen doors leading out, discounting the entrance.

There had to be some sort of ritual significance to this. It just didn't make sense as decoration, even eccentric decoration.

She began to examine each chair and the setting in front of it, trying to determine if there were any clues as to the contents of the rooms before they tried to open them.

She couldn't tell anything... it looked like the chairs had been used often, the table used often, but she couldn't tell anything about the rooms....

Except for one. The head table had a strange bowl with twelve 'spouts' along the edges, unlike any of the others, which were set with normal place settings. The door behind it was also different ... marked with powerful warding symbols, albeit ones that had been crafted hastily.

This door was going to take a lot more work to get through safely.

"Time to call in the real pros," she murmured to herself as she ran through the index in her mind of everyone who might be useful and those few that she wanted there before she continued through that door.

"Before trying any of them, or just that one?" Michael asked as he slipped into the chamber himself.

"Just that one," she said absently as she turned her attention to the door closest to the entrance. "The rest seem to be normal enough."

"Right," he nodded. "I'll start getting the rubbings so we can open the others," he nodded, pulling in a roll of butcher's paper and setting up.

Mika Salion, the Champion of Izaris, looked around the main room of Black Horse Inn where the Champion of Halikar and his forces were gathering. To see the priests of Halikar were to be expected; this was their fight after all. It was who else was there that fascinated her about the personal charisma Jake Clawson must have. The Champion of Sheliel, the Champion of Sadrula, a High Priest of Lyris, a High Priestess of Taecin and at least one warrior with no cause to be there but to be at his side.

She was particularly interesting ... there was the vibe that the black shekat knew him well. Mika smiled and walked over towards her, smoothing out her own golden fur some, taking a mug of beer over to her.

"Hello," she said easily. "Mika Salion; I've been introduced to most everybody here but you."

"Kyale Bulank," she shook the Caracal's hand warmly. Her grip was firm, her palms calloused by a lifetime of weaponless combat, but she was friendly enough too. "You don't look like one of the priests."

"I'm not," Mika chuckled. "Champion of Izaris, probably know more about Tambron'ds military forces and their backers than anybody who isn't a member of them."

"How did you meet Jake?" Kyale asked curiously. "I don't recall him speaking of you."

"To be honest, I haven't met him before," Mika admitted. "I was contacted by Halikar's High Priestess in Treveris. They wanted to be sure this was recorded, and they knew I'd be able to help."

"So you aren't here to fight, but to take notes," Kyale nodded. "Do you have such battlefield reporter jobs often?"

"Fairly often, but most of my work is still in military intelligence and study," Mika explained. "You?"

"I'm a professional fighter on the MMA circuit," she said with a smile as Mika sat down next to her. "Jake nearly beat me in a fight the first time we met."

"Have you ever been in a real fight, outside the ring?" The Caracal asked, taking a sip of her drink.

"Not many since I started fighting in the ring, but I grew up fighting," she nodded. "I've killed in battle before."

"That's good," Mika nodded. "Where are you from, that you've gone from unarmed battle to the ring?"

"Just west of the Ed'ug'ar River in Majeare," she said. "It's a very small country, not all that far from here."

"Sweet Empress, how did you ever learn to fight there?" Mika asked, looking at her with a shocked, slightly aghast expression. "That place is one of the most backwards, patriarchal nightmares on Aristal!"

"You have no idea, Mika," she said softly, her gaze drifting off over her mug of posset. "My father raised me as a tom, the only son he had. He told everyone I was one, gave me herbs to stunt my maturing into a female. I was in my late teens before I understood I was not one. Like all toms, I was trained to fight, and I was sent with hunting parties, raiding parties and stood guard since I was ten. My kills were there."

Mika stared at her, gaping like a fish, trying to think of something to say to that. It went against every conceivable tenet she'd been raised with ... she knew that Majeare was different, but raising a daughter as a son went against every fiber of her being.

"I... I don't have any idea what to say to that," she murmured. "I... good gods what... ugh!"

"Majeare is a land where females are property, less valuable than a good horse even today. Considered good for nothing more than keeping the house and bearing sons," Kyale told her without a hint of offense. "A tom without sons is pitied, for there will be no one to bury him or see to his affairs. He is a walking dead kat with no future. It was worth the risk to mine to bribe the shaman to announce me as a son. It cost him his life in the end, and should have cost me mine. It made me what I am, a free kat with a good life and enough success to have a servant of my own."

"It should have cost him his life sooner than it did," Mika muttered. "I know Majeare's different, but doing that to somebody ... even making a male into a female like that would be considered hideous back home."

"Perhaps, but it is what it is," Kyale could only shrug. "It can not be changed. Only the future can be."

"You're talking to somebody who's here as a historian," Mika pointed out with a weak chuckle. "You're living as a female now, right?"

"Yes," she nodded. "Not that there is much difference in the MMA."

"Not much, perhaps, but it makes a difference... I'm sorry I reacted so strongly. You know Treveris' own gender politics."

"Yes, I do," she nodded with a bit of a chuckle. "It was strange the first time I visited. Nice, but odd."

"It would be, for somebody from Majeare," Mika nodded. "So, where's your servant?"

"He's in MegaKat City, seeing after Jake's place and our things," she smiled slightly. "A war is no place for his kind."

"No, it's not," the Caracal agreed. "The reason I left mine at home too, though they'll be worried sick about me," she chuckled. "What's he like?" She asked with a smile.

"Owl Eyes is a big Brown Hyena. He was a gamma in his pack. A good groomer and skilled at being a bottom but not considered good for much else," she smiled fondly as she thought about him. "I got him as part of a rather complicated trade in Karalanol. He's been a good companion, cook, massage therapist and general assistant since. He's sweet, doesn't mind cleaning up the bloody mess I can be after a hard fight and dearly loves making me feel good."

"Mmm, a good male," Mika purred. "Enjoys indulging you when you've got some stress to burn off?" She teased lightly.

"Especially then," Kyale smiled with a blush. "He loves being a bottom to a strong female."

"Mmm ... maybe we'll get a chance to compare notes after this is over," Mika purred. "I'm not as much for topping a male, but I do enjoy talking about good subs. What about your relationship with Jake?"

"We met in the ring, started training together and it went from there," she smiled a bit shyly. "He and his mate were my first lovers, back when Jake couldn't really mate a female yet. We usually stay with them when I'm in town."

"What's he like?" She asked her easily, leaning back and remembering it all.

"In general, in a fight, in bed?" Kyale asked, not wanting to ramble about something she wasn't being asked.

"I'd been thinking more about the first two, but whatever information I can get... Izaris can be a harsh taskmistress about things like that," Mika chuckled. "I know more about the bedroom habits of various important people than is healthy."

"Well, his tastes in bed are anything but a secret," Kyale giggled. "Though it's not that way between us. I don't have much taste for pain."

"Sadist or masochist?" Mika asked curiously, glancing at the cinnamon tom as he came in with another of the newcomers. This one raised her eyebrow all the way up. The teenager's fur was dyed in wild patterns and she had no indication of being a warrior of any grade. She had power, befitting the Lady of Storms, but a strange one to see in a battle between the factions of Halikar's faithful.

"Mostly masochist, though I understand he enjoys dealing it under the right conditions," Kyale said thoughtfully. "I know he can enjoy without pain too, and with females now."

"He'd best be careful if he ever pays Treveris a visit," Mika chuckled. "He'd be quite the popular commodity with many of the nobles there... do you know who his companion is?" She asked.

"No, but she looks to be Kaleesin," she regarded the unusual female curiously. "Who is she?"

"Champion of Storms, I think ... don't remember her being invited, though she's rather difficult to uninvite if she decides to show up," Mika mused. "Part of being the Champion of a force of nature."

"Jake knows her, probably shared a bed at some point," Kyale said as she watched them interact for a moment. "I don't think they're close though."

"She isn't with most people, from what I've heard," she chuckled. "I wouldn't be surprised at all, either. I haven't met her before, but it's a track record of sorts with them."

"Wild and fickle as the storms she commands," Kyale half guessed. "Are your servants your lovers?"

"Some of them," Mika said easily. "It's normal enough... I'm sure you can guess at that," she chuckled. "One of my favorites is Terrence... he's a fine sculptor as well, a favorite at the Temple of Fahik's. Well muscled, and very good with his hands," she purred deeply enough to cause Kyale to blush.

"How many do you have?" she asked as the wording sank in.

"Mmm ... about two hand that I sleep with, four or five times that many servants when you count all the cooks, nurses for my kits, housekeepers and such. And, of course, my two husbands," she added. "It's far more common in Treveris."

"And you are of great importance," Kyale added with a nod and sipped her hot spiced drink. "You can have however large a collection as you can afford?"

"Basically, yes," Mika nodded. "Is Owl Eyes and Jake your only ones?"

"That have lasted," she nodded with a sip. "I travel too much to have much of a family yet."

"Do you ever plan on settling down to have kits? With Jake, or another?" Mika asked curiously. "You'd probably be welcome in Treveris."

"Yes, I'm planning to settle in MegaKat City in the next few years," Kyale smiled with a glance at the tom in the middle of all this. "Teach self defense to civilians and MMA to fighters. For kittens ... what I was given as a kitten and teen to stop my physical maturity into a female has left me sterile. My legacy will have to be through training, not blood."

"I'm sorry," Mika said sincerely, reaching over to squeeze Kyale's shoulder. "You know... Jake might be able to fix that. He is Bastet's Champion."

Kyale cocked her head at the Caracal. "How?"

"How do Gods do anything?" Mika chuckled. "Magic. He should be able to overcome a problem like that, even if it's just with him."

She considered the Caracal for a time, then nodded thoughtfully. "Perhaps I will have kittens then. He is a fine sire."

"Take it from a mother, I highly recommend it," Mika smiled. "It puts a crimp on things for a few months, but the payoff is better than just about anything."

"I'll keep it in mind," Kyale assured her. "Right now is not a good time for kittens. I still have a few years of fighting yet before I can retire comfortably."

"Fair enough," Mika nodded. "So, what do you know about today's operation?"

"Mostly that it's a big fight Jake's hoping won't happen and has very little expectation of avoiding," she shrugged. "Most of the priests aren't all that happy I'm here, but an outsider warrior is a lot less unsettling than the other champions, especially Sheira. Goddess of war and all."

"They have their doubts about the Champion of War stopping a war from continuing," Mika pointed out. "I can't say I blame them, really, but she's loyal to Jake and his side... a loophole regarding this not being a just war, I suppose."

"It's personal, not professional, for her," Kyale agreed. "Rather like how I am here. I'm effectively a merc, but I'm not fighting for pay here."

"They'd probably be more comfortable if you were," Mika mused. "All uncontrolled elements, people who'll be seeing a failure, in their eyes, and who can't necessarily be relied on to stay quiet about it."

She looked towards the priests with some confusion, then shook her head. "I am not sure I will ever understand the idea that money can be more powerful than loyalty."

"Ah, but you're loyal to Jake, not to them ... they don't know how far your loyalty goes," Mika chuckled. "It's very much the sort of thing you see in my field. Money is a neutral factor; you're no more loyal to mine than to theirs. Loyalty is far more personal, and more typically unreliable if it's not owed to you."

"Cultural bias," Kyale could only say. "I understand it exists, I have seen it many times, but I do not understand it. It was not how I was raised."

"It tends to be a concept more in technological societies," Mika granted. "They'll deal with it though ... they're just very uneasy about having outsiders involved, but they know their Champion would have it no other way."

"Alliances is how he will win the war," she nodded firmly. "Having other champions along is important to the alliance network he's building."

"Agreed," Mika nodded. "He has more deities behind him now than any other Champion, except for Dark Kat," she chuckled. "They're just not directly behind him. It's going to make the final conflict very interesting, especially if Dark Kat stops trying to be subtle."

"Are we talking about the same Omega?" Kyale raised an eyebrow at the idea of describing him as subtle.

"Have you seen what Jake does in a fight, when he's using his abilities as Halikar's Champion?" Mika pointed out. "Dark Kat has the backing of gods of chaos, of conquest, of torture, of dark summonings, of arsonists and murderers ... he could make Jake look positively weak, if he wanted to, magically. And yet, he focuses on those Dreadnoughts, despite their constant failures. Dark Kat himself could make even the greatest of his creations look like nothing... but he doesn't."

Kyale nodded mutely as she digested that.

"He is either completely mad, oblivious to his true abilities, or he has a plan they are furthering," she said with uncomfortable certainty born of nothing more than being a lifetime student of war and battle tactics. "I suspect it would be the last."

"As do I," Mika nodded. "He's trying to conceal his true power, at the very least... hoping to lure Jake in for a final confrontation that Jake believes he can win easily, before unleashing his full might. But I suspect he's shoring up his power for some other purpose instead."

"Jake is not his only opponent among the champions," Kyale suggested. "Perhaps one of the better connected of the fighters, but he is not the only leader out there."

"No, he is not," Mika acknowledged easily. "To be honest, there are some Champions he will never win over. But he is still one of Dark Kat's most influential enemies, particularly in MegaKat City. I think you're right about it being a different type of plan though. There's a pattern to his behavior, just not one that makes any sense if I assume logical motivations."

Kyale chuckled lightly. "Logic is based too much on point of view to be accurate when trying to deal with someone who does not share a common ground with you. From the list of gods you said back him, his motives could be extremely strange to most folks."

"True," the Caracal smiled. "Still... it does worry me, when I think about it. My list of 'logical reasons' is a very extensive one, usually... I've dealt with more than one megalomaniac in the past. Usually it boils down to the big four... power, money, lust, or politics. With Dark Kat, I can only conclude that I need more information to put it all together... maybe Jake can help me with it," she mused.

"Quite possibly," Kyale nodded, glancing at her friend talking with various members of the party. "Do you know how many folks are coming in all?"

"Twenty six, not counting the Kaleesin... I think everybody's here. If you'll excuse me, Kyale, I have to find my way over to Jake and Hawk Firepoint; even if I can't add anything to their plan, it would be best to hear it out directly."

"I understand," she smiled with a nod. "I hope this isn't as interesting as everybody expects it to be."

"Oh, I'd be much happier if we went there and they just surrendered when they saw what they were up against too," Mika agreed. "Just don't count on it with Halikar's clergy, anywhere." With that, she stood and walked over towards the table where Jake and Hawk were talking with several other senior priests and made herself unobtrusive. They were all fully aware of her, but elected not to make a point of it

"How many of the rebels do folks know personally?" Jake asked those circled around the rough table with a map of their target laid out on it.

"High Priest Korunn Sheng and his mate, Priestess Korunn Djia, myself," Hawk said quietly. "And Eternal Dawn ... I wouldn't be surprised if he's the one who led them into this. He was a firebrand the last time I met him, he transferred out here because this is the only Temple that still follows Halikar's oldest traditions."

Jake could only groan. "Pre or post Asherian Empire?"

"Pre," Hawk sighed. "They weren't so aggressive before ... the last time I visited, it just meant that they still followed Halikar's Unconquered Sun aspect. But if Eternal Dawn became more of an influence, that could change easily."

"Then let's hope that someone there with influence does not want this," Jake said as he turned his attention to the map. "I'll take five to the front door. Everyone else will ring the complex in case talking doesn't work."

"Tactically sound, but I wouldn't recommend that strategy," Hawk pointed out. "We outnumber them two to one, unless they've added a barracks we don't know about. It would be better for us to show them the force we have brought, prove that we mean business. It makes it more likely to end without a fight if they feel they're at a disadvantage."

Jake looked at him with a curious expression, one founded somewhere between 'that makes sense' and 'when has numbers ever mattered to us.'

Still, he nodded. "All right. Everyone will come in the front."

"It's for the best," Hawk nodded. "We should insist on seeing the High Priest and Priestess, when we try to talk to them. They know several of us; it will be harder for them to justify their actions, and that will give us an advantage with their followers. Do we know if the Temple is defended by the local military?"

"If their public support of Tambron is any indication, I'd be surprised if they weren't," Jake said. "They must be expecting us."

"That will be the greatest problem ... we should surround the group with priests," Hawk said. "Let us channel Halikar's Shield around us, in case they try to answer reason with overwhelming firepower."

Jake could only grin at that, to avoid snickering. "The only firepower they'll have at their disposal will be magic. There's not much on the tech front I can't short-circuit."

"Including standard firearms, no electronic controls?" Hawk pointed out, raising an eyebrow.

"They contain chemical controls," Jake nodded. "Gunpowder or the like is required. My jammers don't work on slings, most magic or things that are too far in advance of my own creations, but anything we make, I can break much of the time."

"Not a perfect offensive defense, but an effective counter-measure to even the odds," Queen Boadicea of the United Tribes of Keldina nodded in approval. "Are you sure you are not also the Champion of Tenoic?" she half teased.

"Favored by him, definitely, but I'm not his Champion," Jake shook his head with a bemused chuckle.

"Tenoic's Champion is Kensu Chim in the Xenquii Empire," MegaKat City's Mistress of Arms chimed in. "Jake just appeals to him as he does to Tamorl and the Pain's Pleasure."

"So, the question is if they know that you're capable of this... I doubt it, since I didn't, but how commonly known is this ability?" Hawk asked Jake.

"That I'm as insufferable gadgetteer with a knack for creating the impossible, I think everybody who knows my name knows that much," Jake shrugged. "That I only talk about the worst thirty percent of my creations ... not so many."

"Including now?" Queen Boadicea raised a questioning eyebrow to him.

"Including now," he nodded to her.

"I mean that you can shut down advanced weapons," Hawk explained. "If they know you can stop firearms, they'll be prepared against it, armed with bows and spears and probably local poisons. If they don't, we're safe from that."

"Unlikely," he shook his head. "It's not a trick I've used much. It just seemed likely to be useful at some point."

"Good," Hawk nodded. "I think we'll have this under control then. We set out tomorrow?"

"At first light," Jake nodded. "Make sure everyone gets a good night's sleep. Hawk, you have first watch. Calice, you have last. I'll take the middle."

"I'll get you in two hours," Hawk nodded before the group started to break up to go to their rooms.

"Do you have a room to yourself, or didn't you think that far ahead?" Kyale asked Jake with a smile as he walked away from the table.

"I have one," he chuckled and kissed her on the cheek. "Care to spend what I have off with me?"

"If you'd like," she smiled, returning the kiss. "It can be good for the nerves, I've heard."

"Mmm, better than sleep lately," he purred, perfectly aware of and content to ignore the looks they received as they joined the general movement to the second floor and the rooms they had for the night.

"How are you doing, with Rock still gone?" She asked him as they found Jake's room and closed the door so they could have some privacy.

"It's hard, and getting harder," he admitted as he drew her lithe body close to his. "I've gotten used to sleeping these last few years, used to having someone there to take the edge off, remind me I've got a right to have a life of my own sometimes." He pressed his head against her shoulder and neck. "I miss him too much."

"He'll come back, Jake," she murmured, kissing his neck gently. "You'll just have to make sure you've got plenty of time to dedicate to him when he is," she chuckled, rubbing his back tenderly. "A month or two, knowing you two."

"Quite possibly," he chuckled, sliding his hands down her back as he kissed his way up her neck. "We'll see how much time we're given."

"Until then, you'll just have to settle for your other lovers," she teased lightly, tipping his head up to kiss him on the lips. "Tell me something, about what you can do as a Champion? Would you be able to let me have kits, some time?"

It startled him into silence, then he unfocused briefly as he worked out the answer.

"Yes, I can," he kissed her, drawing her towards the small bed in a room not much larger than the bed in his home. "It will not be an easy pregnancy, I would want you to stay with me or at a major temple to Bastet or Lyris, but you could have healthy kittens."

"I'm not asking you to do it now, but I was talking with Mika and she mentioned it," she explained. "After I've retired, I do want kits, and I don't know if there's any other way to have them."

"A couple, but giving birth is the healthiest for the kittens," he said as he slid his hands under her shirt.

"Yes, it is," she purred, undoing his belt. "Why don't we practice making them for a while?" She suggested, kissing him deeply, her tongue exploring his mouth when it was welcomed in.

They undressed quickly, knowing hands arousing each other until Kyale pushed him back on the bed. She kissed him hungrily, straddling his hips and rubbing herself against his shaft.

"If something does go wrong tomorrow, will you take care of Owl-Eyes for me?" She asked him, moaning as she moved to take his cock into her hungry pussy, tightening around him instinctively.

"I will," he promised, running his hands up her tightly muscled body to squeeze her small, firm breasts. "Nothing bad will happen to you."

"I don't think it will either, but I wanted to be sure," she purred, starting to bounce up and down on his barbed shaft, shivering as they rubbed against her g-spot. "I have to worry about that more than you do."

"Yes, but you won't be a target of much importance to them," he moaned, thrusting up against her body. "No magic, no power ... a skilled warrior, but little threat to the priests."

"Here's hoping you're right!" She moaned, leaning back to give him a good luck up her gorgeous, finely muscled body and the silky, strait black hair that was growing out. "Mmm ... do you get as turned on after a real fight as you do after a match?"

"If not more so, if it goes well," he shivered. His hands ran down to clasp her hips, where his thumbs could reach inwards to rub her clit against his pubes as she leaned forward with a shuddering cry.

"I'll have to remember to be in good enough shape to wind you down afterwards then," she moaned as they worked each other's bodies with the intimate knowledge of many years together.

Soon he moved his hands around her hips to grip her ass, holding her firmly as he thrust his hips against her hard. Each thrust shot a ribbon of seed into her body, making her insides slick with both their juices.

"Mmm ... your turn to be on top now," she purred lustily. "If you can take it," she winked, starting to grind her hips against his again.

Jake slipped out of the one-person bed silently. He knew Kyale would be aware of his movements, but he still did his best not to wake her anyway as he brushed his fur out and got dressed for his double-shift on watch. Despite the likelihood that nothing would happen, he wasn't about to let his forces going undefended.

It was quiet, the fire in the main room dim but holding when he walked downstairs to relieve Hawk.

"I was about to come up for you," the Xanith said quietly, standing up with a polite bow towards Jake. "All's quiet; I'll see you in the morning."

"Rest well, Hawk," Jake nodded to him before beginning a preliminary tour of the grounds to set what should be in his mind as well as compare it to what was there during daylight.

When he came back inside, he saw Mika sitting at the table with her recording book.

"Restless?" he asked politely as he walked over to stir the fire and put another log on it.

"Curious," she said with a smile. "We've never met before, despite your influence. It makes you an interesting subject."

Jake chuckled. "Follow me around and we'll talk then," he said as he headed into the abandoned kitchen to pour himself something to drink.

"Are you expecting any trouble tonight?" She asked him as she followed him, getting a drink for herself and noting in silence his apparent annoyance that everything contained some level of alcohol.

"Not really, but we are technically in enemy territory," he said as he selected the brew with the lowest alcohol content and poured in a noticeable dose of the hottest spice mix on the shelf into it before going to warm it on the main fire. "If they are going to try a preemptive strike, now will be when."

"I suppose you're right, though I don't know that it's their method ... do they know we're coming?"

"They should expect us," he said as he absently stirred the liquid that smelled more of fruit and peppers than anything else. "By the time the champion gets called in they've already had several visits from increasingly higher ranked priests, the High Priest of Aristal and likely a few visions from Halikar Himself. We've been trying to avoid this level for over a year."

"So much for the element of surprise," she mused. "There are other ways to get around them though ... if we've been allowed to come this far, it's unlikely they'll try to stop us."

"At least not until I've heard them out," Jake agreed. "After all, if they can convince me, it's even better than getting the High Priest on their side. We could easily be their guests several days if we are not attacked the moment we cross onto temple grounds. They must understand what they are up against if this becomes a battle. It may not matter to them for surrender, but it's still in their best interest to talk."

"Which leaves the main threat, once we get there, being sneak attack or ambush during the night ... will we be staying there?"

"It will be expected," he nodded and sat down to sip his drink for a while. "It is unlikely, however, given they can't actually kill me, Sheira, Kymeil or you. It's not smart to provoke a champion to that extent. So far they seem more misguided than actually revolting. They would have at least threatened one of the previous envoys if they wanted to break away."

"And they know that an attack on those of us who aren't Champions will provoke you too," she nodded, considering it. "It's a very tenuous sort of truce."

"Such things always are," he pointed out with a bit of a shrug and sipped his drink. "Best case will be that they back down and it's only one or two powerful personalities causing this and not the entire temple. Worse case, they try to use extreme measures to convince me they are right."

"How far do you think they would go?" She asked with a sip of her own drink.

"If they follow tradition, as far as it takes," he said simply. "If they means breaking everyone in the group, it's not much of a price to them. Neither are their own deaths to protect their lands."

"Wonderful," Mika sighed. "You know, this is a side of Halikar's faith that they don't tell many people about. A little hard to reconcile this being acceptable with Firepoint's faith."

"Because folks are used to being on the side we're protecting, not the receiving end," he reminded her. "It is very much the same faith, the same fire, the same acceptable limits in accomplishing our goals.

"I suppose, but protection is supposed to be just that... Treveris has been on the receiving end of more than one retributive strike from Halikar's faithful. But it was always after somebody in control had done something to earn it."

"If I remember the last one correctly, much of the damage was done by local priests. It allowed it to remain an internal matter to Traveris instead of sparking a full war between countries," he nodded. "It's less advertised, but the reason He is the Aggressive Protector is that a preemptive strike is acceptable under very strict conditions. Right now, Tambron seems be believe that the pending strike on Sanderice qualifies. It's just that no one on the outside sees it that way. Tambron also follows his oldest profile, back from before he was a defender."

"I had heard about that, but I wanted the insider's view on it," Mika admitted. "Izaris' messengers can find anything in the Great Library, but it's so often the perspective of an outside observer, rather than somebody who's a part of it. The Unconquered Sun aspect, I believe?"

"Yes," he nodded. "From his origins in Balkita when he was the head of a pantheon that could be quite aggressive in expanding it's borders. He only became the Protector when the Asherian Empire conquered them and he was absorbed into their pantheon. Halikar wasn't always a very nice guy, even if that is only known by the handful of people outside his priesthood that study such things."

"That does change things ... though you have to admit that it's difficult to reconcile with the modern face of the faith. What's your take on it all?"

"Bottom line is that they've become too political, too tied to an ambitious leader. Whether it is Eternal Dawn, the Korunns, King Jue or one of his henchmen at the head of the shift, the temple will either have to convince me an attack is warranted, publicly renounce it, break away from Halikar's temples or be destroyed."

"If they break away, we'll just leave?" She asked him dubiously, raising an eyebrow.

"If it's official, we will have no cause to move against them," he pointed out. "After the attack, they will likely be wiped out and the temple razed, but that's a separate issue."

"It almost seems a waste of time to leave and then come back, but I suppose there's the chance they'll lose their support if they do that," she mused.

"It would not be efficient, I agree, but like most things in the modern age, it is how the game is played," he shrugged. "There are more rules each generation."

"Very true," she murmured. "Change of topic, since this doesn't really seem to be getting us anywhere? I'd like to know more about you, for the record or off as you'd prefer."

"I don't have many secrets," he pointed out. "Standard restrictions are fine with me."

"Of course," she nodded easily. "Those are Izaris' rules, let alone mine. You mentioned a talent with technology; can you expand on that any?"

"How much have you read of my official file?" he asked as a starting point.

"Everything that wasn't classified... which left quite a bit blacked out," she chuckled. "I think I gave somebody a coronary when my background check came through."

"I don't doubt it," he laughed deeply. "Felina and Chance among them, no doubt. I'll get you clearance for most of what's blacked out. I'm sure a couple projects are still too classified, but the Champion of Izaris doesn't exactly have the same kind of restrictions as most folks."

"Thank you," she smiled in honest thanks.

"I've always had a talent for rebuilding things better, I've loved to design things, especially planes, most of my life. In another life and time I would have been trained as an enchanter specializing in golems. As it stands, I do what I can for the Enforcers and a few allies."

"All that you can do. Have you been able to shut things down as well? Like the guns, and what you planned on doing tomorrow."

"That's not me, it's a gadget," he chuckled softly. "I designed it, built, and I'm still perfecting it. But it's just another tool."

"Ah, I see," she smiled. "I misunderstood. If you could do that on your own, I'd think you were serving three gods instead of two ... it must be bad enough with Halikar and Bastet."

"It can be," he acknowledged with a slight nod and stood to began another look around the property. "They are fairly compatible, and they're lovers, so it tends to work out. Bastet wants to create a home and Halikar wants to protect it. What would get really complicated is if Tamorl or Tenoic also chose me. I know I've been of interest to them both."

"Tamorl would be quite a problem," Mika chuckled as she followed him. "If you'd like, I can secure the perimeter so that we're warned if anybody tries to break it," she offered.

"Include magical," he suggested with a nod of agreement. "At least we know that can't break a Champion-level enchantment.

"Of course magical," she nodded, focusing on the spell as they made their rounds. "Actually, if you can set up Halikar's shield while we go, we can link the two so that any spell they try would be stopped as well as warning us," she offered.

"Will do," Jake nodded as they made their way around the perimeter again. "Tamorl might not be too much trouble. He is likely to choose my mate after all, and he was at my wedding with Bastet," Jake wondered back to the previous target. "She is his daughter."

"Very true... it's mostly that pain and Halikar don't usually go together," she chuckled. "They've been at war more than once already, right along with His favorites among the younger gods."

Jake nodded. "I guess I'm really hoping to be a major healing force there," he said quietly. "I did manage to get them all to come to the wedding and endorse it, and I have to expect that most of them knew Rock was likely to be the Champion of Pain in a few years. We knew he was on the short list years before. Bastet has a lot of influence on Halikar at the moment."

"Mmm ... lovers usually do have some influence on who they sleep with, especially the fems," she chuckled. "That's a constant anywhere rape isn't condoned. What is the relationship between them like, if you have any insight into it?"

"She's in charge, like in most households I know," he chuckled. "The one who raises the kits and all, plus she's his senior by a significant chunk. They fight a lot, unless it's about trying to convince me to behave."

"Sounds like an interesting pair," Mika chuckled. "Are they planning on kits, so to speak?"

"Depends on who you ask," he snickered. "She's always planning kits, whether mortal, god or something in between. He does not want any more," Jake said as he sobered, all amusement stripped for the situation he was speaking of. "He's still hurting from the loss of Balkita's bloodlines and the way they went. He may have adapted to his new role and status, but he's never really recovered."

"I understand," she nodded. "And I can sympathize, with both of them. I imagine you can too... you know how much it can hurt people to lose their kits ... the reason you spend so little time with yours?" She asked him.

"No," he shook his head, both of then weaving the protective barrier with little effort as they walked and talked. "I didn't want any of them. I'm just a sire there, a favor to their mother. We have plans for kittens; those I'll be part of their daily lives."

"Ah... the reason you never took a female mate," she guessed. "Haven't found the right one yet ... or at least not the right one who's ready to settle down?" She asked with a sly smile.

"Still haven't decided how to have the kittens," he chuckled a bit. "It may be by a female mate, it may be by contract with a female who has the right genetics and looks."

"Going for purebred cinnamon?" She asked him curiously, her slender tail twitching back and forth. "Or just health? I'd think that Kyale would be a good candidate if it was health."

"Health, intelligence, strong willed," he nodded. "Kyale's a possibility, one of several. So are Midnight Raven, Callie Briggs, Felina Feral, Kathie Firetail, Amanda Feathertail, Recka Thomas, Syrin, Boadicea and Calice. It may be someone we haven't met yet too. It's just not time yet."

"Understandable," she nodded. "So, do you only sire for local females, or would you be willing to consider a Treverin offer?"

"I'll sire for anyone who deserves the kittens," he said simply. "So yes, I would accept a request from you. For my own reasons, I would ask you agree to one of two provisions. The litter will either be entirely female, or the males will be raised in a temple of Halikar."

"Oh, entirely female would be just fine," she purred at the thought. "I daresay you'd probably enjoy the process more than most litters you've sired too," she grinned down at him.

"You enjoy inflicting pain as much as the nobles?" he raised an eyebrow at her without any hint of disapproval.

"More than a few of them," she admitted. "Though I'm not nearly as extreme as others, I just know some things that are too fun to not use. And I know you enjoy taking it," she purred.

"Very true, though you won't get to play as hard as Rock could," he chuckled at her with a wink. "I won't heal nearly as fast against another champion."

"Understood," she chuckled. "Trust me, I wouldn't want to re-enact your wedding," she grinned.

"I'd be surprised if you know how, at least in full," he chuckled.

"It would take a great deal of digging, but I could probably figure it out if I wanted to," she shrugged slightly. "As it is, there are plenty of other things that we could do that we'd both enjoy more, probably. And that would certainly do less to start a war," she chuckled.

"Definitely," he agreed as they came back to the front door of the inn. "I'm sure Rock will have a fit if he's not there, given you are a champion."

"I wouldn't blame him," she agreed easily. "All he'd know is that you're off with a Treverin Champion ... my country has a very bad reputation for things like that. We can work on it after he's back, set it up then. If it's not in time for my next heat, I rather plan on having others," she smiled as they headed back inside.

"I can also instigate one to work on our timing," he said as they sat back down.

"True, but I prefer to keep things as natural as possible," she explained. "A personal quirk, I suppose; I've had associates have trouble with artificially induced heats."

"I understand," he nodded and went to warm his drink. "Just an offer. Sometimes it can be difficult to get the timing to work with a schedule like mine."

"Fair enough; my schedule is more open, and if it does get to be too tricky I'll take you up on the offer," she smiled. "It's not that I don't trust you, I just don't want to risk it unless there's no other way around."

"I do understand," Jake gave her a winning smile. "If you don't mind the timing to be along the lines of 'this decade' I'm sure I can arrange it. It's more important when the litter needs to have a stricter timing for some reason."

"Easily," she nodded. "I could even wait longer, though I'd hope we could try for a little practice before then," she purred. "I should let you know, one of my pets has developed something of a crush on you since I started my research."

"To be a top or bottom to me?" Jake asked with a bemused look.

"Bottom, of course," she chuckled. "I assume you do have male lovers who don't top?"

"Not so much lately, but I have," he nodded, thinking back to Tommy. Could anyone have had a clue that meeting would be a turning point in his life? "I prefer to bottom to toms."

"Ah... well, there are ways to work around that too," she chuckled. "But all of this can wait for a while. See how this goes ... maybe wait until the Contest has died down a little bit."

"We can, though there is a very real risk I won't be around by then," he pointed out.

"I know," she nodded. "As I said, we'll see what happens ... you're quite the match for Dark Kat, especially if he keeps acting the way he is."

She watched him blink, the fur on his scruff and tail fluffing out as his first reaction battled with the rest of his mind.

"Uhm... I'm not sure I want to know, but just what did I say wrong?" She asked, raising an eyebrow.

"It wasn't wrong, I just ... it sounded like you meant as a lover," he said a bit sheepishly.

"Gods no!" She laughed, shaking her head. "I meant in a fight."

"That's better," he chuckled weakly as he tried to smooth his fur. "I would hope so. I do need to be able to kill him in a fight."

"I know," she nodded more seriously. "And I think you can... I just worry about what he can do that we don't know about."

"Probably the same thing he worries about us," he said thoughtfully. "I don't even know everything I'm capable of yet."

"And I can't say," she nodded. "So, since your mind seems to be stuck on your potential company, why did you only take one mate?" She asked him with a grin.

"A combination of a lot of things," he said as he sipped his drink. "Timing being the biggest issue. You know about my difficulties with females most of my life?"

"Vaguely, but I'll admit I was more interested in your recent career," she smiled sheepishly. "It was a bit of a cramming session."

"I've had an eventful life already," he smiled slightly in understanding. "The sort of it was that from my early teens into my thirties I was incapable of mating with a female. It was a rather ugly mess on a lot of levels, from how it happened to what it took to undo the damage. Timing ... I would have married Midnight well before I even met Rock, but I couldn't give her the kittens we both knew she wanted badly. She ended up taking a liking to my partner before I worked out how to mate a female."

"Don't take this the wrong way, but why did that stop you?" She asked him curiously, cocking her head.

"She's strongly monogamous by nature, and he's not into guys the way I wasn't into gals," he actually chuckled at the way it turned out. "After that, it's just never seemed important enough. We're still incredibly close and I get more female attention than I care to deal with."

"Fair enough," Mika chuckled. "I've always thought monogamy was a bit of a waste myself, but to each their own. You'll have enough trouble with nieces and nephews without having to sort out half-siblings."

"I understand it, but it's not in my cards," he winked at her. "If you find someone who is everything you want, there isn't much desire to look for others."

"Fair enough," she nodded. "So, is there anything else about your relationships you think would be interesting, or would you rather shift to talking about the Contest? After all ... there is no formal alliance between us yet, for example."

"You mean it's possible?" he blinked in honest surprise that Izaris would take a side.

"Mmm ... to some extent," she said, considering her words carefully. "It would be very unusual for Izaris to accept me backing one side against another. However, an agreement of non-aggression would be acceptable. If one of your enemies refused, I would be within my rights to involve myself in any actions you took against them, and it would only be wise. With your agreement not to attack me, in exchange for the same consideration, having a good warrior on my side in a fight would be a good way to thin the field without endangering myself needlessly."

"Especially a warrior that came with several others," he gave her a knowing look. "You do realize that an alliance with me is not going to be a quiet one, even as restricted as ours would be."

"Of course," she nodded. "However, I have already made similar alliances with others ... the main opponent of yours I have no such agreement with is Dark Kat, and we've personal reasons to want him dead," she said seriously.

"Very much so," Jake nodded grimily. "What did he do to you?"

"Kidnapped one of my pets and tortured him to death; he wanted secrets that I would not give him. Or you," she added seriously, looking up at Jake.

"Almost a given," Jake winced for her loss. "Can you tell me what his question was?"

"Yes," she nodded. "He wanted to know how to recreate the crystal skulls that granted Nightmare and his followers their powers ... you're familiar with that story?"

"In general, yes," he nodded as he thought about it. "The big contest just before the dark ages descended, when my side lost. The Champion of Chaos managed to corrupt eleven champions, including Halikar, Bastet, Izaris and Sheliel. When they surrendered, he won."

"In short, yes," she nodded. "Dark Kat wanted to know how the skulls used to corrupt the other Champions were created ... presumably so he could do the same. Of course, I can't share that information with anybody. Even I was only given access to it with Izaris' personal supervision."

Jake cocked his head and regarded her curiously. "Do you know everything she does, or just what you look for?"

"Only what I look for, or She chooses to give me," Mika explained. "If I knew everything She does, I'd be a vegetable," she admitted, earning a deep laugh from Jake.

"I know the feeling," he continued to grin. "It's enough to keep our own knowledge intact sometimes, never mind theirs."

"Tell me about it," she chuckled. "Fortunately, one of the things Izaris knows is exactly how much my mind can withstand. It does make for some helpful information though; if it comes to it, I can tell you exactly what their plans for the offensive are."

"Always a useful bit of intel," he acknowledged, excited despite the low odds she could for any given battle. "Have you ever managed to avoid trouble by checking someone's intentions beforehand?"

"In a way... I can check on their plans, but not if they aren't planning on it," she explained. "It's one of the reasons I'm not too worried about the innkeeper... he won't try anything unless he's forced to."

"Which is unlikely to happen in the short time we have left here," he nodded. While he relaxed a bit, it wasn't completely. "Has it ever been hard to not say something?"

"Right now, more than you'd believe," she said seriously. "I don't know everything, but I know enough about what's coming up soon ... it's about to be Hell in MegaKat City, and elsewhere."

Jake could only sigh. "I really wish I could say I'm surprised. What can you tell me about?"

"Mmm ... for free, or in exchange for favors or concessions?" She asked him, considering the question.

"Both," he focused on her and on what he could offer. "I'm willing to pay for good intel."

"I understand... about the immediate future, not much," she admitted. "About the rest ... it's easiest if you ask me questions, then I can tell you how far I can go. I don't know it all now, after all," she pointed out.

"All right," he nodded and thought about what he really wanted to know that she could likely tell him something about. "Is ... was Rock choosing to be the Champion of Pain a good idea?"

"Yes," she said, nodding seriously. "A very good idea... just one that will hurt a great deal before it's over. That much I can tell you, easily."

"It's still nice to know that much," he nodded in relief. "Will any of my kits become important in this contest?"

"Very," she nodded. "One of them will play a pivotal role in it, though I can say no more."

He considered that briefly. "Can you tell me if it will be one I raise?"

"Mmm... no, it isn't," she said, shaking her head. "However, I can't tell you anything more, not for free at least. And little more for favors."

"I understand," he nodded in acceptance, then cracked a grin. "Can you tell me how much practice we'll need to make those kittens of ours?"

"Ah, well, that's a different issue," she grinned back. "And that depends on if you want to start after ending your watch tonight," she winked playfully.

"Mmm, we'll have to leave most of the kink out, but I think I can manage," he purred and leaned over to lick the corner of her mouth playfully. "Would having Kyale there be a turn-on?"

"Would she like to join me?" Mika asked with a purr, licking his cheek. "I can share," she winked.

"Unless it would turn you on more to have her watch ... or to watch us," he nuzzled her and slid a hand along her leg. "Tell me a fantasy of yours."

"Mmm... any boundaries?" She purred as she moved to snuggle up next to him, keeping an eye on the door and their warding spells.

"No," he lightly stroked her crotch beneath her clothes. "Just no promises I'll do it."

"Oh, I'm sure you won't," she rumbled. "Besides, it's not you this fantasy involves, not directly."

"Oh?" he raised an eyebrow at her and pulled her against him as he continued to stroke her sex lightly. "Do tell. I'll keep watch."

"Mmm ... there's a young priestess I work with at the Temple in Treveris," Mika rumbled, spreading her legs to give him better access, closing her eyes and imagining her. "A pretty young Lioness, just a few years into her career, she's got all the makings of a delightful dom, but she's just a bit too uppity. Thinks being a Lioness means she's got the edge over her superiors who aren't. What I'd love would be to take her, for one night, and make her one of my toms."

"A Lion tom, or a pretty little Caracal one?" he rumbled in growing arousal.

"Oh, a Lion tom... a nice, well-muscled Lion tom, young and handsome," Mika mrowled. "I've got pretty little Caracals already. I'd put him on his knees in front of me, make him lick me out... and then I'd turn him over to those pretty little Caracal toms of mine, and let them all bottom to him while my favorites service me... or maybe a certain handsome cinnamon tom," she purred, turning to kiss Jake lightly. "Watch while 'he' gets all the ego fucked out of him for a night, before turning her back in the morning, and making her fuck me with a strap-on until I'm totally sated."

"Now that sounds like a real mind-fucking," he chuckled as he teased her swelling sex. "She must have annoyed you for some time."

"Oooh... what would you say if that Lyth boy started acting like he thought you were supposed to be his subordinate?" Mika pointed out, murring as she undid her pants a bit to let his hand into them. "If I had the spells for it, I might even do it too."

"He'd be pregnant if he tried that," Jake couldn't help but chuckle as her arousal soaked into the short fur of his fingertips and made his finger-pad slick against her clit. "What could I do to make you too hot to stand right now?" he whispered in her ear.

"Tell me one of your fantasies," she groaned into his ear, nipping it lightly. "A rough one."

"Mmm, I'm bound into a square frame, stretched out and on display for all to see. Rock takes Viln to my back, keyed to pain more than damage until I'm hard as a rock and trembling, almost ready to come. He dances it around my body, lashing from my abs to nipples until I loose control and spill my seed across the face of this pretty tom kneeling in front of me.

"Instead of thrusting into me, taking me until he's sated while the one in front of me suck me off, he snaps Viln across my balls and cock, leaving a sharp line of blood to ooze down. A female is kneeling just to the side of the tom and grabs my cock as Viln returns to my back and ass.

"I can smell the capsicum in the oil she spread on my skin before the fire hits and I scream. She's not done though. With the whip against my back, my cock on fire, she slides a slender metal rod coated with the oil deep into my cock."

"Mmm ... are the tom and fem anybody in particular, or just there for you?" Mika rumbled, thinking about his reaction to it, reaching down to stroke his own bulging crotch and reveling in the intensity of arousal in his scent from speaking of his desire.

"She's usually Kathie Firetail and he'd be somebody from the audience, but that's more because she's our usual kinky female partner," he said as his breath caught from her touch. "Even Rock could be someone else and it would work just fine."

"Ooh ... you like being watched?" She grinned, undoing his pants, reaching into his shorts to stroke his sheath and shaft.

"Yes," he drew in another quick breath; half tempted to remind her he was still on watch. The other half reminded him that any intruder would wake up everyone when the alarm went off. "I love knowing I turned others on, got them off."

"Mmm ... well, you do that very well, I think," she purred. "Not so much for watching though?"

"Not so much," he moaned as she closed her hand around his cock. "It's arousing, but not as much fun."

"Mmm ... maybe after your watch, we can go take care of this while Kyale watches then," she purred, stroking his tip with a claw as he shuddered and lowered his muzzle against her shoulder as he began to pant. His fingers stroked her sex, urging her pleasure higher.

She rowled loudly as she came, her empty sex tightening as he worked her over the edge... then she released his cock, zipping up his pants as she licked his cheek affectionately.

"Save that for later," she crooned.

"Cruel," he half-growled, half-moaned against her hair. "I'll fuck you senseless for that."

"Mmm ... only if I let you, I think," she purred, kissing him on the lips. "Besides, you have a watch to think about," she teased.

"Right," he panted, still miffed about her stopping but letting it go. "So tell me, what does all your knowledge make you think of the contest we're in?"

"Think about it in what way?" She asked, considering the question. "In general, this generation's, how it's going to turn out...?"

"In general, what they do in the big picture for mortals over history ... what I can't learn from histories that are by definition heavily biased."

"Mmm... it's hard for those involved, but much cleaner for the world at large," she explained. "There have been at least three Godswars that have been prevented by the Contest. The biggest problem with it is usually when one side or the other tries to manipulate the rules to claim an advantage... the Twelve, for example."

"What are the penalties for breaking the rules?" he asked. "Why do they play fair, so to speak? It's not in many of their natures."

"To break the rules means, at best, spending the next dozen generations as Tamorl's personal lab animal," Mika explained. "Centuries under the thumb of the Lord of Pain, and unable to die if you want to ... it's an excellent deterrent. The greatest penalty, of course, is the Unmaking."

"Is that as permanent as it sounds?" he asked quietly, unsettled just by the implication despite his frequent desire for the mortal equivalent.

"It would require an act by whatever created the Primordials to reverse it," Mika said quietly. "An act of true creation, rather than recreation."

"How many times has it been used, and for what crimes?" Jake asked, his mind turning over the idea the way the Icrians used the death penalty. It was alien, thinking that there was nothing after the flesh died, but it had been true for them, and they had created the finest warrior-culture in all of history.

"Three times, that I'm aware of," Mika said. "For Nightmare's master, for obvious reasons, against the Nameless Lord to end his conquest of the Sayden Bay region, and against the Realm of Ozymandius ... though I'm not entirely sure why that last one happened." She trailed off, closing her eyes ... then shuddered. "And I wish I still wasn't," she murmured.

"Realm ... as in a nation?" Jake looked even more unsettled.

"Yes," she nodded. "An entire nation... they had magic unlike anything we've found since. They found a way to bind a goddess for a ritual that was supposed to bring the entire nation unimaginable power... what they did to her earned them annihilation."

"Who was She?" he couldn't help but want to pursue this thing that turned his stomach.

"Taecin. They thought that by sacrificing her, they could gain control over life and death itself," Mika said quietly. "They... there were several horrifying monsters spawned during that time as well. Demigods that weren't pacified for centuries afterwards. This was before the Contest was established."

Jake nodded, his throat dry as he thought about what could have happened. "She survived, obviously. Was this what lead to the last Godwar?"

"No," she said, shaking her head. "That was ... complicated. Rape, deicide, a network of alliances that brought everybody into a small dispute ... it was a cruel folly, one of the reasons that Tamorl decided it would be the last. This, all Gods agreed about. Ozymandius' people had gone too far."

"If they were unmade, why do they still have their names? The other two, the people, last theirs," Jake asked as he drew her against him again and slid a hand along her inner thigh.

"Ozymandius was already dead when his nation was Unmade," she explained. "His statue is the only thing left of it," she murmured softly, pressing into his touch as a welcome shift from the topic.

"Three times in history ... at least it is not used often," he kissed her neck and slid his fingers into her pants while his other hand worked up under her shirt to stroke her breasts through her bra. "You are a very lovely shekat."

"Mmm ... and you're hoping to pass the time a bit further," she rumbled. "Did it bother you that much when I stopped?" She teased lightly.

"No," he nuzzled her. "It's not my kink, but it's not that bad. But I do get off on making others come. I serve Bastet, but I love Mokra."

"Mmm... I'm not going to object then," she rumbled, undoing her pants so he could work better again.

"Good," he nipped at her scruff as his fingers slid along his sex, taking his time in making her moan and tremble until Calice came down to be briefed on the situation, or rather lack of one, outside.

Sam Longclaw suppressed a shudder as he sat down in the cafeteria closest to his desk. His tray contained a cheeseburger with all sorts of condiments, a pile of fries liberally sprinkled with pepper, a small bowl of vinegar and a large mug of spiced chocolate coffee.

He knew he had to eat, but it was hard to deal with anything other than the coffee at the moment.

After what he'd seen... he wasn't sure about that either, to be honest.

"Long night?" Janet's familiar voice asked him sympathetically, the lean gray tabby shekat taking the seat across from him, leaning forward over the back of it.

"Not my longest, but I think it qualifies as the most disturbing," he admitted, the ground peppers in the chocolate coffee starting to work on his mouth to make him feel a bit sanitized. "Whoever killed this pair spent more time with them dead than alive from the look of it. A lot of time on setting the scene."

"Want to talk about it?" She asked him, frowning as she absorbed the information.

"After shift, at Silan's?" he suggested with a mixture of relief and unease.

"Sounds good," she nodded. "How long you have yet?" She asked him easily.

"Half an hour," he murmured over his spicy chocolate coffee. "Just got done with the paperwork, figured I'd take lunch on company time," he managed a weak smile.

"Couldn't eat before, or didn't want to?" She asked him sympathetically.

"There really wasn't much time, but an appetite was hard to find too," he said after another sip. "We've got a real sicko on the loose."

"It could be worse," she offered. "Could be another werewolf or ghost. At least yours sounds like a normal sicko. I'll see you at the bar, have your usual waiting for you?" She offered. "Unless you want company until you're done with lunch; I don't have anything lined up for tonight, and it looks like you need a friend."

"Thanks," he managed a weak smile for her. "I'll see you there."

Janet sat quietly at Silan's, alone in a booth as she waited for Sam, nursing her drink. It was important that she keep the act up ... the old Janet would have been interested, so she had to be. Interested and sympathetic.

Instead of just fascinated, which she was ... she wondered just what had happened, and who had done it.

And if her father knew anything about it. That would have to come later though. For now, she had to play her role flawlessly. Sam wasn't nearly as likely to overlook slips as Ulysses. He didn't have long-standing emotions and desires clouding his perceptions, and he knew the real Janet, the modern one, much better.

She looked up and smiled as the medium brown, medium built tom as he walked to the booth and sat down across from her. She didn't miss the small sound of pleasure that escaped his lips at the scent of the spiced and spicy ale, still hot in a thick mug.

"I had a feeling you needed some comfort food," she chuckled slightly. "Go ahead, have a drink before we get to talking," she told him.

"Thanks," he let out a long sigh and drank deeply. "You ever had a case that turned your stomach before you even got to the details, and only kept getting worse?"

"Yeah, I have," she nodded. "Usually rape-homicides, especially the ones that happen down in the Bars."

"This one was uptown, double homicide staged to look like a double accident. One shekat strangled in play, her rigor mortis broke her lover's back. Only it was staged, and it probably took hours to set up to look that perfect," he shuddered. "The worst part is that I'm sure I've see a picture of that scene before, years ago."

"It couldn't have happened accidentally," Janet agreed, keeping a tight reign on her own reactions, trying to remember to react like she was supposed to. "Not unless the lover had a necro fetish on top of the breath play. Could it have been an observed double-suicide? They were willing to go through with it for somebody in the snuff files?"

"From the scene prelims, I doubt it," he paused for a deep drink that nearly finished his mug and waved a waitress over for another. "Both had been with a male very close to the time of death and they had bruises unrelated to the staged cause. I'm waiting on the autopsies, but I expect that they will show neither one died from the obvious cause."

"Wonderful," Janet muttered. "Well, it still wouldn't hurt to go through the snuff files. Maybe somebody went too far this time... they running the DNA through the database?" She asked him.

Sam couldn't tell too easily over the ale, but he thought he could pick up the smell of arousal... probably from somebody else in the bar, not like the only people here were here for the drinks and to trade gruesome details. Just most of them.

"Yes, and the comp's running the crime photos through the image database for possible matches," he nodded as his second drink arrived. "Either one turning up a hit could be a major break."

"Most likely... of course, then the question becomes if it's the artist, or a particularly freaked out fan. Most of the artists do it to keep from going all the way, after all."

"And those that don't try to make a point of not making the ones they commit crimes about know to us," he nodded. "It could also be a copy-kat or repeated crime. I'm not sure if what I'm remembering is an Enforcer photo or illustration, something from the snuff files, or from elsewhere entirely."

"Maybe, but this one sounds pretty unusual... be surprised if you came across too many of them. You have photos?"

"Of course," he nodded and handed over the thick packet before turning his attention to his ale as she studied the dozens of large photos from the scene.

Janet frowned as she looked at the two shekats and how they were arranged... particularly at the markings of the one on the 'bottom' who'd been strangled. Sam was almost getting irritated with the increasingly persistent smell in the background of the bar; he wished whoever it was would just get a room. The last thing he wanted to be thinking about now was sex.

"It almost looks ritualistic," she murmured. "Did you notice the fem's markings? Similar to the traditional portrayal of Taecin. Not so much from these angles, but if you take a look at this one," she said, putting the picture from the entryway on top and handing them back. "Maybe some fanatic?"

"Possible, but the cases I know of, they took far more care in the appearance," he reminded her even as he studied what she was talking about. "Either in the selection or in dyeing of fur and contacts. She has similarities, but they are not nearly as strong as this photo suggests."

"True," Janet nodded. "Just another angle to consider. But you're right, it's too sloppy for this to be religiously motivated. I haven't heard of anybody being killed like this before though, so I don't think it's a copy-kat."

"It's unlikely, but until I work out where I've seen this setup before, I'm not going to rule it out," he nodded and put the photos away. It was getting harder and harder to deny the arousal was coming from across the table. From Janet.

That just wasn't right on so many levels.

"Is something wrong?" She asked as she sipped her drink.

"Everything, and nothing new," he sighed and shook his head. "I'm beginning to think you had the right idea, getting out of this line of work."

"Heh ... yeah, security consulting is a lot less disturbing," she chuckled. "Gives a lot more family time too."

"More time for sleep without nightmares?" he asked with a half-chuckle.

"Definitely," she smiled. "Tell you what... why don't I drive you home, we can talk about something else for a while?" She offered him.

"Like your new life, and ... mate?" he suggested with a smile that told her all she needed to know about how willing he was. "Sure."

"Mmm ... mate's too strong a word ... for now," she smiled, leaving some money on the table. "I'm hoping though. Come on, let's get going ... your place?"

"Sure, if you won't mind the classically unkempt bachelor pad," he nodded with a teasing grin as they walked out to his car. "It's not any better than it was the last time you saw it."

"Relax, I know what it's like," she chuckled. "Mine was just as bad until I didn't have to take vacation time to clean any more. So, what do you want to do after I get you home?" She asked him as she waited by the driver's side door for his keys.

He tossed them over the roof before getting in the passenger seat. "I don't know; about life on the outside, about a boyfriend who doesn't object to the weird hours, about ... things other than work."

"Sounds good to me," she nodded as she climbed in and started the car. "You have anybody these days, or between girlfriends for now?"

"Haven't bothered trying since Tammy left," he looked out the window sadly. "I still miss her sometimes."

"Still the poster boy for why Enforcers shouldn't marry outside our class, hu?" she looked at him sympathetically.


"You ever think that maybe it's worth it, following your heart instead of your career?" She asked him.

"If I ever find someone who's that important to me, I will," he said quietly. "I loved Jennifer and Tammy, but not more than solving cases."

"Fair enough," she nodded. "I couldn't make that choice," she admitted. "Or, more to the point, I couldn't make it in favor of the Enforcers. It is nice though... and I think he's a lot better off too, having somebody who knows how to deal with his life."

"I think it's why the few that manage to keep things together are like that; either both Enforcers, or both from an Enforcer background. You won't know for years yet if it'll really work out," he reminded her gently. "You probably won't know until he's been retired for a decade or so."

"I know," she nodded. "But there are some things that are just fate ... I've fought for this more than you'd believe," she smiled.

"Try me," he glanced at her.

"All right ... I died while he was still a rank-and-file officer, and fought my way back from the afterlife for him and my life after an undercover job we shared went seriously south," she told him matter-of-factly.

"That'll rank up there," he admitted. "How's you manage to win a second chance at life?"

"A major argument and then a fight with Halikar ... which I didn't win," she pointed out with a chuckle. "It was a test to prove I had the balls to pull it off, even if they didn't tell me at the time."

"Interesting test," he considered her in bemusement. "So did you get to wake up, like Clawson does?"

"I wish I'd had it that easy," she muttered. "If I had, I'd have done this a long time ago. No, I got to be born all over again ... if you thought high school sucked the first time around, just imagine doing it again and knowing the answers."

"Couldn't you just home-school and start in on collage-grade courses?" he asked with a bit of surprise. "Enter the Enforcers with three or four degrees under your belt?"

"Oh, I pushed through as fast as I could, but there was only so much my new parents were willing to push," she explained. "Besides, they're a little iffy about letting eight year olds into college."

"I guess," he nodded, and hesitated. "Did you remember ... everything?"

"Enough that it was a very, very awkward childhood," she chuckled. "I've got about fifty years sexual experience, between both lifetimes ... though my first time with a guy was a lot better the second time around," she mused.

"Better choice in tom, or because you knew what to do?" Sam asked as she found a parking spot in the crowded parking lot of his apartment complex.

"Both," she said easily. "I had the sense to pick the sweet guy who didn't know what he was doing any better than I was supposed to instead of the creep who just wanted to bag a virgin and prove how much of a stud he was, and I at least had the sense to remember lube and a decent amount of foreplay." She passed him his keys back, climbing out and grinning at him over the roof of her car. "By the time I was done with him that second time, he was damned good on his own."

"Good contribution to society," he snickered as they walked into the abandoned lobby and up the old stairs to his fifth floor one-bedroom place. "Same place, same mess, same general lack of real food and furniture."

"Don't worry about it, I already ate before I spotted you tonight," she chuckled. "I made sure Uly got something to eat, shared a sandwich with him. Mmm ... so, what about you?" She asked, looking at him with something of a sly grin. "Were you the stud, or so nervous you almost forgot what was supposed to go in where?"

"Neither," he laughed. "I went to a temple of Mokra and let a priestess run things."

"Well, when you decide to cut loose you cut loose," she grinned. "Why'd you pick Mokra instead of Bastet?" She asked him curiously.

"I was fifteen and not into the idea of having kits," he chuckled and opened the door. "Passion sounded better than fertility."

"Makes sense," she chuckled. "Enjoy yourself?"

"A great deal," he purred with a grin as he scavenged for a second chair to sit in. "They know their stuff."

"I'll bet they do," she purred, helping him clear a seat and taking it. "That where you go when you're in the mood these days?"

"These days I usually use a hooker," he shook his head. "They need the money more than the temple does."

"I suppose they do," Janet agreed. "You really need to try dating Enforcers," she pointed out. "It works out a lot better, if your shifts are close."

"It doesn't change the ninety to hundred hour work week I tend to put in," he countered with a shrug. "Doesn't leave much time for romance, and frankly, the crime scenes tends to kill the sex drive."

"I know where you're coming from," she admitted. "But Sam, you've got to have something outside the job. If you don't, it'll end up killing you ... it's all right to have a life of your own."

"So I keep being told," he leaned back in his chair. "But every time I try, I end up just being fidgety. Something about me just doesn't go well with much time off."

"The bastards are still out there, still doing more, and you're sitting back and letting them," she guessed. "Especially when somebody gets off because the judge didn't sign the warrant on the right line."

"Or they're never caught because there aren't enough detective officers to put the paws on the ground," he nodded. "Do you have any idea how many warrants are currently out, how many of those people are living in their listed address and never brought in because we just don't have the people to go get them?"

"I was part of the system before Sam, remember?" Janet pointed out with a sigh. "Maybe somebody needs to take on a different type of bounty hunting... don't go after the bail jumpers, track down the bastards we know did it and bring them in."

"I know, I know, sorry," he sighed and dropped his head. "Disillusionment is probably the greatest hazard of the job these days."

"It always has been," she sighed, standing up and moving over to rub his shoulders. "Think we need to avoid talking shop," she murmured, working his tight muscles. "What you need is a chance to relax for a bit."

"I'm open to suggestions," he murmured even as he relaxed into her touch with a soft moan.

"Your call, really... maybe give you a night with a warm bed that you haven't had to pay for?" She suggested, leaning down to kiss his neck lightly.

"He won't mind?" he shivered lightly at the contact, his scent already giving his interest away.

"Not at all," she smiled and slid his hands down his chest from behind. "We both have other partners."

"Then the company would be welcome," he murmured, turning his head to kiss her. "Just nothing too kinky, okay? I've seen it go badly too much lately."

"No problem," she smiled, returning the kiss. "If it's kinky at all, it'll just be a little light bondage... maybe a little surprise I think you'll like," she winked, helping him out of his seat and starting to unbutton his uniform. "So, your room, or not up for waiting?"

"I'll apologize here for the time it'll take to warm up," he murmured even as he pulled her close and sealed their mouths in a kiss. "It's been years since I had much desire."

"Mmm ... I'll work around it," she promised him as their lips parted, rubbing his back. "Come on, lead the way to your room and I'll make sure you enjoy this. Besides, when was the last time you had a fem in your bed who objected to foreplay?" She grinned.

"Never," he chuckled lowly and slid an arm around her to guide her to the only other room in the apartment and the simple metal-framed queen sized bed that took up the bulk of the space. "Will you be here in the morning?"

"Unless I find out Uly's gotten himself put in the hospital, I promise," she smiled, kissing him lightly as they undressed each other, hands and mouths caressing as they went. She pressed him back into the bed, kissing the nape of his neck as she pressed his hands up towards the headboard.

"You like being tied up?" She asked him with a low rumble, though his body told her clearly that it wasn't a favorite.

"It's okay," Sam kissed her.

"Mmm ... if you'll promise to stay right here while I go set something up, I'll let you off with a warning," she winked down at him, straddling his hips and rubbing against his slender sheath.

"I can do that," he rocked his hips against her, enjoying the light pleasure and slow arousal that came with a lover that would take the time for him.

"Good," she purred, slipping off of him. "I'm going to go make a phone call; I'll be back in a moment," she winked, slipping out of the room with a flick of her thick black tail.

"Just what could she be calling for?" he murmured to himself even as he slid a hand between his legs to fondle himself, hoping to have something for her to actually play with when she got back.

He was only slightly hard at best when he heard her stop talking; he hoped she was as understanding as she'd said. It'd be a Hell of a night not to be able to get it up ... at least with a hooker it just meant she'd pocket his money and take off if it took too long.

"Is it just a lack of sleep?" Janet asked gently as she came into the room and assessed the situation as she knelt on the bed and nuzzled his groin.

"That, stress, maybe a real condition," he murmured before it turned into a moan at her attentions. "Never cared enough to find out."

"Anything in particular that really works to get you going?" She asked him. "Or should I just experiment a bit?"

"My balls," he said as he caressed her body. "Love to have them played with."

"Good to know," she rumbled, sliding down a bit further, licking his balls tenderly as he moaned, arousal growing thick in his scent. She reached up between his legs, testing his reaction to her finger against his anus. She smiled when his body relaxed for her, though it was obvious that he got a lot more from his balls than even her mouth around his soft cock.

She grinned, drawing his heavy orbs into her mouth, lavishing them with attention from her rough tongue as she slowly worked two fingers up into his ass, searching for his prostate.

"Janet, turn yourself around," he spread his legs further for her, moaning unabashedly as she worked him. "Let me taste you."

She did as he asked without a word, twisting over his body and straddling his face while she kept up her eager attentions, wondering if he'd get hard or cum first. It was unusual, but then so was this situation.

For a tom who hadn't had a lover in years, he remembered how to use his tongue and teeth well on her clit, and was as eager as a teenager to please.

She moaned around his balls, the vibrations going straight to his flaccid cock as her juices started to run down his muzzle and she savored the pleasure building in her own loins. Her fingers found his prostate even as her pleasure began to work on making him hard.

"Mmph?" his attention turned away from her as a muscular black shekat with wavy brunette hair walked into the room wearing nothing more than her fur.

"Relax, I'm invited," she grinned at him. "Name's Grace," she added as she crawled onto the bed and nosed Janet away from his balls. "You take his cock, I've got these."

"Sounds good - you have the party favors with you?" Janet asked, taking his half-hard shaft into her mouth, swirling her tongue around his tip.

"Of course," she purred before turning her mouth to one ball while her hand fondled the other. "I think he'll need it."

"Maybe, but later," Janet grinned. "We're making enough progress... mmm... like this," she purred, going down on him again as she rubbed her clit against his chin.

"So just how well do you know my fantasies?" he grinned back before driving his tongue deep into her sex.

"Oh... well enough to know you'd enjoy company," she groaned around his cock. She felt his chuckle as it sent shivers of pleasure through her body.

"Is the door locked now?" he asked as he reached down with one hand to stroke whatever part of Grace he could reach. His fully hard cock was sensation enough to be intense while trying to pleasure both females.

"It is," Grace promised, letting his balls fall from her mouth long enough to tell him and kiss Janet. "Just had her leave it open for me," she winked, returning to his heavy, twitching orbs as Janet worked his cock skillfully with teeth and tongue, hungry to taste his seed.

Jake looked down and back at his forces as he flew just in front of them on Halikar's wings. Kymeil was behind him, flying on the winds she commanded. Everyone else was below them on horseback. Three days on the road from the airfield inn where they had landed and only Sheira, Hawk and two of the young priests weren't sore at night from the extended riding.

He couldn't be surprised that Sheira and her magical mount got along so well, and after the first night the two young priests had fun teasing their elders about the usefulness of being raised in a backwater where riding for days was normal. Hawk, all he would do is smile faintly when asked how he rode so well.

An hour ago they had stopped to dress in their ceremonial finery. Despite expecting a battle, there was a script to be followed if there was to be any chance to avoid one.

The tiered cones of the temple buildings, all carved and brightly painted within an inch of their lives, finally came into view. While there were familiar elements, it was far different from the Halikar representations he knew well.

"This is the same god as your temples?" Kymeil asked in real surprise.

"Yes," he could only nod. "This is from his origin as a Sun God. Pre-Asherian Empire."

"Why isn't this the chief temple?" She asked, looking at it in awe. "It's an amazing place."

"Yes, it is," he agreed. "For one, his homeland is ancient Balkita; it's far from here. But mostly because even though this temple is focus on his oldest aspect, it is not his primary one in modern times."

"I don't know... if I had my choice, I think I'd prefer somewhere like this to most of His temples I've seen," she chuckled. "Well, should we go say hello? Or leave that to those on the ground?" She asked, looking at the clouds in the sky suggestively.

"They should come out to greet us soon," Jake smiled at her. "Save the storm for trouble, please. I'm not exactly doing a low-visibility approach here," he chuckled.

"Fair enough," she grinned at him. "Just let me know if you need an omen... unconquered sun or not, I can rain on their parade."

"I'll let you know," he nodded and pointed to the formation of nine priests dressed in the colorful and gold-coated costumes that bore only a distant resemblance to what Hawk and his followers wore. "For now, they are playing by the script."

On the ground, the leader of the priests bowed deeply to Hawk.

"High Priest Firepoint, it is an honor to see you here," the middle-aged Jaguar said respectfully as Jake and Kymeil landed next to Hawk. "And our Champion. I regret that the High Priest and Priestess cannot greet you; they are ill, and under medical care in their quarters."

"It is understood," Jake said in acceptance of what could be taken as unacceptably rude behavior. "Priest Murin serves the Lady Lyris," he motioned to the least warrior-like of those gathered.

"Always a pleasure to host one of the Lady's faithful; perhaps you will be able to help the High Priest and Priestess," Eternal Dawn said with a bow to the much smaller, fluffy white tom. "Please, be welcome in the House of the Sun," he said, the priests behind him shifting to form a corridor in as the Jaguar stepped back to gesture for them to enter.

Jake stepped forward with Hawk, Sheira and Kymeil not far behind them. Then Murin, Talos and Kyale as the honored guests before the other visiting priests of Halikar. As the youngest visiting priest passed them, the resident priests fell in behind them.

"How sick are the Korunns?" Murin asked, already long familiar and comfortable with the rights and privileges his rank as a healer granted him, even in these circles.

"I am not much of a healer," Eternal Dawn admitted. "Brother Kerrn will show you to them," he offered, indicating one of the priests following him.

"Thank you," the fluffy white Persian inclined his head politely and left the group to follow the buff brown on brown tabby tom.

"Their quarters are this way," the tabby said politely, leading him back into the complex. "Have you ever heard of the Kolassi Fever?"

"Yes," he inclined his head, his expression one of concerned displeasure. "That's nasty stuff. Curable, but it will not be quick. Have those who have had contact with them been quarantined?"

"They have," he nodded. "Once we found out, the entire Temple was under quarantine. Fortunately, nobody has shown any symptoms since. It's good that they brought you ... with current events, we've barely been able to afford the people to keep them stable, let alone dedicate the time to treating them properly," he admitted, tail and ears low.

"You can always call on us," Murin said gently. "My Lady may not be Halikar's close ally, but we are far from enemies."

"The Lady has few priests near here, and Eternal Dawn had hoped to keep this a relatively internal matter... I believe his hope was that they would be able to heal themselves, given time, but he is not from here. He doesn't know the Fever's effects well." Kerrn led him to a small suite of rooms, opening the door. "They're in here."

Murin nodded and opened the door without hesitation or fear of the crippling disease he expected beyond it. He drew in one breath, a mixture of shock and fear, when there was not even a bed in the room.

"What?" he tried to take a step back and turned, hoping it was just a mistake.

Kerrn stepped in behind him, forcing him into the room and closing the door. A powerful fist slammed into his stomach, knocking the wind out of him.

Without thinking Murin lashed out with anti-healing magic as he turned healing magic on himself. It was his only real protection while traipsing around the world with the likes of Jake Clawson and Sheira Thalas; it was a reflex after years around such champions.

"Damn you!" Kerrn snarled as his body started to rip itself apart from the inside out. He forced his way through it though, bringing his hands down on the back of Murin's neck in a hammer-blow that dropped the Persian Kat to his knees, then to the floor unconscious.

"Who knew those people had such teeth," the Ocelot female inside scowled down at the healer priest as she struggled to her feet with the help of an Ocelot tom that had been in the room with her.

"He is a friend of the Champion's," Kerrn pointed out. "Are you all right?"

"I will be," she nodded as she striated. "Everything's intact, just pain. How long can we keep him before they get suspicious?"

"As long as Eternal Dawn sticks with our story that it's the Fever. As old as the Korunn's are, it could take months to heal them, and he'd remain in quarantine the entire time."

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" the male asked uneasily as he picked up Murin's limp form. "I mean, how could the champion be wrong?"

"He was taught by the Temples of the Lost, remember?" Kerrn pointed out. "They're trying to use him to confuse us, to convince us that we are in the wrong."

"Would Halikar really allow that?" the tom shifted uneasily. "How could he allow that?"

"He sent them to us, didn't he?" Kerrn said, taking the tom's shoulder and squeezing it. "We'll show him the truth, and if necessary we'll see the false priests pay for their heresies. It's a test, to prove that we are worthy, and to free His Champion of the lies he's been fed."

He nodded, his tail still curled around his leg, but feeling a bit better. "So where do we stash this one?"

"Put him down with the Korunn's. It'll seem more reasonable," the tabby said, opening up the pathway down to where they were storing their prisoners.

Mika drifted in and out of the knowledge trance as Jake, Hawk and Eternal Dawn lead a prayer rite that far preceded Halikar's aggressive defender profile. It wasn't absolutely true to form, even after accounting for the fluctuations in language in the millennia that had passed, but it was remarkably close. They were even performing it in the most formal of Balkita's dialects of the time. The translation spell for those that didn't know the language made for an interesting double audio experience for her, hearing it the way it was meant and also in the best modern Katian equivalent that magic could manage.

Privately she was rather relieved that Murin was seeing to the Korunns when the party moved to the outside alter in the center of the ornately carved and painted complex and a large bull water buffalo was lead to the alter and Eternal Dawn was offered a large, heavy ceremonial knife of gold and obsidian. The healer would be decidedly unsettled watching his dinner die, but to watch it killed in a fairly one-sided battle would be even harder on him.

The powerful Jaguar moved smoothly, despite the blade being less than well-suited for the job at hand and poorly balanced. It was clear to her that he hadn't done this often before. It was little wonder; this normally would have been the duty of one of the Korunn's. It wasn't the first time though... had he been practicing? Or maybe he had filled in for them on other occasions, if they were getting too old.

So this wouldn't be quite as one-sided after all. The bull was fighting already; it's huge mass, likely over a ton and a half, and five-foot horn span twisted and thrust with remarkable speed even before it's bonds were released. It was in the moment that it was released that it's full stature became apparent.

Eternal Dawn's eyes, as big a Jaguar as he was, only just reached the bull's shoulder when it was standing. When it reared up, free of its bonds, its hooves could easily crush Eternal Dawn's skull if one made contact.

It bellowed and reared away from the Jaguar, kept from moving too far away from the altar by fences that were set up for this conflict. Trapped, it turned and lashed out, trying to gore him, trample him, or just body slam the small attacker into the ground.

Eternal Dawn was putting on a good show, but it was clear he wasn't as experienced at this as he should be. Still, it was only a few minutes before he brought the heavy blade down in the right place and severed the bull's artery at the neck. It sprayed blood over his fur and robes, soaked the ground and many in the front of the audience watching with solemn respect for the death of a powerful creature that would feed them all well.

The Jaguar wasn't without some scratches of his own though, some of them deep ones. He'd taken a horn to the thigh that would probably need a healer and likely had bruised, if not broken, ribs.

"Beautiful Eloewin, thank you for this feast of meat from beyond the grave," Eternal Dawn raised the blade to the sky over the dead bull. "Your name will never be forgotten."

Ironically, it took Mika a long moment to place the name. Most references seemed to think she was an alternate name of Bastet's, but in context that wasn't likely. A bit more thought brought the truth to mind. She had been a predecessor of sorts; the Balkitian goddess of the harvest and abundant food. She was the mate of Halikar and had been destroyed by the Asherians.

It added a new, if somewhat creepy, angle to Halikar's relationship with Bastet, when she thought about it.

Her tracing of Eloewin's origins made her miss the last few minutes of the ceremony. When she focused on the action again, several lower-ranking priests were butchering the bull and hauling the pieces off to cook on a series of fires around the edge of the courtyard. She moved forward towards the leaders again, trying to hear what they were talking about.

"What will be done with all the extra meat?" Jake asked quietly.

"It will be salted and distributed to the poor and needy," Eternal Dawn explained easily. "It will feed many beyond the temple walls, Champion," he reassured Jake. "They would be here, but we had to quarantine the temple when the Korunns fell ill."

"I understand," Jake nodded. "How many have fallen ill?"

"The Korunns and their kits, for the most part," Eternal Dawn explained. "A couple of our Healers who tried to treat them early on."

"Your friend has confirmed that it is the Fever," Kerrn said as he returned. "He has asked that we be careful not to come too close; only to deliver meals as we have been doing."

"What are the symptoms of the Fever?" Jake asked, turning his attention to the buff brown on brown tabby tom.

"It's a wasting disease," he explained. "It eats the sufferer away from the inside out. The worst part is that they remain entirely lucid until the last hours, knowing exactly what's happening to them."

"Wonderful," Jake grumbled. "How long is the incubation?" he turned to Mika.

"Kolassi Fever?" Mika asked, getting a nod from Kerrn. "Two days, generally. Up to a week for particularly healthy individuals, or those who've lived through it before. Murin will be in quarantine for some time."

"His magic is enough to keep him healthy and heal the infected?" Jake asked her.

"It's possible," she nodded. "Especially if he helps the other healers first. More importantly though, he's been exposed to practically every disease he could conceivably survive."

Jake nodded and focused back on Eternal Dawn. "How long have you been in charge?"

"The last two years, to some extent," the Jaguar admitted. "They've been insisting on trying to heal themselves, since the first healers contracted it. But their magic isn't strong enough to do more than contain it."

"Then you are the one I need to speak to anyway," Jake nodded. "We have much to discuss over the feast, Master of Arms."

"Indeed we do, Champion," Eternal Dawn nodded, as Mika backed away again and the priests continued butchering the bull.

She started back into the rest of the crowd, looking around the distinctive architecture and considering the priests, wondering if any of them looked like they might be willing to show her around while there was something of a quiet stretch.

"May I be of assistance, Champion of Izaris?" a polite voice asked from just out of arms reach in lightly accented but otherwise flawless Taverian.

She turned to see a strongly built Ocelot tom in the well-fitting clothes of mid-ranking priest. A native of these lands and of the ruling bloodline, though likely a distant relative at best of anyone in real power.

"Yes, please," she said with a smile. "I was wondering if somebody would mind showing be around, possibly giving me some information about the architecture? It's fascinating, and I haven't seen anything quite like it in the modern world."

"It would be my pleasure, Champion of Izaris," he bowed deeply to her, his tone one of honest warmth and welcome. "I am Jeu Su. I know much about this temple and the meanings in stone and paint."

"I am in your hands then," she smiled, returning the bow, grateful that his rank was low enough she didn't have to force herself to match it. "Where would be a good place to start?"

"At the gates, or at the heart," he suggested, offering his bent arm to her in a decidedly MegaKat City-like gesture.

"How about the gates; we can end near the heart," she smiled, taking his arm as he walked with her towards the main gates several spires away. "Have you been to MegaKat City?" She asked him curiously.

"No, but I make a point of studying the language, customs and cultures of all important visitors," he smiled over at her, their ears all but matching in height, their builds similar, only their fur was distinctly different. "I had five to study for this visit."

"Only five?" She asked him, still in Taverian.

"I already knew MegaKat City well from High Priest Firepoint's visits," he began. "Though I did study up on the Enforcers and Bastet's ways for Champion Clawson's arrival. Queen Baodicea of The United Tribes of Keldina is our first visitor from there in my time, as is Kymeil of Kaleesin. You are the first from Traveris, and the warrior Kyale Bulank, while she may call MegaKat City home, her heart is still of Majeare."

"Very much of Majeare, though they'd have her head if she went back," Mika mused, continuing to speak her native tongue as long as he knew it. It was easier than Katian, even with Izaris' gift of perfect knowledge of all languages. Habit did quite a bit that knowledge could not. "What do you expect from this visit?" She asked him.

He looked at her, then back over his shoulder briefly before facing forward again. "I expect to die."

"Do you have doubts about the Temple's direction?" She asked him quietly, trying to get a feel for how dedicated the people were to the path they were headed down. "Trust me, I will not share what you say... it is my duty, my place here, to record how those who are not in charge feel about what happens."

He hesitated, a covert glance ensuring they were well out of earshot of everyone else, and still he slipped into a truly obscure dialect. "I can not believe that our champion and all the outside leaders are so wrong, and Halikar has permitted it. I do not know that the planned assault is wrong. I do know that something is."

She scrambled for the information, relying on Izaris' more than she ever had. Jeu must be very afraid of the words being heard to resort to a language he had made up and never shared.

"The truth is likely between the two," she nodded, speaking in the same hushed tone and seemingly random strings of sounds. "Are you alone in your questions, or is it a widespread concern?"

"I ... don't know," he admitted. "I have not asked."

"I can understand," she told him, before switching back to Treverin. "So, what can you tell me about the architecture?" She asked him easily as they reached the outer gate and the stern guards.

"The temple complex is designed around the five points of power and centered on a nexus point where the lines of power in this area converge. The main gate is aligned with the sunrise, as long before he was the protector, great Halikar was the hawk that carried the sun across the sky."

"Forgive what might be an offensive question, but do you believe that literally?" She asked him.

"Yes and no," he chuckled lightly. "I know he does not do it now, at least not the way we think about the sun moving. Does he ensure that the sun continues to warm us, yes, I do believe that. Do I believe that if he chose too, if he saw the need, he could fly across the sky and burn as brightly as the sun, yes."

"Fair enough," she nodded. "Would you say you're fairly representative of the others here, as far as that goes?"

"Yes," he nodded. "I do not think there are many, if any, who refute what science has shown us."

"Good to know," she nodded. "Do you have any particular legends or stories you think I should know? They don't have to be big ones either... the temple's story about one of the high priests falling flat on his face after he tripped on his robes are as much of interest as the legends of great battles or miracles," she smiled.

"Doesn't Izaris let you know all those things?" he asked, honestly curious as he led her off the main causeway.

"Mmm ... yes and no," she said, trying to find the words to explain it properly. "She knows most things, and I have access to practically everything She knows, if I want it. However, there is always bias, different viewpoints... some events have dozens of different entries and interpretations in the Great Library. A part of my duty is to seek out new material for it... even if it's identical to one that we already have, that simply reinforces that particular interpretation."

"There ... isn't an unbiased truth to most things?" he looked at her with wide eyes and a shock far greater than she'd ever encountered.

"There is, and Izaris knows it. However, the bias sometimes offers new insight... for example, the simple truth is that the last Godswar devastated the world and was practically meaningless. By studying the bias, you can learn how the different sides viewed it... and you can begin to understand the meaning that the conflict had to each individual involved. The conflict between Tambron and Sanderice is another good example... it isn't as simple as either side believes it to be."

"Such things never are in the middle ranks," he nodded and relaxed. "The commanders and the foot soldiers ... they see it in simple terms as often as not."

"This is true," she nodded. "They're too close to see the larger picture. It doesn't mean they're right, but they're not quite wrong either. Perspective is valuable, but you can't just look at the larger issue without also being sympathetic to both sides on the battlefield."

"When will you visit Sanderice, then?" he asked, his fingers tracing along the decorative writing below a row of carved figures. While not completely separate from the wall they were part of, they were far deeper than a relief.

"After this is over with... hopefully it will be peaceful enough there for my visit. Can you tell me the meaning behind the carvings?" She asked him, looking for a different topic. It was an idea she wasn't entirely sure was the best choice when she looked a little closer and recognized far too many figures in a central scene that looked much like an execution, and far too much like the real events for her nerves.

Could Halikar have really allowed his followers to know how to unmake a god and put it on display for all to see? Or was it merely a good guess, something the carvers and artists thought the execution of a god may have been like?

"It is about the last great challenge that ended with much of the world plunged into darkness and the unmaking of a powerful god," he said solemnly. "If there was ever a story that had many sides, this is it. It is also a story that we know very little of beyond Halikar and Pondis Rabin's side of it."

"The Fall," she nodded. "I didn't recognize it at first ... I know a bit more of the story than that; if you'd like to find a different one that would be fine," she offered him an out.

"I brought you to this one," he said a little uneasily. "This was the last great contest, and we showed very badly. I do not know how much Jake understands, but this contest ... it is our chance at redemption."

"For all of us," she sighed. "Izaris, Halikar, Bastet ... we all have a vested interest in this. If the Demon takes the contest, the Dark Ages will be deeper than ever... and that is something Jake realizes all too well, even if he doesn't fully understand the reasons for it."

"Good," Jeu nodded before looking up at the story that took the entire building to tell in stone. "There are far fewer lands that do not participate these days to rebuild civilization from if we fail."

"Even Tusandrin is involved to some extent, these days," she nodded. "A global civilization... more resilient to natural disasters, but far more vulnerable to the unnatural. Is this version of events any different from the one told by the mainstream factions of Halikar's church?"

"Only in it's presentation for all but small details," he smiled slightly. "They have long ago abandoned the statue and hieroglyphic languages of Balkita. Some things are lost in translation."

"I understand," she nodded, looking them over, drawing on her own knowledge of events to get the read of the 'small details' he'd mentioned. It took some effort; the story, while phrased from Halikar's point of view, was to her eye, clearly written by a mortal follower, and likely many years after the events had sorted out. The simple fact that the events detailed covered some two centuries was proof enough.

Yet for all that, it held fairly true to the dry factual records in the Great Library and the other parts that were agreed on by multiple parties. She walked around, drawing on the Great Library as much as anything to figure out exactly how to read the walls until she found the beginning above the main door.

It made her smile.

It began with a riotous meeting among over a dozen gods. Halikar and Sheliel in what appeared to be a shouting match, with Shando, the Lawbringer, and Tamorl, their host, looking on in disapproval while the others stayed in the background.

"How could you possibly be blaming me for this debacle?!?" Sheliel snarled at Halikar, her rounded ears flat in response to the fluffed golden feathers across from her. "If anybody is to blame, it's you and Shando!"

"Yours was the first to turn," he snapped at her, his illusion-wings flaring in response to the threat she presented. "It was on your insistence that we did not mobilize in time. It was on your word of his sanity that our champions were not warned about him."

"Your Champions were all given the skulls at the same time he was!" She countered. "How is it that your treasured Champion's insight didn't warn him about what it was he was holding? That the Lawbringer's chosen suddenly decided to try tearing nations apart?!? At least my Champion continued to do his duty until the end!"

"As a megalomaniacal sociopath," Halikar shot back.

"Are they always like this?" Bastet looked up at her father.

"Only when stressed," Tamorl flattened his own ears. "Enough."

The single word, spoken evenly, silenced and stilled everyone there as attention turned to the most powerful of them present.

"You're behaving like children, and most of mine at least have the common sense to realize that blame doesn't accomplish anything!" He scolded them with a nod towards Bastet. "We've all lost greatly because of this, but no one of us could have prevented it by changing our actions. If you need to blame somebody, blame me for starting this contest instead of letting Aristal be ripped apart by your squabbling!"

Halikar nearly retorted, but kept his beak shut by a slim margin while Sheliel had the good sense to look shamed.

"We are here for something far more important," he leveled his gaze around the group, but especially at Izaris. He almost seemed to pity her for a moment. "Despite their best efforts, Nightmare and Marquin Salouis failed to conceal everything from my watchers. What each of us knows, combined, is likely enough justify an unmaking."

There was a general gasp of surprise. Even Halikar seemed shocked by the announcement.

"What I can find in particular," Izaris nodded quietly. "Kulfaux has gone too far this time."

"I'm not surprised," Tamorl admitted. "You all remember what he thought of the idea in the first place. Deception and trickery are his hallmarks when violence is denied him, and he has done quite poorly when he relied on the latter."

"Before this goes further, we must abide by the laws of trial," Shando, the Lawbringer, alternately the most liberal and most conservative of the gods of order, stepped up. "We will not have such a serious punishment meted out without due process," she spoke for all the gods of order, present and not, allied to this strange group and not.

"I am agreed, of course," Tamorl nodded. "Of course, given the circumstances, bringing him here to answer for his crime may be difficult; I would propose that we handle this in absentia ... or that I be the one to try and bring him to be dealt with."

"Why not get one of his pack to bring him in?" Rarzyn suggested. "They may not be close, but some are afraid enough of some of us to do it."

"The Lord of Bones would be a good candidate ... and we'll want him as a witness at any rate," Fahik growled lowly. "And don't be particularly gentle with him. He tricked my artisans into helping him produce the skulls in the first place."

"I know him well," Taecin spoke up with her ghostly echoing voice. "I know how to push his buttons, and he is still afraid of me from when he stole the bones of one of my champions for a lust potion."

Tamorl nodded. "If I can not bring Kulfaux in, we will pressure his allies to make him appear."

"Very well," Shando nodded.

"I will begin collecting what evidence can be found in the Library," Izaris said, fading from sight. "I will be back shortly."

"As will I... with our straying colleague in tow, I suspect," Tamorl said, bowing his head and disappearing into the inky void of a shadow.

"Master?" Some plaything looks concerned for its welfare, as well it should. My head is trying to split itself open, even when I push back against the pain invading every fraction of my existence. I'd swat the worthless plaything away, but it would require figuring out where it was and that it just too much effort.

"Stop fighting me, Kulfaux; accept that I am here." Tamorl's voice echoes off the insides of my aching skull, agony reverberating through it. I should have expected him here. Playing nursemaid for all the other weaklings who lost his little game ... it was a pleasure putting him in his place along with them, but now it seemed he wanted to have words about it.

Typical. A brilliant idea when he comes up with it, but as soon as he loses he reconsiders.

"So come here and talk already," I growled at him. "You never show up without pain."

"That's because you rarely give me a reason to show up when you haven't irritated me," Tamorl said, stepping from the shadows in his full ceremonial armor, the Panther visibly furious. He can't do anything though... not anything more than he already has, at least. "Perhaps if your invitations were more often of the traditional sort, rather than irritating somebody, I would remember to lessen the pain my presence causes you."

"You enjoy it too much to stop," Kulfaux growled. "Make your point and get out of my home."

"My point is that you are called to stand before Shando and the Gods of Order, to defend yourself against a charge of treachery and direct interference in the Contest beyond that permitted by the rules established."

"Again?" he groaned, rolling his eyes. "Are we going to have to go through this every round?"

"I am bringing the charges this time, Kulfaux," Tamorl said seriously, his eyes glittering fiercely. "And I am not doing it for your benefit."

"Just because you lost," he muttered. "When you set up a contest, you had better be prepared to lose on occasion, you know."

"I have lost, on occasion," Tamorl pointed out. "What has not happened before is the victor corrupting the Champions through his direct influence in the physical realm. Had your Champion done it, I would be fighting Halikar and Sheliel tooth and nail to stop this."

"Yeah, yeah," Kulfaux rolled his eyes. "Let's get it over with. I think I can repeat it verbatim by now."

"Good, we'll save time," Tamorl said curtly. "To my demesne; I suggest you leave instructions for your 'toys' to leave yours before long."

"I'll return. I always do," Kulfaux snorted before they both vanished.

When they reappeared, it was in Tamorl's castle, the structure almost older than time itself was well fortified and prepared for this. The eleven who had gathered there at first were not the only ones ... for a trial like this, virtually all the gods and many of their most powerful servants and champions were present, to watch and see what happened if nothing else. Even Kulfaux's friends and allies, such as they were, had gathered... it was important to give him the appearance of support, given his rank if he was not punished too severely. And if he was, it would be equally important to be poised to claim his power.

Shando sat at the head of Tamorl's central hall, just beneath the primordial God's throne. To her right, now her equal, sat Thordunn, the Tyrant, the other gods of Order sitting further and further out from the two of them, according to their rank after the Contest's completion. A thirteenth empty chair sat, tall, looming behind Shando and Thordunn's seat, and it was clear they both were unnerved by and resented its placement.

Tamorl took his throne, waiting for Kulfaux to take his own, entirely too familiar, place before the judges, leaving his seat as the silent voice of chaos empty.

"Kulfaux, do you know why you are called before the tribunal?" Shando asked evenly.

"Yes, Lawgiver, Tyrant," the Lord of Chaos inclined his head to them in a fractional token of respect. "My roll in the turning of several champions is in question."

"Specifically, you have been accused of using your power directly to interfere in the course of the Contest," Thordunn told him solemnly. "Of bypassing the role of your Champion to corrupt the Champions of your rivals. What do you say to these charges?"

"The same I have said every time these charges have been made," Kulfaux snorted. "They are false. I played by the stupid rules."

"And, three generations ago, you might have," Izaris said, the Vixen stepping in with an armful of scrolls. "However, as you know, the rules changed after your little game with the Obsidian Blade. Any vessel of divine power created by deity - such as your crystal skulls - is strictly forbidden, even if wielded by a Champion, unless it is a vessel in keeping with the deity's area of command. The last time I checked," she said, lowering her glasses and looking at him, "the exchange of divine power and gifts was not a part of chaos."

"The only thing that is not part of chaos is following a pattern," he pointed out gruffly for the lowly goddess that wielded so much power behind the senses and was the foundation of the very concept of order. "I did nothing against the rules."

"So you would agree that if I can show you followed a pattern, the direct goal of which was to influence the contest with your own divine power, you would agree that you had violated the rules?" She asked him, raising an eyebrow.

Kulfaux rolled his eyes. "I have done no such thing, so go ahead and try."

"Very well," the Vixen smiled dryly, laying the scrolls out. "If it pleases the court? I have evidence which shall prove that Kulfaux took part in an ongoing campaign, structured and carried out with meticulous attention to detail, intended to tip the balance of the Contest by substituting his divine gift to the Champions of eleven Gods for those of their patrons. Once forced to be loyal to him, their basest natures buffered, these Champions then had no choice but to succumb to his power and swear loyalty to his Champion. The effects of this trickery will be felt for the next thousand years of the mortal realm."

"Do continue," Thordunn leaned forward slightly, his interest and displeasure evident at the revelation of how he had gained his current station.

"If this is true, it will mitigate many changes made in this contest," Tuu the Unchanging said with real interest.

"Only to some extent," Izaris admitted. "However, I will continue. The pattern begins when he contacted Jenz, the Keeper of Secrets. While she has not admitted to the specific content of their conversation, as expected, it was after this that he began working with the Lord of Bones. The skulls of twelve former Champions, one of his and eleven from other deities, were retrieved from their tombs. Individually, gemsmiths in the employ of Fahik were contracted with to craft crystal skulls matching those of the former Champions, each made of a stone sacred to the Champions' patron. The skulls were then imbued with a fraction of Kulfaux's personal power by the Lord of Bones, Jenz, and Kalil, Lord of Sorcery. The skulls were bestowed upon Kulfaux's Champion. Up to this point, there were no actions that clearly breached the laws of the contest. However, I would enter into evidence this scroll, containing instructions for Kulfaux's Champion in the mortal realm." She picked up one of the scrolls, the waxen seal broken, and handed it over to Thordunn.

The Tyrant read it, murmuring to himself at several points, and once even raising an eyebrow.

"You have much explaining to do, Kulfaux," he said as he passed the scroll to Shando and created a copy for each of the gods of law to read for themselves, then one for Kulfaux himself.

The god of Chaos looked at it, and scowled.

"I object; this is protected under the bonds of Jenz, Keeper of Secrets," he said sharply.

"It is written matter, and knowledge; despite your treachery, my position still outranks Jenz'," Izaris replied just as sharply. "You said that I would have to show a pattern? What would you call a decades-long campaign laid out from the first day?"

Kulfaux was silent as all the gods of law read, struggling to come up with an explanation that wouldn't be quite so devastating. When they all looked at him, he spoke.

"Yes, I wrote this," he admitted, somewhat to the surprise of several onlookers. "I did assist in the plot by providing power and the champion."

He could already see Shando and several others flatten their ears at his language. Sheliel's growl and the clicking hiss of Halikar weren't far behind, and they were not alone in expressing their anger.

He'd pushed his luck on this one. Perhaps too far. He hadn't faced this much anger and organized response to his efforts since Tamorl had ended the last all-out war among those gathered.

"It is not, however, my plan," he insisted as evenly as he could. While he would have savored the possibility that this would start another Godswar... he wanted to be there to profit from it.

"Then whose plan was it?" Izaris asked him.

He should have killed her long before this ... she should have been one of the first to die in the last war, it would have made the rest of his life so much simpler. She had powerful protectors, and gained more with every time she had him brought here.

"The Lord of Bones brought it to me, asked for my help with it," he said pointedly, only to blink when Taecin laughed, her ghostly tone sending a shiver down his spine. Just what was it about her that was so unsettling? It wasn't like she was the most powerful death-god around.

"I did not!" The Lord of Bones objection, almost as if on cue. "I didn't even know all of what he was trying to do! I thought he was just trying to embarrass the rest of them!"

"You want the other gods to believe that you would do the bidding of him?" Izaris asked, quirking an amused smile. "My, Kulfaux... you must be worried this time. I believe you've been known to say that the only orders you follow are your own... just what could he have had on you that would make you follow his?"

"The same whim that all chaos is founded on," he growled at her. "It sounded good at the time."

"And, of course, you can back up your accusation against the Lord of Bones?" Shando asked him pointedly.

"First I want you to recuse yourself from this trial," he shot at her. "You are too involved in events to give a fair appraisal of the law."

"Very well; I shall answer questions regarding established law, but make no judgments or recommendations," she agreed. Though her tail flicked in irritation, there was a small, private smile on her face as she shared a look with Tamorl and several others directly wronged by events.

"View the past," he motioned to create an illusion of events as he wanted to present them.

The illusion played out for all present to watch... it wasn't long before there were protests.

"I never did that!" The Lord of Bones wailed. "You came to me, but I never contacted you! You said you had to hunt me down!"

"You are trying to save your hide," Kulfaux retorted.

"Finally he doesn't lie," someone whispered in amusement.

"That is one of the first things he has said here that wasn't false," Tamorl agreed ... and Kulfaux realized just how he'd "gotten away" with so much already. Of course they had the spells up to detect lies... it hadn't been because of his newfound power, it was because they'd been letting him go on without saying anything. They were letting him try to hang himself. "We will have to add perjury to his charges, not that it matters much... and, perhaps, attempted deicide."

"How do you answer these new charges?" Thordunn prompted.

"I did not try to kill anyone," he growled, hating more than anything the smug looks on far too many faces and his inability to wipe those looks off. He was powerful, one of the most powerful among them, but he was nothing compared to the power of Tamorl and his peers.

"You did, however, attempt to pass the blame for your crime on to the Lord of Bones... perhaps you don't realize the importance of the initial charge?" Tamorl suggested.

"Who wouldn't try to avoid a few centuries in purgatory?" Kulfaux snorted. "So it didn't work. He's hardly an innocent in events."

"You're right; he doesn't realize what he's facing," Izaris noted.

"Kulfaux, you've faced punishment before. For the magnitude of your crime this time, and its inevitable impact on the mortal world, your punishment could be the Unmaking," Tamorl informed him.

"What!" the God of Chaos roared, his outrage evident all the way down to his aura. "I didn't do anything that drastic."

"Hard to believe, but he thinks that is the truth," Thordunn observed in a mixture of disapproval and amazement.

"Eleven separate counts of manipulating the Contest, and hurling the mortal world into chaos and war under the control of the twelve Champions you improperly empowered isn't drastic?" Tamorl growled lowly. "Kulfaux, have you actually seen what you've wrought? Aristal has not seen this sort of devastation since the last Godswar!"

"It's beautiful," he said before he could stop himself. "I am chaos, Tamorl! I am what I am. I exist for a reason. You can not deny that chaos must exist."

"Exist, yes... and Chaos will exist," Tamorl agreed. "Do you think that it did not, before you?"

That took Kulfaux back, and he blinked at what was said. He tried to say something, but nothing came to his mind to counter the claim.

"I am not the only Primordial; I am simply the only one to remain here now. Chaos, Order, and the others have moved on. Though I'll admit ... you have proven a reason to stay," he said dryly.

"Will you be going when I'm gone?" Kulfaux asked, unsure of what he could say to even mitigate what was about to happen. In his core, he knew he was dead, and he didn't even begin to understand why. Change, it was all about change. Kulfaux may die, but chaos could never be denied. He would be reborn. It was the way of things not tied to the mortals that gave them all so much power.

"Not likely. There will be much pain here for the world to work through ... I will still have a place, and the mortals here have a knack for discovering new ways to interest me."

"Yet you would destroy me for being what I am," Kulfaux glared at him. "Chaos cannot abide rules. It cannot exist within them. You would give me a choice between denying my most basic nature, the reason I exist, and being unmade by your hand. What choice is that, Primal?"

"It is the choice all beings make. It is Shando's nature to bring order to all things. It is mine to spread pain and suffering throughout the universe. Should we exist unbounded? I would be happy to demonstrate the lack of wisdom in such a choice."

"Your natures are not in direct opposition to the rule of law," Kulfaux snarled. "You can play by rules and not ignore your purpose!"

"And if chaos rules unchecked, it becomes its own order; you should know that better than anyone," Tamorl pointed out. "You may chafe at restriction, but if you were unrestrained, what would you do? You would have nothing to flout... you'd be bored to death within a century."

"That isn't grounds to unmake me!"

"In and of itself? No," Tamorl agreed. "But you have shown time and again that you have no interest in existing as all beings must, accepting that there are limits involved in maintaining relative peace with those around you. You obey only when it suits your purposes, or when the fear of punishment compels you to. And once you saw that you couldn't get away with your treachery this time, you tried to pin the blame on your dupe. Had you not done that, perhaps one of us would have been inclined to speak for leniency.

"As it is ... the charges have been brought. The evidence heard. Guilt or innocence and your punishment are the only things left to decide... and you have had the only member of the Lords of Order who cannot consider how very badly you irritate her recuse herself. You had best hope that the better natures of the remaining ones outweighs their distaste for you. Lords, it is in your hands," the Panther said imperiously.

"What are your verdicts, my Lords?" Izaris asked with a bow, her book and quill ready.

"Recused," Shando spoke first as was her right as the one who wrote law down.

"Guilty," Thordunn the Tyrant pronounced evenly.

"Guilty," Raal, the God of Force called out.

Kendris, the Lady Justice, her eternal blindfold still in place and sword at her side, raised her scale. Without a word it tipped to the left.

"Guilty," Nulaa, the Mother of Probability said sadly.

"Guilty," Tempus, the master of Time nodded.

"Guilty," Celestine, the Lady of the Stars flicked her long, white-dotted black tail.

"Guilty," Tuu, Lord of Stasis, could barely contain his glee at the statement.

"Guilty," Calix and Eryx, the Sisters of Honor and Loyalty, said in perfect unison.

"Guilty," the Wyld Lord said gruffly, not entirely pleased by it.

"Guilty," Fate, always to speak last, sealed the conviction.

"And the penalty for his crimes?" Izaris asked as the verdict was recorded.

"Unmaking," Thordunn demanded.

"I disagree," the Wyld Lord growled lowly. "Chaos is too important a part of the natural order to destroy so."

"If I may," Shando said, raising a finger, "if we allow such a precedent to be set, then it opens the door for any deity who is 'too important' to break the Law without fear of the ultimate penalty. Should Tamorl be excused from the Unmaking, if he committed a similar crime, simply because pain is too important a part of the natural order? What of Tempus or Tuu? Further, we would be unmaking Kulfaux, not Chaos itself. There are others who would take his place. He is not the first to embody Choas."

"He will not be the last," Fate added emotionlessly. "Whether this is his time to end or not, he is not the Primordial."

"The question is not who he is; it is whether or not the Unmaking is just for his violation of the rules," Kendris said quietly, her rarely-used voice cutting through the conversation. She picked up her sword and returned it to its sheath, making her opinion clear.

"Justice?" Calix laughed. "What does he care for justice? He has proven time and again that lesser punishments will not suffice... this time, he tried to shift the blame to one of his fellows, to condemn an innocent to his own fate with no regard for what it would be!"

"That would be a vote for the Unmaking, Sister Calix?" Izaris asked to be sure.

"It would," she nodded.

"And from myself," Eryx added.

"Calix has a point," Raal joined the burgeoning debate. "Chaos and Force are close cousins after all. I do understand him, for all he frustrates me. He will not learn from lesser punishments because he does not understand anything less than absolutes."

"And yet, what lesson does he learn from the Unmaking?" Celestine pointed out. "It is rather difficult to learn a lesson when you do not exist. This penalty cannot be treated as a reform measure; it is a deterrent to others."

"And a punishment," Tempus countered. "Would the people of Aristal feel he should be let off with a lesser penalty for what he has done to them? Had he done so legitimately, it would be one thing, but he has not."

"That is the point of law," Shando reminded them all. "It does not only provide guidance, it prescribes punishment and retribution as deterrents for potential offenders. Once a crime has been committed, reform is not the purpose."

"Granted, but if the argument one would use for the Unmaking is that lesser punishments have not taught him a lesson, then you must accept that the Unmaking will not do so either," Celestine pointed out.

"We should also consider the implications of removing him," Tuu added. "How do we know that his replacement will not be worse than him?"

"The 'Better the Demon you know' argument?" Raal snorted. "How do you know it would be worse? We don't," he answered his own question. "Might be better, might be worse, will most likely be about the same given enough time. It is the nature of Chaos. That will always be so."

"If it does prove worse, we will deal with the situation at that time," Eryx offered.

"Perhaps it is time to open the floor to those gathered, to give reasons for lenience or harshness?" Nulaa, the Mother of Probability, suggested.

"Agreed," Shando nodded.

"Give him the worst!" The Lord of Bones piped up, starting a flurry of broadened debate through the Gods watching the proceedings.

Mika shook her head, throwing off the vision her gifts as the Champion of Knowledge and the magical records carved in the walls had created. It had rarely been so intense, and she could truly do without being there for the Unmaking of a greater god. There was an anger in her own mistress at events that was unsettling as well.

"Are you all right, Champion?" Jeu Su asked as he reached out to support her.

"Why wouldn't I be all right?" She chuckled bitterly, trying to shake off the lingering questions in her mind. "I just witnessed a divine lynch mob, what's there to be disturbed by?"

"You saw more than what was carved?" he asked, utterly fascinated by the possibility that the rumored ability was real.

"I saw the trial itself, as well as the carved version of events," she nodded. "At least up to a certain point. There are differences... he deserved his fate, but the decision was not made for that reason. It was part justice, part revenge, and part assassination."

"M'lady, can you set all history right?" he asked as they began to walk away. "Perhaps to more pleasant parts of history."

"Mmm ... do you happen to have either of Halikar's wedding nights on here?" She jokingly asked him.

"This way," he chuckled with a low purr. "Even without your gift, they are quite inspiring."

"In any of a number of ways, I'm sure," she chuckled, following him as he turned to show her the way. "And regarding your question, yes, I generally can... I'm just supposed to be careful about doing that with history that's outside the Great Library."

"I understand," he nodded. "If you see anything that is wrong, it would be good to know."

"I will let you know... though I think I'll save it for in private, if I notice anything in the next section we're looking at," she teased lightly.

"I know many private spots here in the temple," he smiled suggestively. "Even if you do not find anything to correct us on."

"I just might take you up on that, Jeu Su," she purred, brushing her tail against his as they went to the relatively private carvings.

Murin groaned lowly as he started to come around. He could smell food in the area... and Xanith. He opened his eyes, seeing two elderly Snow Leopards sitting nearby. Their black fur with golden rosettes made them utterly unmistakable.

"High Priest and Priestess ... forgive my manners, but I'm still a little woozy," he murmured, trying to get up into a sitting position.

"Easy, Priest of Lyris," a soothing voice and the firm touch of a healer stopped his movement. "There is no hurry now."

"I'm used to that being my line," he chuckled lowly, though he did stop. "For people quarantined with the Fever, you're all remarkably healthy... who all is in on the plot outside?"

"It seems to be everyone," High Priest Korunn Sheng said simply. "Those that are known to object are here."

"Under the guise of a quarantine... I have to give them credit, it's efficient," Murin murmured. "So... who is everybody down here?"

"I am the High Priest Korunn Sheng," the black Snow Leopard introduced himself. "My mate, High Priestess Korunn Djia, and kits, Priestess Korunn Naeva and Priest Korunn Ly-Mu," he indicated the two normal colored Snow Leopards. "Priestess-Healer Ni Quin," he nodded towards the young Ocelot who had stopped him from getting up. "Priest Vosh Nemi," he motioned to a male Ocelot bathing. "And a laykat healer, Mishia," he nodded towards the Margay who was still eating.

"Good to meet you. I am Murin, Priest of Lyris... I'm here along with Jake Clawson and High Priest Hawk Firepoint, among others," he explained. " Eternal Dawn has taken control of the temple, if you didn't know already."

"We have gathered as much," Sheng nodded regally. "As the Master of Arms, it would be expected."

"I don't think that everyone still free believes in what is being done, but fears to speak out now," Naeva added deferentially.

"That is likely the case... or, at least, they want to keep their heads down, and trust in their 'High Priests.' On the outside, everybody believes that you two support his actions," Murin told the two Leopards seriously.

"While this is not a surprise, it is an offence greater than holding us here," Sheng growled, his small round ears flat. "What does the Champion think?"

"That something is wrong, but I don't honestly know what else... and it doesn't look like I'll get the chance to ask him," Murin sighed. "Is there any way out of here?"

"Not without fighting our way out," Sheng said in a tone that made it seem like it could be a good idea. "Though with the Champion present, it would end things quickly."

"If we got far enough out that they knew what was happening," Murin murmured. "But I would prefer for this to not end with any more bloodshed than is absolutely necessary."

"Agreed," he nodded. "These people are my friends, comrades, students. I do not wish to kill them, but I cannot permit the Champion to destroy this place. It contains a history that all others have long forgotten."

"He does not want to destroy it either," Murin said softly. "He has accepted that it may be necessary to do so... to kill the priests. He brought the Champion of Izaris here, along with others, to try and preserve as much as can be."

"Ly-Mu," he turned to his son as the Snow Leopard slowly opened his eyes from where he was kneeling before an eight-foot tall statue of Halikar. "Can you call the Champion here, or one of his allies?"

"I will try, father," his nod shifted the braid that reached to the floor and draped around his knees.

"What is this story?" Mika asked as they walked towards the main gates and realized that the two obelisks flanking it were as well-carved as everything else, but that they were only the beginning and ending of a story written in the inner protective wall that surrounded the many-acre complex. Coming in, the only thing visible was the pronouncement written in every conceivable language that this place was dedicated to Halikar, The Hawk of the Sun, The Master all He Surveys, The Giver and Taker of Life.

On the inside, it was very different. It began before Balkita was a minor kingdom with Halikar was the physical leader of a prosperous village. A powerful wielder of elemental magic, born of magic as much as of flesh, but mortal as much as such arch-mages ever are.

"It is how we came to Tambron," he said with a mixture of pride and sadness. "It details great Halikar's birth and ascension to godhood, the foundation of Balkita, it's fall, the deaths of the others and our escape to this land so far from home."

"This would be of great interest, if you're willing to help me translate parts of the story," she asked him. "It's something we have little on that is not from the Asherian perspective."

"Our perspective of our entire history is here, written in the walls and temples, Lady Mika," he said with real pride. "It would be my pleasure to translate and add as much as I am able to the Great Library. Balkita is held in great regard by most from my research, but few seem to think it still exists. If there is ever peace in this area, perhaps more scholars would come and read what happened."

"Perhaps they will," she nodded. "But I can reassure you that the information will be preserved in the Great Library, once it has been taken down."

"That is nice to know," he nodded. "What of this isn't in the records already?"

"Much of what you have about Halikar's background before the Asherian conquest," she explained. "And the fall of Balkita. We know about it ... Izaris actually has much of it from his perspective, but the legends are still good to know."

"Legend has an implication of being unaccepted as truth," Jeu Su flicked his ears flat for a brief moment before he remembered his manners and his ears folded sideways in an entirely different posture. "My apologies, Champion. When the Asherians began to destroy the god's homes and the warriors and priests could not stop them, we took those that were left and fled from Asherian forces."

"All I mean by legend is a version of ancient events that is not from a source that was there," she told him.

"Lady Mika, these are first hand accounts of events. Nearly everything carved is from accounts by those who witnessed events."

"My apologies," she said softly, hating it. "You took your people who were left?"

Not many," he shook his head. "We would all be of Balkitan decent if we had. We had to move quickly, more quickly than their fastest cavalry. We created good replicas of the god's homes for the invaders to destroy, left them where the real ones should have been. We hoped it would delay the Asherians long enough for us to make good our escape."

"One moment ... the god's homes?" She asked him curiously. "I've heard of it before, but never in much detail."

"The gods of Balkita were all born in the physical world, the same as everyone. Without a physical home, the spirit ceases to exist. Mummies are good for a long time, but only gold lasts forever."

"And so the golden statues of Balkita were the receptacles of the gods' spirits," Mika murmured. It explained several questions that had never been answered satisfactorily ... like what had happened to the Balkitian gods and why only one survived. To a god, no one had absorbed them, and no one could admit to finding them. "You have Halikar's here then?"

"Yes," Jeu Su nodded solemnly. "We care for him as we did since he transformed his mummy into a golden status of himself as the hawk-god."

"Did he do that before, or after his apotheosis?" She asked him. This could be a complication, to say the least. It meant that the Temple itself had to remain relatively undisturbed, so long as they had the statue. Even if Halikar didn't need it to exist anymore, damaging it could be ... unfortunate.

"He was considered a god before his body died," Jeu Su said uncertainty.

"He died, was mummified, and then transformed his body?" She asked, flicking her ears. "Was the process any different than for a mortal who died?"

"Yes and no," he shook his head. "Of course, as a pharaoh, a great king, the finest crafters and materials were used for Halikar, but the process is the same for all who are mummified."

"No unusual spells or materials then, meant to grant him additional power in the afterlife?"

"Such a person needs no such assistance," Jeu Su looked at her curiously. "He controlled the sand and floods, fire, wind, even time itself ... those who became our gods had their power in life. Death does little more than perfect it, make it undying."

"I had been under the impression that it was any Balkitian pharaoh who would ascend, not merely the abnormally powerful," she said apologetically.

Jeu Su smiled slightly. "There is a story wall you may find informative later. Most pharaohs were what other realms called champions. They were a portion of the gods power made physical and mortal. Once a pharaoh died, their energy returned to those that gave it, and was then invested in the next pharaoh. What you say is not incorrect, but it is not exactly correct either. Few gods were born after Balkitia was unified," he added. "I understand that his mortal birth makes Halikar most unusual for the power he now wields among the world pantheon."

"It does," she nodded. "He adapted quite well to the larger pantheon... very few deities of his power were not born from another God, as Bastet was."

"Yes, the Kat-Mother," he nodded uneasily. "She has much in common with Lady Eloewin. Her death was our greatest failure to him."

"Her statue was one of those found by the Asherians," she guessed. If they'd known what the statues were, would they have protected them? She was unsure... it could have gone either way, easily. Still, she had to believe that they didn't realize they were anything more than golden statues. The Asherians had put too high a value on converting their conquests by adopting their faith to willfully annihilate a pantheon.

"This way," he motioned her to follow him to a section of the wall close to the end of the story. "She was not found so much as hunted down. We escaped with sixteen god homes. Our ruse was discovered too quickly, and they were able to find our trail. When we realized they were coming, we separated. Each god home and its priests went a separate path. Even united, we had to home against the full legion they send after us."

Mika couldn't help but gasp. "A full legion? They only took three into Balkitia."

"I know," he nodded. "According to the legionnaire we captured, their orders were to return with the shattered god homes, or not at all."

"Not realizing that they were destroying the gods, and not just relics that the stubborn Balkitians would rally around," Mika guessed.

"If our abject surrender was all they wanted, they could have started and ended with Lady Eloewin," Jeu Su sighed. "Loosing her after loosing so many battles all but broke him," he looked up at a section of the wall that showed a funeral on the run with only Halikar and six others attending the farewell to her shattered body.

"They did not know what their actions would do ... at least the Asherians did not, I'm sure of it," Mika said softly. "That, or absolutely everything on the subject is a bald-faced lie."

"Halikar is the only god with a physical link to the mortal plane?" Jeu Su asked, his expression making it clear to her that this was a very difficult concept for him to grasp.

"I don't know that I would say the only, but the only one whose link is so important," she nodded. "Among gods who were not born as mortals, it's unheard of, and rare among mortals who did ascend. To the Asherians ... they were statues. Magical ones, perhaps; important, clearly; but nothing more than representations of the gods."

Jeu Su reached up, only barely able to touch the lowest bit of the carving of Eloewin's shattered statue-body, touching it with the reverence of a lover or very close son.

"Whatever their reasons, they did break him, destroyed his empire, and reshaped what was left of him to suit their own desires," he said quietly, his ears and tail sagging as his mind was turned to all that had happened to bring current events about. "Sometimes when I read about the other temples and his current existence, I wonder if there is anything left of the Halikar we care for and worship here."

"There is," Mika said softly as his hand came down. "He is still a warrior, a fighter ... he simply fights to protect now, rather than to conquer. He tries to protect where he couldn't before."

The short, powerful Ocelot nodded, though he didn't seem all that comforted by the truth.

"It is good that he found a new place in the new world," he struggled to stay positive about it. "It is good. It still hurts."

"I'm sure that it does, just as I'm sure he still regrets what happened. But he still survives, and it was His spread through the Asherian Empire and the rest of the world that brought about stability and relative peace, at least until the Dark Ages began."

"From what I have read, it helped bring the Dark Ages to an end before the champions could do it. The world would not have stabilized yet without his new priests."

"No, it would not have," Mika agreed. "Not until now, at any rate... and even that is still up for debate. He is ... relatively satisfied with his new role."

Jeu Su nodded solemnly. "It is good. When we were left alone, it was easy to not think about what might be left of the god we saved and still worship. The Halikar we serve is all but dead."

"Not dead, Jeu Su, just different ... they're the same deity," she told him softly. "He performs all of his old duties which do not interfere with his new ones."

"Forgive me Champion, but it is little comfort," he glanced at the funeral scene before turning to show her something else. "Something is terribly wrong in this temple, and I do not know what."

"They will discover what it is," Mika promised him. "And it will be dealt with... fixed... as best as we can."

Dhiren watched over the closed-circuit television as the twisted orgy in one of his workrooms progressed. Five corpses, barely cool when all this had started, were posed in various implements of torture and execution. All of them were being used and abused by their 'lovers,' associates of Max's who had a taste for dead flesh.

It wasn't his personal preference, but Max had been enthusiastic about this painting ... and Max's enthusiasm was something that Dhiren wanted to encourage.

A Dalmatian was hanging limply from an iron maiden, her body being fucked by an Alsatian male who'd already tied with her two or three times. A Tiger lay broken on a wheel, his body bound and stretched out along it, a spike run up through his ass holding his cock erect while Lise rode him hard and fast, savoring the tiny secondary spines protruding from his barbs, and the way his body rocked up and down as Max fucked his ass.

A Cheetah... he thought her name was Sefra, according to what Max had told him... would have killed herself if she weren't already dead. Impaled on a traditional spear, partly skinned with expert care that had startled Dhiren when he found out that Max knew how, her corpse was being fucked by a very enthusiastic Lion who'd been promised her skin after this was over with.

If only he knew.

The last two though... they were ones that Dhiren could appreciate a certain artistic irony in. One of them was almost touching... a pair of Wolves, husband and wife. They'd been practically tickled by the opportunity this presented; she'd wanted to kill herself, he'd wanted to enjoy her after. He was the only one here who knew for sure what was going to come shortly... besides him.

The last one was less touching, but more enjoyable for what the Panther-Tiger knew it represented to Max. A cinnamon tom, easily mistakable for Jake Clawson, beheaded by a guillotine, his head face-up in the basket so the dark-furred, stocky tabby fucking his dead ass... Dhiren knew the tabby was supposed to be Rock, a particularly irritating person in Max's twisted mind. He was progressing nicely; tonight would be the night to suggest his masterpiece.

The slender painter groaned as he filled the Tiger, and Dhiren walked in, the artist's signal that the necrophiliac's orgy was over, whether or not they wanted it to be. Max gave a slight nod, kissing Lise's shapely ass before he pulled out of the Tiger and went over to the canvas. Dhiren pressed a button on a small remote in his pocket ... and five cameras flashed, capturing five deaths.

The iron maiden slammed shut on the Alsatian, his first moments of pain and protest captured on the film. The spike in the Tiger's cock extended further, piercing Lise from cunt to crown, blood pouring from her mouth as her heart was thrust literally up into her throat. The spear impaling the Cheetah rammed forward and down, through the Lion's lung, condemning him to a slow and painful death; he hacked up blood as the camera captured his final agony. The platform under the Wolf fell, and his arms came up so that he was embracing his dead wife as he strangled, his cock still tied to her sex as he fought to extend that last moment together into eternity.

And the blade fell on the startled tabby, leaving his shocked face kissing the cinnamon tom beneath him, his cock spurting all that would ever pass through it into the corpse.

"Suitable for your work?" Dhiren asked Max as he cleaned up and set up a large canvas.

"I'll have to see how the photos turn out to know for sure, but it will have to be, won't it?" The artist purred. "Thank you for all your work in setting this up... do you plan on bringing Lise back this time? Or will you replace her with your new plaything?" He asked, nodding back towards a pristine, white-furred Malamute, staring in horror at the scene in front of her. Her scent was intoxicating... just as Dhiren had hoped it would be. She was quite convinced that she wouldn't live through the night, but she wasn't resigned to it yet... the moment of panic he loved most.

"I'll give Lise's fate to you," Dhiren smiled indulgently and pushed the Malamute over a chair with one powerful are as he unzipped his pants. "If you enjoy her as a model still, I don't mind."

"Mmm... she is a good model," Max murmured as he went to work, painting the scenery for the most part; he'd get the participants once the pictures were ready. "She'll have to be left to move on one of these days, of course, but for now I think it would be good to get at least one more picture out of her. Later though; let her worry a bit," he purred as he painted, and Dhiren forced the Kantin's legs wide, savoring the terror on her face. It took so much work to get a plaything like her; attractive, practically virginal, and not already spoken for for some sacrifice or another.

A plaything like this, a unique painting for his collection, and setting one of his plans in motion for its final steps... could there be a better evening?

Well, perhaps getting a crystal skull in Jake's hands until that troublesome tom begged to be abused to death.

Dhiren groaned, savoring the pleasure of his plaything's tight, frightened body. "Have you made any progress on getting Jake to pose for a second painting?"

"Mmm ... haven't had the chance to try, I'm afraid," Max admitted. "I'm going to try soon though... I understand that his mate is off somewhere, he's been sleeping around a bit more. With Rock out of the way, I might be able to convince him to go out for a date at least... maybe talk him into it. It'd be easier if I could just force him to, but even if he wasn't a Champion he's too tough a fighter for me," he sighed.

"I have something that can change that, if you want him enough," he said, watching the painting begin to take form.

"What?" Max asked, his brush pausing as he looked over at Dhiren with an expression of keen interest. "Something that would make him willing, or that would let me force him, physically?"

"It can give you enough power to force him. It may be physically or mentally. It may even make him willing. What it does for you depends on how you use it."

"I'm quite interested... what's your price though?" Max asked him, looking down at the Malamute's pained expression with a smile, her mismatched eyes tearing up as Dhiren plowed into her sex, his barbs working her tight body.

"I want you to kill him in a way that he won't come back from," he said seriously. "Him and many others."

"Can I play with him for a while first?" Max asked, considering it. "It would be such a waste, killing him just once."

"Yes, as long as he does not escape," Dhiren said dangerously. "That must not happen."

"Oh, he wouldn't," Max rumbled. "That, of course, would be the hardest part... you know it's why I work with fems most of the time."

"Yes," Dhiren grunted as his balls tightened, the pleasure he was taking from the female under him catching up to him. "We will have to prepare for it well. I am sure I can hold him. You have to bring him into the trap."

"Gladly," Max rumbled. "Can I bring Karetha into it too? She'd be positively ecstatic."

"As long as she does not get out of hand," he chuckled before a grunting roar bellowed from his chest as he came hard inside his pet, his seed filling her to overflowing.

She whined, kept from doing anything more by the muzzle on her mouth, crying as she watched the people dying the rest of the way, sure she would join them soon, and listened to another murder planned.

"She wouldn't, at least not in any way we can't enjoy," Max promised. "Mmm ... besides, I've been thinking that it's about time I pay her back for helping me learn how much fun it was to reproduce my works," he grinned wickedly.

"Far past time we both did," Dhiren grinned before licking the Malamute's exposed throat and thrusting again. "She gave a great gift to the world in doing so."

"Thank you," Max grinned. "Mmm ... what do you think? The artist's greatest fan killing herself to become part of his greatest work?"

"I so like how you mind works," he shuddered in the pleasure heightened by the conversation. "What scene do you have in mind?"

"Oh, I'll let her play with Jake a few times first," Max purred, focusing back on his painting, letting his mind go to work and spur his creative juices. "I'd had a couple thoughts in mind for after that though. Either Jake turns on her when she lets him go... she would, eventually, if she thought it would improve her pleasure, but we can make sure he doesn't benefit from it after he takes her. He might even give us the piece de resistance, and kill himself after he realizes what he's done. Halikar's Champion Undone. Otherwise, give them both a glass of wine with blue heat and a strong, slow poison. Get triptych out of them as they suffer the pangs of the poison, but can't stop fucking each other until their corpses are still. Bastet's Last Blessing. I think I have a taste for mixing blasphemy with my snuff," he grinned.

"It is one of the great appeals of your work," Dhiren grunted. "To finally kill Jake, or any champion, you will have to personally inflict a fatal wound with the blade I give you. It's magic will allow you to function as a champion in many ways."

"Excellent... I'll have plenty of time to work then," Max purred deeply. "A pity I won't be able to do both pieces, but Karetha isn't nearly as durable as Jake is," he laughed.

Ulysses Feral was settled in, reading reports at his desk. The sun was still bright behind him, so he couldn't have been there more than a few hours, though with things only just cleaned up from the mess of his vacation, it had been days since he had been home.

There was a knock at his office door, and Janet came in with a small, deliciously fragrant bag of food.

"I hear you've got things back in shape around here," she smiled. "Thought you'd appreciate a little meal to celebrate?"

"With you as company, I'm not going to object," he chuckled and put the report he was reading down and pulled her close for a soft kiss. "You are spoiling me, you know."

"Just wait until you see what I've brought for lunch," she winked, kissing him back before pulling out the boxes. "They catered in today, I talked the caterer into giving me some of the leftovers," she said, opening them and letting out the smell of various different types of sushi, pickled ginger and wasabi all set to the side.

"You are definitely spoiling me," he grinned as he claimed a pair of chopsticks and began to divvy up the offerings. "You have eaten?"

"I have... but save me some of it for dessert," she grinned, claiming some of the ginger and wasabi already. "Do you like spice, Commander?" She rumbled, moving around and pushing his desk away from him to give herself some space.

It took him a moment to catch her meaning, and he grinned at her. "Yes, I do," he rumbled, shifting to make it easy for her to unzip his slacks.

"Good," she grinned, eyes twinkling as she slipped two pieces of the ginger into her mouth, and spread some of the mint-green mustard onto her lips before she knelt, savoring the burn as she reached into his slacks to coax his shaft out, kissing the tip of it as she worked him to hardness.

She looking up to see how he liked this new twist on their familiar play and tried not to grin too widely at the way his eyes were half-closed as he looked down at her bobbing head. His fingers ran through her hair, encouraging her and giving only minimal direction.

His breath quickened with the occasional moan, both from what she was doing and where they were.

She swallowed him deeply, the ginger giving him a brief, cool reprieve from the burn of the wasabi before its own juices started the tingle going again. Her tongue played with his barbs, and she savored the flavor of his cock, getting stronger beneath the spice as she suckled it skillfully, playing with his balls.

"After we finish here," he breathed heavily, rubbing her ears as his hips began to thrust lightly. "Sweet Mokra...."

She grinned up at him, her tail flicking in anticipation of what he might have been planning to say as she worked against his thrusts, hungry for his seed.

Then her ears went flat as his phone started to ring with the building-wide alarm in the background, and she pulled off with a groan.

"Wonderful timing," she muttered, half tempted to let him rush out with his cock on display, but thought better of it and tucked him in and zipped him up before he hung the phone up.

"I'll be back," he promised as he knelt to kiss her. "I want to finish lunch with you."

"I want to finish my appetizer at the very least," she grinned up at him unrepentantly, licking his lips as he stood up. "I'll stay back here until you've been out of sight for a while, so it's not obvious," she winked, moving so she couldn't be seen under the desk from the door.

"As if we could do anything that everyone isn't already convinced we have been for months," he chuckled with a wink and stalked out of the office, leaving her with free reign of the rich source of intel.

She waited just long enough to be satisfied that he was gone... and started 'straightening' his desk, looking over everything on it quickly, taking a mental photograph for her father. This hadn't been planned, but it would be even better than pillow talk for getting the best places to hit his new forces. Personnel files, deployment information, purchasing data... everything she could get her hands on. She carefully went through his drawers next, unlocking them with the extra key he kept under his desk... if he knew that she was strong enough to lift the heavy oak table, he'd be shocked.

It was so useful to be underestimated, especially by those in power.

With everything she could possibly explain being into gone over, she eyed the safe, hidden behind an oil portrait of Ulysses' great granduncle and predecessor in this office.

Mmm ... that was so very tempting. She could probably nail the combination on the first try even.

Of course, if she couldn't, it might be hard to explain if an alarm went off.

And worse, if he noticed she'd been inside it....

No, she'd leave that be... for now. Instead, she went back to his desk and eyed his phone, pushing the buttons to leave a message for when he got back.

"Uly," she said in her most sultry voice, "it's Janet... though if you couldn't guess that, you're in big trouble. I do want to finish lunch up, but I've got a couple things to take care of at home too ... give me a call when whatever it is is under control and you can come join me? I'll be sure to have something special ready for you," she said with a throaty, seductive purr before ending the message.

She made a quick check of herself to make sure she was presentable, picked up when she had brought for lunch and walked out, her mind on what she was going to set up for him and just how much fun it was going to be.

Maybe she'd finally get to take him under the tail like he had so temptingly suggested would eventually be possible.

Ulysses felt his tail flicking in anticipation of his lover and the last of the battle's frustrations. He unlocked the door with his key, hoping that whatever she had in mind wouldn't be too hard on his uniform.

"Janet?" he called out, not wanting to surprise her.

"Come on in!" She called in from the dining room, a playful tone in her voice. "I hope it wasn't anything too major that tore you away before?"

"Enough to keep me for a couple hours, but not more," he said as he followed her voice.

"Good," she purred throatily. "Because I want you all to myself tonight," she grinned as he walked in. She was naked on the dining room table, resting her head on her hands, the sushi laid out in strategic places on her body on small pieces of parchment paper, the condiments in two bowls; the wasabi in one on her navel, the ginger in one nestled between her breasts. "Now, I believe we were in the middle of lunch when you left?"

"Yes, but it was not nearly so attractively displayed," he chuckled and stepped up to the table. "I do hope you are on the menu as well," he purred as he ran a playful finger along her exposed arm.

"Mmm ... of course I am," she rumbled, flicking her tail back and forth against the table. "Just don't bite too deeply," she winked, spreading her legs a bit, shifting the piece of clam sushi that was strategically, and ironically, placed between them.

"Good," his fingers caressed the curve of her hip as he lowered his head to take the clam sushi into his mouth, though he was paying more attention to tasting her sex with his tongue.

"Mmm ... want me to finish what I started before?" She asked him with a low moan.

"It would be a shame to disturb the meal," he slid his fingers across the lips of her sex as he sucked the delicate slice of puffer fish from her full nipple. "And I think after that, I will have other places I will prefer it to be."

"Yes sir," she purred throatily, moaning as he fingered her clit and licked at her nipples lightly. "You like the table?"

"Yes," he purred as he slicked one finger in her juices and slowly circled her clit to wet it while his mouth wondered along her collarbone and to her neck.

"Mmm ... I'll have to remember to bring sushi home more often," she moaned, pressing into his nips. "You can bite a bit deeper than that, if you want," she rumbled hotly, hungry for him to finish eating the fish and begin to really work her over.

She shivered in excitement when he went for the puffer on her other nipple. Maybe he'd break the table taking her.

It'd be worth replacing it.

She reached down between his legs, toying with his zipper before she undid it, releasing his raging erection and stroking it lightly.

"Did you like the trick with the wasabi?" She asked him with a grin and got a very hungry kiss for it.

"Yes," his breath was hot against her mouth when he answered, not taking the least bit of shame in how he enjoyed her touch.

She kissed him hungrily, exploring his mouth with her rough tongue.

"Want to try putting it on some other lips of mine?" She grinned wickedly when the kiss ended.

"Right here?" he grinned down at her even as he pulled her towards the edge so he could fuck her while standing.

"Can you think of anywhere better?" She grinned, spreading her legs and flicking her tail up to tease his crotch. "We might stain the sheets if we took it to the bedroom first," she winked. "Of course, if your cock isn't up for that particular lube...."

"As if you mind staining the sheets," he chuckled and picked up wasabi bowl from her navel. After dipping his fingers in the thick green paste and slid it along her slit, giving it a moment to register before his finger circled her clit teasingly.

She gasped, cooing softly as he coated her pussy and clit with the spice, her skin burning as the oils started to go to work on her.

"A girl could get to like this!" She grinned up at him, hooking her legs around him and pulling him close.

"You're just an abuse slut," he grinned down at her and thrust into her with a single powerful motion mixed with a kiss.

She cried into his mouth, her body burning as the oils were pushed up into her along his barbed length, her hungry pussy already spasming as an orgasm she'd been waiting hours for exploded through her body.

"Fuck yes!" She cried out, pressing up against him, milking his cock with her pussy. Driven by the pain of the oils and her enjoyment, he as he took her as hard as he ever had, quite possibly as hard as her father ever had.

She wrapped her arms around him, raking her claws through his fur, raising tiny welts on his back. Her father would enjoy this little show so very much, she was sure ... especially if it went where she was hoping it would after this.

Just the thought of pressing the small, feline dildo into his near-virgin ass made her shudder. She wondered if anyone had a clue just how shy he was about it, especially given his relationship with Shier Khan. Neither one really bottomed, but more than ten years on they still enjoyed sharing a bed, and sharing pleasure their own ways.

"Fill me, Uly," she murmured, kissing him hungrily as he slammed his shaft deep into her body. "Got something ... mm ... something special in mind after this," she grinned.

"A day of surprises," he grinned, holding to her hips tightly as he pounded into her, rocking the table as they mated hard and fast.

"The... nngh! The best kind!" She panted, crying out as she came again, her body clenching down around his massive cock. He pulled out and roared as he thrust deep into her, pumping his seed into her with a long series of grunting roars as she cried out and held tightly onto him.

"Ooh... gods you're incredible," she purred as he finally finished. "Think you're up to making it to the bedroom?"

"Oh, I think I can manage," he groaned as he pulled out of her, then picked her up and carried her to her bed.

"Mmm... good," she purred, snuggling up against him, purring at his light touch. "Want to try something else that's new, at least for us?"

"What do you have in mind?" he murmured into her hair.

"Would you consider letting me take you?" She asked him, wrapping her arms around his neck, scratching it lightly and kissing him as he tensed reflexively at the idea. "I'd be very careful with you, of course, but I think we'd both enjoy it."

"What brought this on?" he asked even as he drew her against him and caressed her body.

"We've talked about it before," she pointed out, snuggling up. "Mmm ... it was just a thought. I do have a strap on here, not a very big one... it just seemed like it might be fun to play with, especially with this new lube I've found," she purred and gave him some time to think it over. She really hoped he'd go for it, for so many reasons, even if she would have to be very careful to make sure he had a good time and no reminders of Berten.

"All right," he said with a soft, lingering kiss. "You know just how little I do it."

"I know," she reassured him, kissing him again. "Trust me, the lube I've got will make it real easy," she promised, pressing him down onto the bed. "Would it make you feel better facing me?" She offered.

"Yes," he nodded and relaxed his body, though it wasn't easy. "It would."

"All right," she purred, kissing him again, then getting up off the bed to fetch the harness for the strap-on, taking a few minutes to consider her different toys before selecting a large Kantin toy for herself. A much smaller beginner's toy was for Ulysses; one that was a nice toy, but wouldn't hurt much for an unprepared Kat, or at all for a Xanith like him.

Then she pulled out the lube she'd mentioned.

"Ever use Climax Bursts?" She asked him curiously, mounting the dildos into the harness and rumbling deeply as she put it on, backing up to the bed. "Could you lace up the back of the harness for me?"

"I haven't heard of it," he admitted and curled forward to secure the harness he knew of but had never bothered to become familiar with. It was easy to lace up; she just couldn't reach it very well.

"Well, you'll like it," she reassured him. "And you can use it on me after we're done, just as hard as you like," she rumbled throatily, spreading what looked to him like far too little of the incredibly thick lube onto the toy. He noticed that it didn't even shift in the bottle until she squeezed it.

She moved down between his legs, putting a tiny amount on her fingers, then pushed one up into his ass gently.

"What?" he gasped as he felt something bursting, almost crackling along her finger as the lube spread inside of him.

"It's the lube," she reassured him. "It feels a little weird at first, but it works like a dream. Can you spread your legs for me?" She asked and smiled when he complied. He watched her, and the reaction in his own groin, as she slowly working her finger in and out of his ass, adding a second one when she thought he was loose enough.

"I'd say so," he murmured as his cock stirred a bit.

"You like?" She purred, nuzzling his cock, licking it tenderly as she worked on loosening him up.

"I ... believe I do," he managed to say without moaning, though his body was clearly enjoying it more than he was willing to admit to.

She grinned, privately wondering if she should have picked a bigger dildo for him... but she ignored the question for now, suckling his cock, stretching his ass, adding a third finger and working her body around the knot of the dildo in her own pussy.

His breath quickened as his hips rocked, the pleasure of her mouth and fingers gradually working him to a release he wasn't at all expecting.

She shifted her hips, pulling her fingers from his ass. She worked him to the very edge of an orgasm, then sank the strap-on into his ass as she tasted him about to come. It was just as she hoped; the extra sensation was enough to push him over the edge as his seed exploded into her mouth and his body tightened reflexively around the dildo.

She drank down his seed, starting to thrust into him slowly, moaning as the dildo inside her worked back and forth with her own rhythm. She was just glad she'd done this a few times before; there was something distinctly different about being the one with a cock. Very erotic, and very dominant. Especially right now with such a powerful tom who so rarely allowed anyone, even his own mate, fuck him.

As the pace picked up, she wrapped a hand around his cock and stroked him, giving him as much traditional pleasure as she could to give the new one that much more appeal.

"You're so hot like this," she purred throatily, leaning down to kiss his rock-hard abs as she shifted, trying to find his prostate. She grinned when his fingers curled closed, gripping the sheets and his eyes squeezed shut. "So very hot," she moaned and thrust against that spot again and again until his cock jerked uncontrollably with each move she made.

"Like that, huh?" She grinned up at him, stroking his cock faster. "Mmm ... come for me, Uly. Oooh ... come nice and hard," she moaned as the one inside her pussy rubbed her g-spot. Despite not answering her, the hard pleasure contorting his face and the pulse of his cock in her hand made her pant in excitement. Soon he moaned deeply, then barred his teeth against the roar pushing up from his chest as the pleasure spilled over his self-control and pumped his seed across his chest.

She pressed up against him, the dildo buried deep in his ass as she nuzzled his abs and licked his seed from his body.

"So fucking hot," she purred deeply. "You okay?"

"Yes," he murmured, his breathing still heavy, as he relaxed his hands and began to caress her back. "That was something else."

"Mmm... any time you want to try again, I'm game," she purred. "So, want to return the favor?"

"Yes," he grinned more eagerly. "Do you want the same lube treatment?"

"Oh yeah," she grinned down at him, pulling out of his ass and reaching back to undo the harness. "Mmm... and I want you to leave the dildo in me, if you don't mind. Make it a little tighter for you," she winked and got a deep laugh of amusement for it.

"I'll do that," he continued to chuckle as he grabbed the lube she'd used and pushed her down to her arms and knees.

She raised her tail high, letting him take the leather harness off of her as she pressed her chest down into the mattress and thrust her ass up and out at him invitingly.

"Just remember you don't need too much of that," she rumbled deeply.

"I do," he grinned and squeezed the same amount out as she'd used on him, only he spread it quickly over the head of his cock and thrust into her without any prep.

"Oh yeah!" She rowled, pressing back into his touch, his cock spreading her ass, stretching it to its limits as the lube burst along his cock and inside her tight rectum, spreading the slick gel through her ass as he hilted inside of her with a single motion.

Without pausing he pulled back and thrust again, setting a punishing pace they both enjoyed tremendously.

They both lost track of time, Ulysses pounding her ass as she moaned, whimpered, and came around him, milking one orgasm after another from his already-spent balls. Before long, they were both spent, the massive Xanith snuggling close on top of her.

"Mmm... this is gonna be even more incredible when I'm in heat next," she purred lowly.

"I won't risk kittens yet," he said with a mixture of apology and firm belief in the choice.

"I understand," she reassured him. "I've got ways to indulge without kittens just yet though," she explained, snuggling back against him. "Think it'd be worth it?"

"It depended on the odds," he lifted himself up on one elbow and looked down at her for more details.

"Practically none; I've been using it for years," she told him, turning around after pulling off his cock with a groan. "It's an herbal blend; made it easier to get through heats without losing a couple weeks on a case."

"Write the details down so I can look into it and I'll tell you in a few days," he kissed her neck. "It would be nice to see you that week," he admitted, one arm over her body to fondle her breasts.

"Mmm... yes, it would," she purred lowly. "Do you think you'll want kits eventually?" She asked him.

"I know I do," he kissed her tenderly. "I just want to have a safe enough life that I'm likely to see them grown first."

"Mmm... maybe someday when I can share you with Khan," she purred, kissing him back. "Maybe some by both of you," she mused.

"Maybe," he smiled and relaxed with his arms around her, holding her close. "He has plenty of kittens already."

"Mmm... then you'll just have to keep me all to yourself," she teased lightly, nuzzling his neck and relaxing happily in his embrace.

Mika watched, fascinated by the efforts of a few dozen priests and locals to fill a ceremony place that was clearly intended for hundreds. She could feel their embarrassed at it, at not being able to provide a proper welcome to the most important person in their religion.

There were flower garlands everywhere, bright paint, fabric and tropical feathers from far and near. The carved walls, columns and even statues were all decked out in the best the temple could provide to make a good impression despite conditions.

Jake wasn't thrilled with it, but he wasn't letting it show to most people. She could see how this could eat away at somebody with his personality... he didn't want to be fussed over nearly as much as he was. Even so, he handled it pretty well.

She looked around the carvings, recording them in her mind for later reference and translation if necessary. As much as everybody was trying to make this into a celebration, the tension was still thick in the air. At any point, it could go horrendously wrong and everyone knew it.

Dancers in both local and Balkitan costume moved to music from two very different lands, one on each side of the feast of meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, breads, cakes and cookies in all manner of preparations.

The Balkita dancers, both male and female, were a sandy red with black skin and dark brown eyes that was so prized in their homeland before it fell. They all wore fine transparent cottons of white with golden ornaments and moved with sensuous speed meant to arouse the viewer. It had a strong sense of an orgy about to happen, and under normal conditions, that may well have been true. It was an easy to see the world as it would have been four thousand years ago when Balkita was in its prime.

On the other side were Tambrian dancers and musicians, including the central percussion section; local youths with long bamboo sticks that they began to rap against the floor and each other, keeping time for the musicians and dancers, four males and four females for each set.

The dancers were dressed in their best wraps of red, pink, orange and purple with a great deal of gold and large, ornate golden crowns in the conel shape of the carved towers. Soon they were moving through the players with the bamboo sticks, dancing down the line, carefully stepping in and out of the clacking rods.

They moved back and forth, changing their arrangement each time, getting more complicated even as the players began to work faster, moving the tempo of the dance up to a crescendo of fast-moving feet that would have put some of the MMA fighters Jake knew to shame.

It half surprised her when Jake's attention was clearly on them, on the moves and the dancers themselves. It took a moment to remember that he had been indoctrinated into Bastet's temple. Halikar's ways came to him naturally enough that Jake had been left largely alone by both sides of his followers much of his life. It had left him without the abiding fascination for all things Balkitan that most in Halikar's service had.

She was rarely more grateful for her status as a champion. It allowed her a seat next to the action. Right next to Jake and Eternal Dawn where she could hear first-hand what could be one of the more important conversations of his life.

"I hope that everything is to your satisfaction, Champion?" Eternal Dawn asked Jake as they both ate and watched the dancers, and both continued to take the measure of the other and their forces without appearing to.

"Yes," Jake gave him a smile that was meant to reinforce the answer. "It is a spectacular feast with the quarantine keeping most away. You have clearly done well for the temple while the Korunns have been ill."

"I have done my best," Eternal Dawn nodded. "There are many concerns that need to be dealt with; Tambron doesn't have the same resources that MegaKat City has. Halikar has much more to do here, particularly against external threats."

"Yes, tell me about those," Jake turned his attention to the mission.

"Sanderice is the greatest of them, but all of our neighbors would like to see Tambron fall," Eternal Dawn explained. "There are been long-standing tensions for the last four thousand years, and border skirmishes for almost as long. None of them have had the resources for a full-scale assault though, thanks to this Temple and the priests here. We fill much the same role as the Enforcers of MegaKat City, as a deterrent."

"Does Tambron desire to see them fall?" Jake asked, openly willing to accept any answer as acceptable.

"The political forces of Tambron? Yes, they do," Eternal Dawn granted. "Our only concern is for Tambron's defense, of course."

"What of the people?" Jake asked. "The farmers, crafters and traders."

"Most of them are concerned enough with day-to-day living. They don't want to see our neighbors fall, but they don't want the conflict to come any closer to them than it already is; a war in Tambria could leave tens of thousands of people homeless and starving if it hit at the wrong time."

"True in most places," Jake nodded. "And the reason aggression is warranted now?"

"Sanderice is a wealthy nation; unlike its neighbors, it can afford to support an army large enough to face multiple fronts," Eternal Dawn explained. "They have begun to increase their spending on their military, yet they haven't increased the size of their units on any of their borders besides Tambron's. Why would they do that except to prepare for an offensive? If we wait until they are finished, they will be able to handle all the forces that Tambron can spare for defense, and then it will fall... along with this Temple."

"To defend again the attack you are proposing," Jake pointed out evenly. "It is the same reason MegaKat City had a large military before the Omega attacks began when it has not initiated a war in its democratic history."

"They began their build-up before the offensive was ever suggested, Champion," Eternal Dawn pointed out. "While I know they claim it is for purely defensive purposes, I have been shown intelligence that suggests otherwise. For us to wait for them to be finished would be utterly irresponsible."

That was clearly something that had Jake's attention, and could well sway his opinion.

"When was the last time you spoke to the High Priest of Sanderice?" Jake asked evenly despite the simmering anger in his heart.

"Shortly after the Korunns fell ill; I had to tell him that he would be communicating with me until they were better. I don't believe he knows his government's intentions, or he can't believe them; the communiqués were clear that he was to be kept out of the loop as long as possible. I mentioned them, and he became incensed, claiming that they were lies. I tried to tell him that we had taken steps to verify them, but he was unwilling to listen."

"Perhaps, but he will listen to me," Jake nearly growled before he settled himself. "If this intel stands up my investigation, I will go to Sanderice and see the temple there turns away from the government's path. If that is not enough, you will have forces enough to defend your land. It is our way."

"Thank you, Champion," Eternal Dawn said gratefully. "I will send a messenger to our liaison with the government after the feast, and they will bring the information."

"So what are your forces compared to theirs as it stands?" Jake asked, his mind already working over the strategies of politics and warfare he was now involved with.

"It would be easier to explain after the feast, Champion," Eternal Dawn offered apologetically. "Please, enjoy the meal, and we can speak of these matters in private later," he said, glancing at the dancers in an unspoken warning that it was possible they weren't all strictly loyal to Tambron.

Jake nodded. "Is there anything you wish speak about with me before I tend to my duties to Bastet, then?"

"Nothing that can't easily wait," Eternal Dawn said, inclining his head towards the Champion. "Do you need privacy?"

"No," Jake gave him a slight smile. "Most of it is giving a blessing of fertility to people, not personally siring the kits. So until we finish eating, tell me about what drew you to the old ways. Halikar is largely silent in his pain."

"Personally, it's a matter of family history as much as personal preference," Eternal Dawn said easily as he ate. "Generations ago, a group of Balkitian refugees found their way to my family's village. They intermarried with the locals, and brought Halikar's faith to us. While it has become far more mainstream since, we still have the teachings and traditions far closer to the surface. I was taught them more than most, thanks to a mark of His favor in my spots, and my interest continued as I went through my training to become a priest... a little more than most temples were entirely comfortable with, as High Priest Firepoint has undoubtedly told you," the Jaguar chuckled.

"Yes," he nodded. "What in your spots that marked you as favored?" Jake asked with honest interest.

"One moment," he said, leaning his head forward and pushing his robes back a bit, a spot on the back of his neck flattened out, almost like a horizon beneath the otherwise perfectly round rosette, looking like a rising or setting sun.

"It's also the reason for my name," he explained, returning his robes to their usual place.

"Cool," Jake grinned. "Is it attractive to the ladies?"

"Not the mark so much as the reputation for being favored by Halikar for something," Eternal Dawn chuckled. "Which I've tried not to take advantage of since about my eighteenth summer."

"Somehow, I doubt many minded you taking advantage of it," Jake grinned with a wink. "I know my playmates didn't."

"You also didn't have any playmates who were with you just because of your status as the Champion, at least not until you were older," the Jaguar chuckled, shaking his head. "While I never claimed that, I did find myself with some company more interested in being with Halikar's Favorite than with Eternal Dawn."

"It's fun either way, as long as you aren't looking for more," Jake nodded. "Do you like guys too?"

"Sometimes," Eternal Dawn said, glancing down at Jake. "Though, if that's an offer, I do prefer to be on top."

"I prefer to bottom, though I was just curious," he chuckled lightly. "I'm hardly adverse to the idea, though. I haven't had much male attention since my mate went to train to become a Champion of Tamorl last month."

"The Champion of Tamorl?" Eternal Dawn raised an eyebrow. "An odd choice in a mate. If you would like some attention tonight, I would be honored; you're a handsome tom, for a Kat."

"Thank you," Jake smiled slightly at him. "We'd been together for years before it came up, but it's not the kind of thing you say no too."

"I suppose not," the Jaguar nodded. "Not that you didn't try, yourself," he chuckled slightly. "We actually have a carving in progress for you."

"Tried and failed," Jake groaned, blushing at the possibilities of just what was going into the permanent stone record here. "What is being carved?"

"Oh, just the story of a Champion stubborn enough that he got reamed out by Halikar and still fought back against him for years," Eternal Dawn chuckled. "You'll be able to see it before you go."

"This'll be interesting," Jake could only shake his head in amusement. "Though to be honest, it was more Bastet I fought. I only got into it with him when he defended her."

"True, but he was impressed all the same," Eternal Dawn smiled. "Furious, but impressed."

"Furious, I got," Jake chuckled and rubbed his jaw in memory of the punch so many years ago. "He's got a hell of a right hook."

"He is a warrior god," the Jaguar smiled, finishing his meal. "If you'll excuse me, I'll make preparations for you to get the communiqués."

"Thank you," Jake inclined his head to him before standing himself and moving into the gathering, his manner and clothing shifting to that of Bastet's Champion.

He started making his way through the people who gathered, many of them curious, others interested in the blessings the Champion of Bastet could offer. More than a few of them were farmers, hopeful for their crops as well as families.

"Champion?" One of the priestesses, an Ocelot fem about his age, said quietly as she got close to him. "Could I speak with you after you're finished?" She asked him politely. He could sense her interest in him, as a sire... her heat wasn't close, but she knew he could fix that too.

He couldn't help but think of his conversation with Eternal Dawn; people wanting to be with the Champion, to have the Champion's kits. He was glad he hadn't had to deal with that as much when he was young. At least Midnight had been understanding, and his mother easier to ignore... nobody pretending to care about him just for status' sake.

"Of course, Mylaya," he inclined his head to her. "I will make time for you tonight."

She looked a bit surprised that he knew her name, but hid it well. She smiled and nodded, backing away to make room for some of the others. He spotted an older woman, who had to have seen at least her first century, paying close attention to him from the back of the group, looking like she was considering trying to get his attention. She was interested in him, but not for herself, even though she was still young enough, technically, to bear kittens.

He slowly worked over to her, giving her ample opportunity to speak after he greeted her with a light touch to her belly. "May your body know the fertility of Bastet," he smiled at her.

"It has," she smiled, speaking in heavily accented Katian. "I hoped to speak to you about my great-granddaughter, Champion."

"Please, speak your wishes, daughter," he fell into the semi-formalized speech of his role. There were only three real possibilities, all of which were usually easy for him these days.

"We wish that you would sire kits with her... she is just beginning her first heat, but she is old enough," she explained to him. "She is promised to a cousin of hers, but he is not a gentle partner, and we hope that her first time would be easier with you."

He nearly had to bite his tongue to keep from letting his modern city upbringing come out with a whole string of objections to such a marriage. Instead, he nodded. "Is she here?"

"She is, but not in the Temple. Her heat has already begun, and we didn't want to take a chance that anybody would take advantage of her state," she explained. "Her mother and grandmother are with her outside, and I will join them shortly. Would you like to see her before you decide?"

"I would," he nodded. "She must ask for this herself. Our mating should be within the temple if possible."

"I understand," she nodded. "Thank you, Champion; she is outside, and we will be waiting for you after you've finished your rounds, and any other duties you take on yet tonight."

"I will be there soon," he promised before turning to finish his public duties, his mind already on the two very different females, and possibly one male, that would be sharing his bed tonight.

It was a pleasant blur before Kyale caught his attention before he went to look for a priestess to look after the girl.

"I'd like to watch her," she said simply. "I can beat any priest here and my homeland has much in common culturally. I may be able to help her relax."

"If it is acceptable to her, I think you would do nicely," Jake smiled at her. "Come."

"Thank you," Kyale said, inclining her head and following him out of the Temple and into the lightly tamed jungle of the main road to its gates. "Are you comfortable with this?"

"As long as she wants it," he said as they spotted the group of four closely related females of the commoner Jungle Cat breeding.

The youngest of them was definitely in heat... the smell was incredibly potent, and it went straight to his cock. He could see she was nervous though, hiding behind her elders and fighting to find a place to put her hands that was acceptable.

"Thank you for coming, Champion," the eldest of them stepped forward and bowed deeply to him. "This is Meune, my great granddaughter. Step forward, girl, and let him see you."

She did so, bowing deeper than her great-grandmother did.

"It is an honor to meet you, Champion," she said demurely. He could sense her interest in him, as a sire and just as a male ... more the latter than the former, at the moment, but she knew that his kittens would have to be a part of the package.

He knelt to be roughly eye level with her and tipped her face up to meet his. "I understand you are to marry soon." Meune nodded fractionally. "You will not be a virgin for it, and your belly will tell everyone so, if you are with me tonight."

"I know," she nodded. "But it will be acceptable, if it is with you... I want to know how to be a good wife to my husband. And the heat... it's so strong," she whimpered, her self-control breaking briefly.

Fortunately his was still strong, both from training and his own morals. "It will not feel so unbearable when you have experienced it a few times," he promised. "Your great grandmother asked me to come and told me what was wished of me, but you must ask me for anything more."

"I wish for you to sire my first litter," she murmured, standing to look into his eyes. "And to show me how to pleasure a male," she added with a blush.

"It would be my honor, Meune," he nodded with a gentle smile. "Please go with Kyale. She will take you to my room here and see that no one disrespects you until I can come. I have duties to see to before I can join you."

"Thank you, Champion," she smiled, bowing politely to Kyale before following her up.

He waited for them to be out of earshot, then turned to her relatives. "You said her future husband is not gentle. What more can you tell me of his tastes?"

"For the most part, it's just that he's enthusiastic," her mother explained. "My nephew is a very strong tom; he can be sweet, but according to the women he's been with before...."

"He ruts like a bull-ox," the oldest of them said bluntly. "With the endurance to match. He hasn't had a partner who really cares to try and break him of the habit yet either... it would be good for you to teach her how to handle a tom like him, but if you can teach her how to slow him down, expand his pleasures, that would be better for them both."

"I will do what I can," he nodded, his mind turning over the options. "I would have preferred to be able to devote several days to her exclusively, but circumstances are not going to permit that. I would have her stay for several days. The kittens I can produce quickly. Teaching her will take longer."

"While she is in heat, you can come to her whenever you wish, Champion," she told him. "However, I would rather not leave her here too long... not yet. We... are aware of why you have come," she told him.

"Where do you live?" he asked, surprising them all.

"We have a farm about an hour's trip by cart down the road," she told him, indicating the path in question. "I meant no offense, Champion," she added, "I just worry about my great-granddaughter if she is staying here more than the night."

"No offense is taken," he assured them. "You have a valid worry. She should return with you in the morning. I will visit as I can while her heat lasts. Until morning, please come in and enjoy the festivities."

"Thank you, Champion," she smiled, all three of them coming in with him to enjoy the feast as it continued, and he went to find Mylaya, letting instincts given by Bastet guide him to her. She was waiting for him in her quarters, just rearranging her bed so it would be more comfortable for the two of them while he was there.

"I understand that you can start a heat early for this?" She asked him when he entered her room.

"Yes, I can," he nodded. "What do you wish of this litter?"

"For the kits, you mean?" She asked him curiously. "Or why do I wish you to sire them?"

"For the kittens; how many, their genders, what you hope for their futures and gifts," he said easily. "I can not promise to fulfill your wishes for them, but I can try."

"I'm not concerned about the number or gender, but healthy, strong, and suitable for the priesthood, in either church," she told him. "I'm not very picky, beyond that," she smiled.

"That should be easy enough," he smiled slightly and called up a bit of Bastet's power to flow into her body as he touched her belly. "You are of good stock for such qualities."

"Mmm ... thank you," she rumbled as she felt her heat beginning. "This will only last for the night?" She asked as she leaned down to kiss him and found his mouth soft and willing as they undressed each other.

Jake kissed his way down to her breasts, nuzzling them as he spoke. "If you have another sire of two in mind, I can have it draw out to normal length. Normally it will end in a few hours."

"Mmm ... none," she purred, shrugging out of her robes and working his down. "In a few hours is fine, I just needed to know if I had to let Eternal Dawn know I wouldn't be able to fill my duties."

"You should be fine," he purred, drinking in her magically heightened arousal as it washed over his senses and spurred his own. "Any particular things you enjoy for sex?" he asked as he slid further down her body to nose her swollen pussy lips.

"Mmm ... are you familiar with our prisoner training?" She asked, blushing a bit and spreading her legs.

"Yes," he shivered in excitement at the memories as he stood and replaced his tongue between her legs with playful fingers. "What part is exciting for you?"

She moaned as his fingers glided across her slick sex, pulling him up for a kiss that turned hot and hungry.

"Being bound, tied... one of the methods I found to get through it was to eroticize parts of it. This is going to sound twisted, I'm sure, but I found I enjoyed being raped by the 'guards.'"

"Same trick I used," he chuckled softly as his fingers pressed into her body lightly. "Though I go much, much further with my mate," he said as his teeth grazed her neck. "I will do nothing to endanger the pregnancy," he promised seriously before pushing her down onto her bed. "What safeword do you use, if you do want me tone down?"

"Of course," she shivered as she raised her hands above her head submissively, spreading her legs. "Briarwood, but I've never had to use it before. Just make sure I can still perform my duties tomorrow, and you can go as far as you want. Anything you don't want me to do?"

"Don't hold back telling me what will really get you off," he grinned at her wickedly. "Do you have bonds, or do I improvise?"

"I'd prefer if you improvised," she purred, teasing his groin with her tail as he went to fetch their sashes and a spare one from her wardrobe. "But I've got some cuffs in the drawer if you need them. Mmm ... are you familiar with using the bamboo pole? There's one in the closet."

"Yes, though it's not as personal as I prefer," he said as he bound her wrists together and to the headboard, then her ankles to opposite ends of the footboard before he climbed on top of her and rubbed his hard groin against her upturned sex.

"Mmm ... I like personal too," she rumbled, testing her bonds and finding them surprisingly secure before she pressed up against him.

Without a word Jake closed his jaws around her windpipe, reducing her ability to breathe and thrust into her open and helpless body. He stilled with his cock buried up to the sheath for a moment, then pulled back to set a punishing pace designed to get him off quickly, but her off even more so.

She gasped, or tried to, but it was more of a wheeze as he fucked her hard and deep, bruising the inside of her sex, his cock grinding against her pubic bone as he worked her to a hard, fast orgasm before she even knew what was happening!

Her cry was more of a mewl, and she pulled at all her bonds, starting to 'fight' him as he kept going and didn't even pause for either of their orgasms as he filled her body with fertile seed. She felt the magic swirling around them, enhancing not only their fertility, but their endurance and pleasure with it.

Any male would have a hard time impressing her after this!

His hands moved down her body, squeezing her breasts and playing with her nipples. If it had really been by force, it would have been unimaginably horrible to have such a brutal violation feel so good. Instead, it was delightful ... twisted, in a way, but delightful.

She'd been planning on doing this for the Temple's sake and half expected it to be one of the more bland matings of her life; quick, impersonal, effective. Instead she had found someone very interested in her pleasure, in her kinks, and she was certainly enjoying it now. In letting him play out a fantasy that most people who served Halikar couldn't start to understand, she was having an experience she would treasure for a long time.

He cut one leg loose and twisted her hips to wrap it around his body. It gave a different feel to the penetration, but it also pressed this hard thigh against her clit constantly as he moved.

She cried out again, her body clamping down around him; the pressure on her clit and her growing heat drove her to another orgasm hard and fast. She whimpered and moaned deeply.

"Gods, please, stop!" She moaned, grateful she had a partner who'd know she was only playing, getting deeper into the fantasy as he fucked her hard and deep, working to give her the kittens she wanted with a pleasure she craved more than she would ever admit.

Taken with a heat more intense than anything she could remember and she wondered how long she would last. She was sure with his magic, he could literally fuck her senseless if he chose to.

She hoped he would... it had been years since she'd let anybody do that to her, and that was in training! They'd had to take her in shifts before they finally gave up on getting her to break like that.

As her body clenched down around him again, and she gasped in pleasure, her body starting to ache from the exertion of so many orgasms so fast, she found herself devoutly grateful she'd come up with this plan. For all she doubted there was any passion for her or what he was doing, he was doing it very, very well. All Bastet demanded was that he sire the kittens. Making his lovers enjoy it was all him.

She soon lost track of their orgasms as he filled her to overflowing with fertile seed and drew her best eggs out to greet them near her womb.

"Thank you for staying with me," Meune said to Kyale in the regional trade language as they reached Jake's quarters that night. "Are you a friend of the Champion's?" she asked, hoping that the native of Majeare understood enough to make sense of it.

"Yes," she nodded as she replied in the same tongue. "We met in a professional fight back before he had made a name for himself. I staid on the circuit, he had to turn most of his attention to other duties. I still go with him when I can."

"Are you two lovers?" Meune asked with a slight blush. "You don't mind what's going to happen, do you?"

"We are lovers. I do not mind," Kyale smiled gently at her after closing the door. "This was his duty before anyone knew him, even his oldest friend, Midnight. Even his mate understands. He can be a very gentle lover, and he will teach you well how to please your husband. It is not difficult to please a tom."

"I've heard," Meune giggled a bit, then groaned as her body protested having so many males around and not doing anything about it. "S-should I undress before I wait for him?"

"That is your choice," Kyale said gently. "Being undressed can be an extremely exciting part of foreplay for both people. If you would like, I can help you pass the time, make the wait a bit easier."

Meune thought about it ... but then she shook her head.

"No ... I'll do this the way I'm supposed to," the girl murmured. "What does the Champion enjoy?" She asked Kyale.

"Just about everything," she chuckled and helped Meune get comfortable sitting on the bed. "He enjoys a responsive partner, one who lets him know what feels good. He'll do the same. Otherwise let him lead and just enjoy yourself and his attentions."

"All right," she nodded. "How bad does it hurt?" She asked the older woman.

"It does not hurt at all, kitten," Kyale said gently. "Mating feels very good if your partner has any care for you, and it is your right to insist on enjoying it, or deny him kittens for a year. If you are not happy, make sure he is publicly humiliated by a lack of kittens. That is your power. He may have the wealth and name, but without your agreement, he has no future and no female worth breeding will marry him."

"I understand ... what do you do if you're in heat and don't want kittens that year?"

"When you have experienced it a few times, it will become easier to simply ignore. It is never easy to, but if you are angry, it is not difficult. You can also retreat to the home of the eldest mother in your birth-family. Your great grandmother for now. If she is any kind of matriarch, she will shield you from his attentions until it is over. There are also several temples that will protect you, particularly if he is too aggressive."

"I know, and that's not quite what I meant ... I meant if we just don't want kittens that year, maybe if the harvest is poor, but I don't want to punish either of us by trying to ignore it," Meune explained.

"There are herbal compounds that can prevent pregnancy for that," Kyale said. "I do not know which ones will be easiest for you to acquire, but I am sure that if you ask at a temple to Bastet, Izaris, Mokra or Nulaa, maybe even Taecin or Vuf, they tell you what to take and how."

"Thank you," she nodded. "I like kittens, but I don't know that I'm going to want to always be having them," she smiled shyly. "I just think I'd go crazy if I had to spend the whole time like this."

"Did not your mother teach you how to control your fertility?" Kyale asked uncertainty. She really thought it was something that would have happened already.

"Maybe they are among the secrets of adulthood I am to learn after my heat," she murmured just as uncertainty. "This is not how it normally happens."

"Are you sure you want kittens so young?"

"I..." Meune thought about it, then nodded. "His, yes. If it was somebody else... I don't think so," she admitted. "But the Champion's kittens, yes."

"It will bring a great deal of prestige to your family," Kyale smiled softly. "And economic stability. The priests of both Bastet and Halikar will pay extra attention to their welfare, and thus your family."

"And it means that at least some of my kits may be able to join the priesthood," she smiled fondly for the idea. "My cousin's farm is good, but I would like to know that their welfare is guaranteed."

"It is an effective way to ensure your bloodline prospers," Kyale nodded with a smile.

"Yes," she nodded, starting to relax. "Are you really from Majeare?"

"Yes," Kyale said softly. "It's a very long story of how I became a warrior, though I expect it will pass the time."

"If you do not mind," Meune looked up hopefully.

Jake pulled out of Mylaya as she slipped into an exhausted sleep, only his magic and further demands that night keeping him up. He moved lightly, gently, as he propped her hips up to keep much of his seed inside her and hoped she would be pleased with a litter of six evenly mixed between the sexes.

He took a few moments to clean himself up before dressing and walking back to the prestigious guest quarters offered to him for this stay.

He could smell Meune's heat even before he opened the door; he was quite sure that every male in the wing was wound up by it, too. She was young, fertile ... hungry with need.

He could smell how nervous she was too, as he opened the door and saw the young, brown-furred shekat in his bed with Kyale holding her gently. She was a pretty girl, about sixteen ... not his usual taste, but that so very rarely mattered in a situation like this.

"Hi Jake," Kyale stood with a relaxed smile. "I hope you have plenty of energy left," she teased him lightly. "Would you like me to stick around, make sure no one tries to come in?"

"Only if you want to be really wound up," he chuckled and patted her shoulder before stealing a kiss. "I won't have the energy for you tonight."

"No, but I know a couple locals who will jump at the chance to cool me off," Kyale snickered. "Enjoy yourself."

"I plan to," he nodded and watched Kyale leave. He locked the door behind her and turned to Meune. "How much do you know about what is going to happen?" he asked gently as he knelt on the bed and caressed her cheek with a thumb.

"Mmm ... I think we'll mate ... I hope that you'll show me how to do it more slowly, to make it memorable instead of just a way to make kittens," she murmured, rubbing his back and sides lightly, inhaling his masculine scent and shivering at the feeling it sent shooting through her.

"Yes," he breathed against her fur before sliding one hand under the hem of her loose blouse. Fingers played across her fur before cupping her breast. "First to cool the fires a bit."

She moaned needily, working his robe loose and running her hands through the rich cinnamon fur she exposed.

"What should I call you?" She asked him shyly.

"Jake," he kissed her again before pulling her blouse over her head and turning his mouth to her nipples while his hands eased her out of her skirt.

"Oh... Jake," she moaned, spreading her legs as he got her skirt off, her scent growing even stronger as her simple underwear followed. She reached down, fumbling with his pants for a bit before undoing them and sliding them down, pressing her leg against his raging erection.

It was good that he'd already had Milaya before; he wouldn't have been able to control himself nearly as well if he hadn't. As it was he trembled at the contact and moaned against her as he guided her to her back. He slid one hand between her legs, just to be very sure she was slick and ready, and left them there to caress her. One finger circled her clit briefly and then began to rub against it.

Meune slid her hand between them, wrapping her fingers around his cock. She moaned softly as he rubbed her clit, fingering his barbs as he coaxed her towards an orgasm and relishing the feel of his quickening breath against her fur.

"That's a good way to turn him on, if he thinks he's not in the mood," Jake said, his voice trembling lightly. "Ready to feel it inside you?"

"Gods yes," she whimpered softly to his great relief. She spread her legs and welcomed him, breathing hot and hard, as he spread her lower lips and gently pressed the smooth conical tip of his cock against her entrance and leaned forward.

He was careful not to tear anything, all too aware that even at his modest size he could with one so young and inexperienced. They were holding each other tightly, desperate for him to hilt himself and begin to rock

By the time he stilled with his balls against the base of her tail she was breathing deeply, trying to keep her body and breath under control. Her arms and legs were wrapped around him like a vise, and her body burned around his cock, milking it hungrily.

"Big," she moaned after a long moment, kissing him hungrily and found his mouth willingly plundered.

"Not very big," he cautioned her and began to slowly pull out, then pressed back in. "It won't always feel so tight."

"I understand," she moaned softly, her body fluttering around him as he started to thrust. "Feels good," she added, suckling his tongue when he pushed it into her mouth.

"Good," Jake moaned into her mouth, his cock already oozing come despite his best efforts to hold back. "Oh Bastet, keep doing that!" he cried out as her body contracted around his cock, milking it through his roar as his seed shot into her body and he lost all control of his actions.

She gasped as she felt his hot, thick seed pouring into her, not sure what she was doing that he liked so much, but trying to keep it all up, kissing him hungrily, her body working him, his pelvis grinding against her clit as he kept thrusting into her, driving his come deep into her fertile young body.

He was panting by the time his orgasm abated, his head hanging limply as he stilled and tried to catch his breath enough to really show her what it could be like for her. "You have very good instincts for making it good for him," he murmured into a soft kiss.

"Thank you," she murmured back, rubbing his back. "What did I do right?" She asked him, running her fingers through his fur.

"When you squeezed your body ..." his eyes unfocused briefly as she tightened her abs and below. "Yesss, that," he moaned and began to slowly thrust into her again, this time his focus on her pleasure, knowing full well just how easily his would come when he allowed it.

"Good," she moaned, keeping it up despite the fact that her sex was starting to get tired. She loved the way he was reacting, that he was enjoying this as much as she was. "Feels so good, Jake," she murmured as she felt another orgasm approaching, her entire body shivering pleasantly.

"Good," he kissed her before shifting his posture to be able to lick and suckle her pert breasts while he thrust, trying to keep the rubbing pressure up against her clit and g-spot. "It should feel good. Very good."

She mewled, pressing up against him as her body tightened around him, milking him hungrily as she came hard. It was only pushed higher when he cried out and pumped more hot seed into her body. He held still, buried deep inside her, when he came down from his peak and held her affectionately.

"Ready for something a little different, something for your husband to do for you?" he kissed his way down her neck.

"Sure," she murmured. "I am getting a little tired," she admitted sheepishly.

"No need to be bashful about that," he chuckled and kissed her nose affectionately. "Now this time there is no need to think about it, but when you try without magic, if you keep your hips raised after you mate, it will improve your chances of kittens," he said as he helped lift her hips up and put a pillow under them and spread her knees. "It keeps more of his seed inside you longer. You'll have to find out when he enjoys tasting you. Some prefer just your flavor, some like to taste themselves in you."

"Okay," she murmured, spreading her legs for him. "You like it the second way?" She guessed.

"It depends on how wound up she is to start with," he winked at her before sliding his tongue from her ass to clit with a slow, measured caress.

She moaned deeply, reaching down to rub his ears.

"Isn't it... oh... isn't it dirty down there?" She asked him.

"It can be, if you don't bath or wipe well, but you are clean, and tasty," he purred as he swirled his tongue around her clit. "You can do a great deal more in bed than just mate for kittens and sleep."

"Mmm... I'm learning that," she purred, pressing up into his muzzle with a low moan, her clit a hard little nub beneath his tongue. He took it into his mouth and played with it, flicking his tongue rapidly over the very tip until she arched with a scream of pleasure and her fingers dug into his hair.

He held her as she slowly relaxed, savoring the taste of their mingled juices on her thighs, the scent of her heat. There was definitely something to be said about a night with somebody who wasn't into the same kinks he was.

"Ooh... can I try that with you?" Meune asked him after a few minutes to wind down.

"I was hoping you would want to," he purred deeply and settled on his haunches with his knees spread. "Most toms enjoy it."

"Okay," she murmured, twisting around to face his groin, fondling his balls and sheath lightly. "Anything I shouldn't do?"

"Unless he enjoys pain, don't draw blood or squeeze hard enough to make him wince," he reached out to caress her ears. "My mate and I have spent many years learning about how to pleasure each other. It doesn't hurt to ask what he likes, but you can also just explore. If you can do it, getting him to agree to be tied down while you explore how many ways you can pleasure him can be a lot of fun."

"Would you like to do that?" She asked, looking up at him curiously and felt the rush of excitement even before he nodded.

"It is something I enjoy a great deal," he purred deeply.

"Why don't we do that then," she grinned, pressing him back to the bed. "What should I tie you up with?"

"The sash from my robes," he suggested as he raised his arms and put his wrists together near the headboard.

"Okay," she purred, going for his sash and tying his hands together, albeit inexpertly.

It wasn't anything that could hold him if he had the slightest inclination not to go alone. It didn't change the thrill of being bound at all. "I'm all yours," he purred deeply, his cock hard and full for whatever pleasure she cared to take. "You couldn't do anything I don't enjoy."

"Okay," she purred, rubbing her sex against his shaft. "But first, I think I want to go again," she rumbled, pushing down onto his cock with a low groan, kissing him tenderly.

With a low moan he thrust his hips up, all too willing to oblige her desires for this. Even though all the kittens were already sired, he was enjoying this far more than he'd expected. She was so enthusiastic!

She started bouncing up and down on his shaft, closing her eyes, her face a mask of pleasure as s she got into it. She reached down, bracing herself on his chest, panting softly as she rode his throbbing cock. Every little thing she learned about herself here was a lesson she didn't have to learn with her husband. Each pleasure was a memory of what it could be like and how to make it that good. Each was also a bit of self-confidence to take into that marriage to make it better.

It didn't take long before she moaned deeply, coming around his shaft, milking it hard. Her heat was making her incredibly responsive; if she was the one tied down, he was sure he'd be able to make her pass out from exhaustion before too long. As it was, he could only whimper, moan, and thrust; encouraging her with his open pleasure and appreciation of what she was doing.

She coaxed him to another orgasm, then pressed against him, kissing him tenderly before she slid down his body, nuzzling his balls and sheath lightly as he moaned at the attention. The scent of his intense arousal, her own and their multiple orgasms made her shiver, but so did the feel of a fully aroused male in her hands.

"Touch anything, Meune," he panted, watching her down his own sweat-slicked body as she explored him. "It all feels good."

"All right," she murmured, stroking his shaft with her soft hands. She slid down a bit further, licking his balls experimentally ... then licking him the way he did her, from anus to the tip of his throbbing, barbed shaft.

"Ohhhh," Jake let his head fall back at the touch. It wasn't so much that what she was doing was particularly good as it was decidedly exciting to be the first to allow her to experience the rush of power at being in control of her pleasure and his. The idea as much as her scent and touch kept him hard and moaning.

She grinned at his responses, focusing on his barbs mostly, licking them, occasionally nipping them very lightly to test his reaction. "Do all toms enjoy having their barbs nipped?" she asked when his cock jerked and oozed precum when her teeth draw blood by accident. "I'm sorry!" She meeped, seeing how hard she'd nipped that time.

"Nipped, most do," he panted lightly and focused on her question. "Not many enjoy being bloodied."

"You do though?" She asked him, cocking her head closely and running the sides of her teeth up his shaft.

"Yes," he focused on breathing evenly, then gave up and let his responses roll as they willed. "Mate's Champion of Tamorl."

"Okay," she murmured, taking him in her mouth, starting to suckle his cock and work her teeth just along the surface of his cock. It was difficult at moments to keep up her focus on him; the way he moaned, arched and whimpered made her ache to have him inside her again. This was fun, but it had felt so very good when he had covered her body with his and filled her with his hot seed.

She was stubborn though, at least about this. She moved her head faster, trying to make him come again before she let him go to take her again. The taste of him, of having her nose this close to his sexual musk when it pressed against his pubes, made the effort of learning to relax her throat to take him all the way in worth it. It was slower on the bob, but made the most delicious sounds come out of his mouth.

Soon his hips began to thrust and the moan she was beginning to associate with him losing control caressed her ears. She pulled back a bit, licking his barbs, not sure how he'd taste, but wanting to find out.

"Soon," Jake moaned in warning after she'd gone down on him again, causing her to pull back to take his seed across her tongue.

The first shot of the thick, salty-bitter goo startled her with its force. She swallowed it, but was startled enough she pulled back, mewing a bit as the rest of his seed splattered across her face and breasts. She looked up at him sheepishly when he finished, licking her lips clean.

"That look is hot to a lot of toms too," Jake grinned at her before using his legs to coax her to lie on top of him so he could lick her clean with meticulous care for their mutual enjoyment. "I asked about your future husband and your family's concerns about how he treats females," he murmured with a lingering kiss. "I think you will enjoy him. He was described as a bull in rut."

"I've heard before," she blushed, purring and snuggling up against Jake, rubbing her sex against his as he licked her clean. "Do you mind if I untie you? I think I like it better when you're in control," she admitted with a shy grin.

"I don't mind at all," he grinned and kissed her as she reached up to free his wrists. Without warning he twisted and pinned her on her back before driving into her body again and giving into the desire to fuck her senseless and then join her in exhausted sleep.

Jake tried to bury his face in the warm hair of his bedmate and a pillow. The thing in the back of his mind continued to drive at him, seeking for force his awareness and make him pay attention to the niggling voice in his head.

"Champion... Champion, can you hear me?" An unfamiliar voice asked insistently.

"Yeah," he groaned, still mostly asleep. "Who needs me?"

"We do... your friend, Murin, and the Korrunns. You've been deceived."

Jake's entire body tensed in a single motion that all but launched him from the bed and for his clothes, armor and weapons. "Where are you?" he hissed under his breath.

"The Korrunn's chambers, near the rear walls of the temple. We are safe, for now, but we don't know how many guards are outside."

"Is there anyone on the outside we can trust?" he asked as he pulled his robes on over the battle gear to avoid too much suspicion, but stayed in the room as the rest of his mind worked out the tactics of a rescue.

"None of the ranking priests. They all side with Eternal Dawn. The others... we don't know. Anybody who has protested too much has been 'quarantined.'"

"Do you want to be broken out, or just for me to drop in for a visit no one knows about yet?"

"Broken out. We must put an end to this as quickly as possible. What has happened outside?"

Jake focused as he went silent in his replies and went to rouse his companions. "A very good greeting given the temple itself was largely quarantined. Apparent proof that war is warranted, though I have not seen it myself yet. As far as I can tell, everyone is keeping to the party line."

There was a pause while he went to wake Kyale, presumably while they considered something.

"Mother and Father say that the communications were forged. Eternal Dawn does not believe it because it stands up to his scrutiny."

"I understand," Jake told him. "We will be there soon."

"What's up?" Kyale asked as she took in how prepared for war he was.

"The Korrunn's have contacted me. They are being held prisoner with several other dissenters and Murin," he explained as she quickly dressed.

"So the quarantine was false," she growled lowly, dressing and stretching out for the battle, opening her training bag and pulling out two long bamboo batons, twisting them at the first joint and drawing long knives from them. "Is Meune somewhere safe?"

"I was going to send one of the junior priestesses to see her to safety," he said quietly. "She's still in my quarters."

"Are you sure we can trust them?" Kyale asked with a small frown.

"The ones who came with us, definitely," he said firmly. "They would not have been chosen from the thousands available if they were anything less than unquestionably loyal to Hawk and myself."

"Ah, I misunderstood," she said apologetically. "I didn't realize you meant one of the MegaKat City priests... it's hard to remember that Halikar's faithful aren't going to side with their own in His high temple," she admitted.

"I know," he put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. "This is as bad as situations get inside a priesthood. Help me wake the others. Tell them to be silent and stealthy as they prepare. Queen Boadicea and Sheira will be in charge. We do not want to initiate anything until after the Korrunns are free and have had an opportunity to stop this without bloodshed."

"Will do," she nodded, leaving her quarters and going to wake the other two Champions while Jake went to wake Hawk.

It was only a few minutes later when Jake Hawk, Kyale and Mika were taking in the guard situation in the outer building that was serving as the covert prison while Queen Boadicea and Sheira organized things among their party for the battle everyone expected to be coming, all without alerting their hosts that anything was up.

They only had so much time to work with... but, fortunately, since it was nighttime they still had some time. There were guards, but not many of them, mostly junior priests in training.

"What's the plan?" Mika asked quietly.

"I would suggest Jake order them to open the door," Hawk kept his voice low. "Use the power Halikar has granted you as his Champion. If they believe in him, they will obey," he explained at Jake's uncertain look.

"Mystic force?" Mika asked and was given a nod.

"All right," Jake agreed, willing to trust the High Priest. He stood, straightening before he walked up to the guards with all the authoritative self-confidence he could muster.

They stood at attention as he walked up to them.

"Champion, please stand back, this is the quarantine area," they told him.

"I understand your orders," he told them, locking eyes with the two Ocelots. "You will stand down and give us entry."

"Yes, Champion," they said obediently, lowering their gazes. One of them turned, heading back to the doors and beginning to undo the heavy locks as Hawk, Kyale and Mika joined him.

"Stay here," Jake ordered the guards before they passed into the outer room of the Korrunn's apartment.

"Jake? Is that you?" Murin called out cautiously.

"Yes, Murin," he called back. "It is time to leave."

"Thank Lyris," he sighed as he appeared from the back rooms with several others, including the two most distinctive looking Snow Leopards in the world. "That Jaguar isn't with you, is he?

"No, Eternal Dawn is still asleep," Jake said before bowing politely to the Korrunns. "It is good to see you alive and well, High Priest Korunn Sheng, High Priestess Korunn Djia."

"The pleasure is ours," the two priests said, bowing politely. "Our children, and the others who objected to Eternal Dawn's plans," they said, standing back up and indicating the others. "We will handle more appropriate introductions after this is over, I hope?"

"Of course," Jake nodded. "How do you want to handle the reverse-coup?"

"As bloodlessly as possible; we will have to take Eternal Dawn and his inner circle into custody, but most of the priests have likely been mislead. Do you have a plan?" Korrunn Sheng asked.

"Tie the ranking priests up, hopefully before they are completely awake, then call the others to a meeting to find out who else is going to be a problem," he suggested. "I brought forces enough to raze the temple if we have to, but with you there, I'm hoping most won't fight."

"You can't do that," Korrunn Djia said seriously. "You'd risk killing Halikar."

Jake blinked, his jaw opening slightly as what she was saying sunk in. "It's here?"

"Why do you think we defend this temple so fiercely?" The elderly woman asked him. "Yes, His body is here, but hidden."

"Who knows where?" he asked much more seriously.

"Only the two of us; it is secure, but if you were to raze the Temple the odds would be too great that it would be destroyed."

"I understand," he nodded grimily. "With the two of you not being in on the war plans, we won't need to. Now ... who is the most important to take down, in order?"

"Eternal Dawn, Brothers Kerrn and Tonsul, and Mylaya," Korrunn Sheng said after a moment's thought.

Jake winced, then grinned with vicious humor. "Well, Mylaya is still tied to her bed and definitely out cold, I have an invitation to Eternal Dawn's bed to use as an effective distraction, and I bet the trick would work with Kerrn and Tonsul with Kyale as bait."

"I... think Bastet is influencing your tactics," Sheng decided. "However, I suppose it would work."

"It is an attack that no priest is likely to think of," Hawk chuckled in bemusement. "With two females in heat and mated in the wing, everyone will be wound up on some level."

"I'd be game for it," Kyale chuckled. "Though how distracted are we going to let them be before we take them down?"

"As distracted as you care to make them," Jake grinned at her. "Hawk can cloak himself with magic to keep them from seeing us until it is too late."

"The more distracted they are, the more effective the cloak," Hawk added.

"After a certain point, I can deal with them myself," she pointed out with a wink. "Why don't you focus on Eternal Dawn, we'll take the others while you do?"

"We could take them simultaneously," Mika pointed out. "Unless you don't think they're game for Caracal?" She added with a questioning, teasing raising of her eyebrow.

"I haven't met many toms who wouldn't be game," Jake chuckled. "Given Eternal Dawn's tastes, I could use help taking him down without doing significant damage."

"I will," Hawk said firmly.

"So Kyale tackles Kerrn and Mika can take Tonsul ... who wants to knock Tonsul out?" Jake asked.

"I will," Korrunn Djia offered. "Easier to make sure the targets are the only ones distracted," she said dryly.

"MegaKat City tactics," her husband chuckled lowly, shaking his head in mild disbelief.

"Ancient tactics," Mika giggled. "Though more often used by assassins than to simply capture. Sexual distraction is a fine art in some circles."

"I'm sure it is, just not usually ours," Djia pointed out. "Come, let's go give Brother Tonsul a night to remember before he realizes how horribly short-sighted he's been."

"My pleasure," Mika grinned wickedly as the pair walked out together, the old Leopardess cloaked against her fellows.

"Come on, Hawk," Jake looked up at the old Tiger with a grin. "Let's go ruin Eternal Dawn's day."

"You're sure you want to handle it this way?" Hawk asked him once they were out of earshot. "There are other options."

"Is that concern for the Champion's honor, or a tactical concern?" Jake glanced at him, willing as always to listen to the more experienced warrior and leader.

"For the Champion's honor, I suppose... and for his well-being," Hawk said quietly in the darkness between buildings. "You are attracted to him, at least to some degree."

"Yes, I suppose I am. I'm not sure he's anything more than a pawn in this. He feels far too honest in his statements. Maybe there's a little kinship there too, being born different."

"Perhaps," Hawk nodded. "But while this may all be quite true, are you sure that you're up to betraying him like you plan to do?"

"Yes, I am," he nodded. "I can't say I can explain it, but there is nothing in me that objects to the plan. I'll listen to other ideas, though."

"No, it is the easiest way to be sure it will work... and he wouldn't hurt you, if he caught on. I'm more worried for Mika and Kyale, on that front."

"Mika's as difficult to keep dead as I am," Jake reminded him as they walked into the main building that housed high ranking priests and guests. "Kyale ... she can still put me on my tail as often as not, and she knows how to fight for real. I wouldn't have let her come if I wasn't sure she could handle herself."

"Jake, what weather would suit the gathering?" Kymeil asked quietly as she joined them in the hallway just outside his quarters.

"If you can, dry with threatening clouds when we start. Black out the sun as much as you can," Jake focused on her. "When the Korrunns step up to speak, let the sun shine on them."

"Easy," she grinned and darted outside to whip up the skies in a frenzy of anger that would never materialize and Jake and Hawk entered his quarters.

"She's proving useful, for an uninvited guest," Hawk observed quietly, watching as Jake quickly stripped down and dressed in a simple outer robe he would have grabbed to cover himself if he had gone directly from his duties to Bastet to Eternal Dawn's door. "Will her influence have any lasting effect around here?"

"Her influence is as passing as the winds she commands," Jake assured him before they stepped into the hallway again. "Since they won't do any damage, there should be no hint of it by afternoon."

"Good," Hawk nodded, setting up his cloak to conceal himself. "Good luck, Jake ... and let me know when you want me to interrupt."

"I will," he nodded before taking a moment to compose the expression and mindset he wanted to present to Eternal Dawn. He knocked quietly on the door, playing his roll of a very early morning visitor perfectly.

There was a pause, but after a moment Eternal Dawn opened the door sleepily.

"Champion? I thought you would be busy for the night," he murmured, surprised but clearly pleased to see Jake there.

"It is technically morning," Jake grinned at him a bit. "After that many females, I could really use some from a strong tom."

"If you're up for it, I'd be glad for the relief," Eternal Dawn admitted with a half-grin, stepping back to let Jake in. "The ones you have been with have been making the evening interesting for the rest of us."

"I am not surprised," Jake purred and slipped in before reaching up to claim a hungry kiss. "I think I would enjoy little more than finding out just how hard and long you can take me."

"Good," the Jaguar purred, closing the door before taking Jake to his bed, both their loose robes falling to the floor along the way. "Mmph?" Eternal Dawn grunted when Jake pushed him down, but didn't have any real time to react before Jake's mouth closed around his fully hard cock.

He groaned, reaching down to rub the cinnamon-furred tom's pointed ears, his shaft responding quickly, twitching in Jake's mouth. For the moment, he was more than happy to let Jake warm up like this; he'd wait for the next round to take his place on top. He couldn't deny that the tom had a definite talent with his mouth and an unmistakable enjoyment of sucking cock.

A skilled tongue swirled around his shaft, rubbing against the sensitive rubbery protrusions along the entire length as Jake swallowed him all the way to the sheath and came back up.

With the scent that permeated the priests' quarters tonight, it didn't take Jake long to push the Jaguar over the edge. Eternal Dawn groaned, his seed spraying against the back of Jake's throat before it dripped onto his tongue and down his throat to be swallowed.

"Mmm, you are wound up," Jake purred as he licked Eternal Dawn clean, then climbed on the bed, his own arousal clearly evident. "Ready to drive it home?"

"As ready as you are," he purred, rolling on top of Jake. "Like this?" He asked, kissing the smaller tom as Jake shifted to bring his legs up, exposing his ass. "Need any prep?"

"No," Jake moaned into his mouth as his ass was spread open by the Xanith's large cock. "Hard and deep."

"With pleasure," the Jaguar groaned back into his mouth, starting to thrust into the lean tom hard and fast as they both welcomed the intense pleasure of mating the way they both enjoyed it. It was only minutes before Jake cried out with his orgasm, knowing the intense pulsing of his body would pull Eternal Dawn along with him. He just hoped that Hawk recognized the signal. He couldn't be entirely sure he did it right with his own distraction until Eternal Dawn went limp on top of him with a grunt.

"Maybe you'll be able to make it up to him after this is over," the Tiger grunted, pulling the unconscious Jaguar off of Jake. "You're all right?"

"Quite all right," he nodded and got to his feet and shook himself out before pulling his robe on. "I'll go make sure Kyale knocks out her target."

Mika smoothed out her fur some, trying to relax and quit feeling quite so grumpy as Korrunn Naeva, the daughter of the High Priests, rang out the call for an emergency gathering on one of the gongs in the central courtyard. Priests were already starting to arrive, wondering what was going on, and where Eternal Dawn was, why Jake was calling this gathering. There were some nervous whispers as they realized who was ringing the gong - she was supposed to be in quarantine. In their minds, something had to be seriously wrong.

They didn't know how right they were; that Eternal Dawn, along with Mylaya, Kerrn, and Tonsul, were in the ancient prison of the temple. As far as Mika was concerned, they could stay there too.

"Somebody could have warned me about his tastes," she muttered quietly to Kyale.

"I did not know," Korrunn Djia said simply. "You likely did not have to allow him to bind you."

"We were in something of a hurry," Mika pointed out, shaking her head. "I'm fine, I'll be fine. It's just... very much not what I would have done if it weren't for a damned good cause."

"Then I thank you again for your assistance, Champion," Djia said solemnly. "You have involved yourself in our aid far more than you are required to."

"You're welcome ... I'd rather have been tied up by a tom than have to chronicle the start of a war... or death of a god," Mika acknowledged, leaning back in her seat as Naela hammered out the warning that Jake was about to speak to silence the gathering.

"Greetings, Warriors of Halikar," Jake began, his tone commanding and far reaching in the darkness just past dawn with fierce storm clouds swirling overhead. "The situation that has brought me here is predicated on at least one lie, and likely several more. The Korrunns are not ill and never were. All those who you were told were ill were in fact imprisoned," he said, pausing to allow them to digest this information.

At first, they were too shocked to say anything. After a few stunned moments, murmurs started, some wary, some angry, then demanding to know what was going on until Korunn Sheng and Korunn Djia stepped forward to where the entire gathering could see them clearly in the bright stream of sunlight that broke through the clouds on cue.

"Brothers and sisters, the Champion speaks the truth," Korrunn Sheng said, his voice strong. "You have been deceived by Eternal Dawn and his allies. They have been imprisoned as well; they thought that they were doing what was best for this Temple, for Tambron, but they have been tricked by others from the outside."

"How, High Priest?" someone called out in distress. "How is this possible?"

"They were tricked by forged communiqués that were first presented to my wife and I," Sheng explained. "They were written to look as though Sanderice was preparing to attack Tambron, and magically prepared to stand up to scrutiny. Our magic was able to penetrate the trick, but Eternal Dawn's was not. While my wife and I debated how to handle the situation, he, Brothers Kerrn and Tonsul, and Sister Mylaya arranged to drug us. Eternal Dawn acted in what he thought were the best interests of the Temple," he emphasized. "He was not making a play to take over, but to protect. He went too far, but his act was not truly treason."

"What of the others High Priest? What were Kerrn, Tonsul and Mylaya's intentions in aiding him?" A young, fierce-sounding Ocelot all but demanded. "Who among the governors do we hunt for this act?"

"We are uncertain, as of yet," Sheng said, looking down at the Ocelot from his altar. "Mylaya likely believed that it was worth the risk to attack Sanderice and put an end to that rivalry; we have not had the opportunity to discover from them yet. As for who is hunted for this... for now, no one. It was not the wish of the governors that we be imprisoned, and they have not yet acted to invade Sanderice. However, the Temple will officially withdraw its support of the offensive. If they act despite this... then we will act as well. As is our place, as Halikar's faithful."

It was easy to feel the displeasure, the dissatisfaction, at that, but the one who had spoken settled instantly into accepting submission. So did many of his fellows. Mika could already pick out who was too much on the side of the invasion to be deterred, and she was willing to bet that most others could as well.

She took a moment to find Jeu Su in the crowd and smiled faintly at his relief. It also allowed her to see the question building among the lower ranks, shifting from person to person until someone with the right combination of rank and desire to know spoke up.

"High Priest ... what do we do now?"

"We spread the word," Korrunn Djia answered for her husband. "The Temple announces its position, before Eternal Dawn's actions can have any lasting effect. We spread the word that the Fever has passed, and that there is no danger. And then, after deciding what to do with the prisoners, we will greet the Champion who has saved us from a tragic error in judgment properly."

There was a general relaxation in most of those gathered. Relief at having their High Priests back in charge, gratitude that the battle they had expected with their visitors was not to come to pass, grief that some of their own had lost their way and anger at the deception they had fallen for all mingled in the crowd.

"Now," Sheng demanded their attention with quiet authority. "Return to your quarters, rest, relive yourselves of the tension of the night. We will speak again after breakfast, when we have had time to speak with Eternal Dawn and the others."

Felina waved as she saw Jake coming out of the terminal at MegaKat City International, trying to get the cinnamon tom's attention before she ran over to meet him and Kyale.

"How'd it go?" She asked as she approached them.

"Better than anyone expected," he smiled in relief and warmly in greeting. "How's the city been doing?"

"Mercifully quiet," Felina said easily. "The usual, but no major Omega attacks lately. You have plans for tonight yet?" She asked, looking between Jake and Kyale.

"Sleep," Jake chuckled as the three of them walked through the crowd. "I had more duties to Bastet than Halikar," he shook his head.

"I'm looking forward to spending some time with Owl Eyes," Kyale smiled at the much taller shekat. "He'll be whining greetings for days at this point. He hates being left alone."

"I'll let you get back to him then," Felina said easily. "And you can get some sleep, but first I want some details and to make sure you get some dinner. Game for spending the night at my place?"

"Anytime Rock's not home," he purred with a bit of a shy blush.

"You are so cute when you really like somebody," Kyale giggled and thumped his shoulder. "Have fun. I'm going to."

"He will too," Felina grinned. "Even if it kills him," she winked, hooking an arm around Jake's and leading him back towards the car. "Need to collect any luggage?"

"No, it's all in the backpack," he shifted one shoulder to emphasize it. "I am so ready for city food and a real shower. Tambron is lovely, warm and has extremely hospitable people and good food, but it's a very long way from home."

"Yeah, it is," she nodded. "We'll head to my place; you can shower while we wait for delivery. How does pizza sound?" She offered as they walked out to the parking garage and her car.

"Wonderful," he admitted with a hungry rumble and squeezed her hand affectionately. "And soda. I haven't had either since we left. It's so quiet over there. I really forget how much noise is involved in a city."

"I know what you mean," she nodded. "Even getting out into the wilderness around here you've still got some of it. So, a shower, meat lover's pizza, and root beer?" She offered with a grin.

"And a nice long rest in a real modern bed with someone I don't have to worry about," he leaned against her briefly in the relative privacy of the parking complex. "That sounds so good."

"Mmm ... and I'm not even going to insist on you fulfilling your duties as Champion of Bastet for me," she winked. "How many kittens on the way now?" She asked with a chuckle.

"Another six by two females," he stretched up while she unlocked the car door. "One priestess and one local farmer."

"Busy trip," she chuckled as they climbed into her car. "Stopped a war and sired two litters?"

"Among other things," he nodded and settled in. "It was a crazy couple of weeks. Good, bad and educational. I'm glad to be home, though. More than usual."

"Any particular reason, or just glad for indoor plumbing?" She asked as she pulled out. "Think Rock'll be back soon?"

"Indoor plumbing, familiar food, not being looked at as the outsider by Halikar's followers all around me," he sighed. "It's the heart of the old ways, the only place that really remembers Balkita as it really was. The modern faith everybody knows isn't their way. They were there before he became the Aggressive Protector."

"Ah ... so I'm guessing you caught a bit of flack, or would have if they'd been willing to say it out loud," she guessed.

"Oh, I caught it to my face, though once things got to the point where I wasn't there to wipe the place out anymore, it was much more sales pitch and showing off than flack. They knew if they got anything to sink in with me, it would spread quickly."

"At least they're trying to convert their heretic, not burn him at the stake," she smiled. "Which do you prefer?"

"Mmm, if we skip the repercussions of murdering a champion, burned at the stake was incredible," he purred in nostalgic reminiscing. "Though I think I actually enjoyed learning about all the history and ways we've left behind more."

"Uhm... I'd been talking about the versions of Halikar's faith," she pointed out, shaking her head. "You can be really creepy sometimes, you know that?"

"Sorry," he ducked his head, his ears dropping in open apology. "I forget my manners sometimes. I guess it depends on whether I look at what's best for the world, or what I know would make him happy."

"It's okay, Jake," she chuckled, patting his thigh lightly. "I just have to remember that dying isn't that big a thing for you, and you've got a major thing for pain ... dangerous combination for most folks. I'm guessing modern is best for the world, and the old ways would make him happier?"

"Yes," he nodded and relaxed a bit, covering her hand with his own. "The modern faith does make it increasingly difficult for nations to go to war. If both sides have a temple, then the aggressor will be in the receiving end of the entire world priesthood, and find most of their best warriors refusing to fight for them. It's an effective threat much of the time. On the other hand, it's not something he ever wanted. It's not who he was during his mortal life. It's not what he was when he became immortal. Only his inability to take out the only thing that remains of the land he created and loved enough to give up everything for keeps him alive. For as strong and important as he is in modern times, it is not who he is in his heart."

"It's good that you didn't have to take out the people at the temple then," she murmured. "He's actually suicidal?" She asked him cautiously.

Maybe he and Jake had been a better match than anybody'd thought at first.

"Not really," he shook his head. "He's accepted his place, much like I have, but it doesn't change how much he hurts inside for what he's lost."

She glanced at him briefly. It was hard to tell whether he was talking about himself or his patron sometimes. She sighed softly and squeezed his thigh lightly. "Better topic?" She offered. "How'd you manage to get out of it without anybody getting hurt?"

"There are times when being a living embodiment of a god has its uses," he chuckled. "It turned out that some of the ranking priests had imprisoned the real leaders under the guise of controlling a plague and lied about it to most of the priests, as well as the outside. One of the Korrunn's kits is a mystic and managed to contact me from where they were being held. The guards barely said a word when I insisted on going in. From there, we walked out with them. A few surprise attacks later on the unsuspecting priests behind the coup and we were back in charge. I assume you heard the news about the rather abrupt about face in the temple's standing on the assault on Sanderice?"

"We did, and I assumed you had something to do with it," she nodded. "So the old leaders are back in control? What happened to the folks who'd taken over?"

"The one who had been duped by the government and his own arrogance, but meant the best, was going to commit suicide, but instead he's on a pilgrimage-quest for Halikar. If he survives it, he'll come back a strong and much wiser leader," Jake relaxed in the familiar noise of the city and someone else driving. "Two others have already been executed and a third will be once she gives birth in six months."

"One of your mates?" Felina winced.

"Yeah," he muttered. "She was planning on using the kittens as a bargaining chip with me, but things happened too fast for her. She hadn't woken up from mating yet when she was arrested."

"Bitch," Felina growled lowly, her ears flat. "You gonna be okay about what happened with her?"

"I'm fine," he nodded. "When it's for Bastet, there isn't any attachment to the female. It's a ritual request, ritual response. I'd be pissed if the kits had actually been harmed, but they'll be fine and raised well in the temple."

"That's good," Felina nodded. "You know... nah," she said, shaking her head. "Don't worry about it."

"You know that doesn't work with me," Jake chuckled low in his throat. "What was the thought?"

"Well... I was just thinking. You've got kits without a mother, and a mother who desperately wants Clawson kits. Maybe if they took your name and family line it'd help?"

"I'll save that for the ones Rock and I actually raise," he smiled slightly. "We are planning to have kits of our own, once things calm down some. I am only thirty five."

"Fair enough," Felina smiled. "It was just a thought; get her off your back, and maybe a bit friendlier towards Rock. You just need to take up biology... but don't tell my Uncle I said that, or he'd have me court-martialed," she grinned.

"Wait until he sees a request for maternity leave from me," Jake snickered, though he was serious. "He'll forget all about everything while he wraps his brain around that."

"Oh, I'd pay to see the expression on his face," she laughed, then got a positively evil grin on her face. "And even more to see his reaction after Shere Khan found out."

"And suggests your uncle carries their kittens?" Jake burst out laughing. "I'm not sure I could pull that off, though I'm sure I could if they asked me too."

"He'd kill you if you did," she snickered. "But gods the look on his face would be priceless!"

"Oh, I bet it would be," Jake continued to laugh deeply, shaking his head as tears dampened his fur. "He is so not mother material."

"Oh come on," Felina grinned as she pulled up to park at her place. It was far too good to see him laughing this hard to let up anytime soon. "You don't think he'd look good in one of those dresses with the flap for breast feeding, pushing a stroller with three or four little half-Tiger kits?"

"Floral. It would have to be floral," Jake howled at the mental picture in his head, gasping for breath as he got out of the car. "On 'take your kit to work day' ... in the Tower ...."

"Remember to breathe, Jake, it's one of those important steps to staying alive," she giggled, wrapping an arm around his back and leading him into the elevator with a much lighter heart herself for having him laugh so hard. "Feeling better?" She asked after he'd calmed down a little bit.

"Yes," he leaned against her as the doors opened to let them out on her floor. "It's good to laugh."

"Yeah, and we don't get nearly enough opportunities to," she smiled, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. "So, how about you get that shower, and I'll order dinner?"

"Will do, and thanks," he squeezed her hand and headed for the bathroom in a loft apartment nearly as familiar as his own now. He stripped down quickly, running the water up nice and hot before he climbed in under it, groaning lowly as sore muscles started to relax almost immediately. There was a lot to be said for the hot springs that were more common in Tambron, but a good shower beat it by far. For one thing, they never left him smelling like sulfur when he climbed out, like some of the springs did.

"Oh yeah," he groaned in pure pleasure at being under hot running water again, and knowing he could stand here as long as he pleased as it soaked through his fur and ran along his skin.