Power Games 9.99:
Clash of Titans

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

"Can you believe someone who looks like us is starring in a world-syndicated show?" Meg Furlong could barely contain her excitement. "It's always those skinny little creatures."

"They'd never last ten minutes doing to sort of things Tamera's been up to," Chance grinned as he sat down a tray of snacks. The new house was bustling; that was pretty normal, given how many teenagers they had, but what really made it special was that this time they were all over for a reason. Tamera's show was about to make its premiere broadcast, and difficult as it was to believe it sometimes there was no way that Chance wasn't going to pull out the stops for the friends and family over to see how it went.

He had to admit he was a little nervous about it; she'd been excited when she finally told him, but actually pinning her down on the details had been tricky. He was sure it was just nerves; she'd been production crew and supporting staff on shows before, even the secondary host once for a few episodes of one, but this was her first time as the host of a program. Still, her nerves weren't helping his at all.

"What has she been up to?" his mother asked with a curious look. "I've seen nature hosts of the skinny type before."

"Sometimes, I guess, but usually guys," he pointed out. "She's out there with the animals, not just hosting but hauling tail tracking them. And when they're not doing that, they're usually living with the locals... I understand she's been on a hunting trip or two already, old-fashioned, with a Hyena tribe. Made a pretty good showing too."

"She's got the build they appreciate too," Rock added, watching his mate doing a final technical check on the outdoor movie display so everyone could watch. "Buff, broad hips and big tits are valued in most pre-industrial places."

"Tell me about it," Chance chuckled. "On one of her calls home, she was laughing about a few of the teenagers who'd been trying to impress her. Apparently they were hoping she'd be interested in having a second mate around."

"Did she take any of them up on it?" Keeu asked as she settled down next to Rock, knowing Jake would be there soon.

"I don't think so... not long term, anyways," Chance said. "She did say that they ended up with more anthropology than she'd been expecting this time around."

"As long as it wasn't all about the sexual mores, I think we'll be okay," Megan chuckled lowly, accepting a soda from Bruce.

"Speaking of which, do we know just how much sex is going to feature in this?" Jake asked as he joined the gathering crowd; three dozen kittens between the Furlongs, Ravens and Clawsons and many of Tamera's closer Clawson relatives.

"Hey, Callie's here!" someone shouted in excitement.

Then there was the Briggs family added in, though compared to the lot already here, the seven extra bodies weren't much to notice.

"No clue," Chance admitted, getting up to go grab some more chairs. "Though she said she usually threw the cameras out at night, at least," he chuckled.

"I'd hope so," Megan agreed, looking over curiously as Callie, Mark and Vanessa climbed out of the large, armored silver sedan, along with their three kits and an armed guard that was doing her level best to not stand out like a sore thumb. "Her girls have sure grown up fast, and her son is so unusual looking. Nearly a Kit Fox."

"With red hair, green eyes and really long fur on his tail," Aleice giggled, though there was a tone of appreciation there that got her father's attention.

"That's because he is part Kit Fox," Rock explained. "He's also only ten," he reminded Aleice with a chuckle.

"She thinks anything that isn't like her is cute," Marrat smirked at his younger sister. "Though he's not a bad choice once he's a bit older."

"Being half Kat, I expected him to look a bit more feline," Megan told him. "Are they part Red Fox, or part Kat?" she asked with a nod towards Mark and Vanessa as they began the meet and greet at the edge of the gathering.

"Part Red Fox," Rock said easily. "Mostly Kit Fox though, which is probably why it came through so well."

"I'm surprised you can tell," Jake said. "They're aren't exactly obvious."

"It's mostly a matter of them not looking quite purebred," she explained. "I'd guess either a grandparent or great-grandparent was the red."

"Our grandfather," Mark smiled easily as he walked over and shook Megan's hand.

"So, how's fatherhood treating you?" Rock asked him curiously.

"Very well, though now that the girls are starting to look boys differently it's going to be a lot tougher. I just hope they don't get the idea that because their brother looks so different, he's fair game."

"If they do, they'll have competition from Aleice, I think," Chance chuckled. "Though from the look of things, Sarah's got something else in mind," he pointed out, shaking his head as he saw the attractive young kit talking to Carmin.

"He is adorable when he blushes," Jake purred with a low chuckle. "Rather like his father."

"Clawsons and their thing for buff stripes," Callie shook her head with a teasing twinkle in her sea green eyes as she sat down next to Keeu with a space on each side for her mates. "I get the feeling I'll be seeing you a good bit more so she can spend time with him."

"He's a sweet boy, but doesn't have an ambitious bone in his body," Jake said with a smile for her.

"Unlike her father," Callie chuckled, kissing Mark as he sat down next to her, then Vanessa.

"Guilty," he chuckled. "Besides, I make sure my ambition goes the right way."

"That's what counts," Jake grinned. "It's not like your mate is light on ambition herself."

"Nope ... though I still have to convince her to act on it," he chuckled.

"You and the rest of us," Chance grinned. "The Furlongs would probably vote for her over Manx in a heartbeat," he winked. "That's gotta be worth a district or two right there!"

"Not to mention the entire force, and everyone who listens to the political leanings of Bastet or Halikar," Jake grinned mischievously at her, delighted to have the public venue and support for what he'd been trying to get her to do for years. "You'd have the entire city if you just showed how much of the Mayor's job you already do."

"And I wouldn't get a quarter of the work done that I do now," she replied, almost scripted in the way it came out.

"You'd just need a good support staff," Mark chuckled in an equally rehearsed reply. "Don't worry, hon," he said, kissing her cheek. "It'll happen when it happens."

"Which will be sooner than you want and not nearly soon enough for the rest of us," Jake added.

"Show's on!" Chance yelled to quiet folks down and get attention on the big screen as the end credits rolled on the previous show and the sound was turned up.

The screen went black for a moment, then opened with a shot of Tamera running with a group of wildland Hyena, wearing what she'd said were her trademark green camie shorts and short sleeved, tight-fitting buttoned shirt open and tied just below her full, heavy breasts. Her hair, tail and body were done up like the hosts she was hunting with.

"Damn, she'd grown up," someone murmured.

"She's thirty, you know," one of the shekats pointed out.

"Boy, has she," another tom agreed, shortly before their was a sheepish 'ouch'. Chance glanced over, shaking his head as he saw Heather glowering at her boyfriend. He chuckled slightly, turning his attention back to the screen as the intro ran, followed by Tamera's lead in, explaining what they were doing this season living with Queen Hydrathia's pack on the Highland Plateau of Nuvetria, exploring their culture and the local wildlife.

"She looks so good," Midnight smiled with tearful pride. "She must love doing this."

"If I had costumes like that, I look just as good," Heather muttered to herself before being hushed as everybody focused on Tamera, Lyth, and the crew meeting the tribe they'd be living with.

"You're on a science show, not a wilderness one, honey," her boyfriend said with a nuzzle.

"And you aren't the star of Mythbusters," Aleice rubbed it in. "You're just a ... mythtern, they call you?"

"Hey, I'm getting promoted to the build team next season," Heather shot back.

"Shh," somebody hissed quietly.

"Especially you, Aleice," Chance chastened her. He didn't need a fight here, particularly not with everybody else here. He'd already heard plenty of Heather's grumbling, even if most of it was strictly to herself, about the deal being made about this. He supposed he couldn't blame her, entirely, but she was entirely too good at holding a grudge even after a decade and a half on medication and counseling to help her control her temper and aggression. It had done wonders, but it only did so much.

It did its job, settling everything down, but he knew he was in for another round of Heather and Aleice fighting over who was better.

The credits ended after introducing the major players from both Tamera's crew and the locals and the show began with Tamera stepping up to the significantly larger Hyena bitch who's false-cock was erect and on full display.

After years of reading such things, and even knowing the outcome, Chance couldn't help but tense when he realized this was going to turn into a fight.

Neither one was armed, fortunately; it helped make it clear that this was more a ceremonial match to determine the right to live with the pack by impressing the person who determined it, rather than a serious fight. Those, he knew, came later in the season, and he wasn't looking forward to watching them.

This one, fortunately, wasn't too bad. Tamera was more than capable of putting on a good show; he recognized more than a few moves he, Kyale, and the Ghosts had taught her through the years, and they weren't the sort of techniques that the Hyena had been expecting.

"She's not bad," Heather admitted grudgingly. "But she's not up to the Hyena."

"I'd barely be up for a Hyena Queen," Kyale pointed out as the fight ended with Tamera on her back, exposing her belly and throat to the larger Kantin.

"She won the real fights, and had a couple scars for it, but she came out fine," Chance added.

"She came out ecstatic," Midnight pointed out as everyone settled in for the introductions.

It was readily apparent who was going to be trouble, who was respectfully afraid of her, and the couple young males who were already interested in her or the other members who were in front of the camera. To judge by one or two glances off-camera, there was some interest in the crew who were behind it too.

Lyth got the most hostility, some of it quite open, and the pack's shaman was definitely ready to kill him outright if the queen hadn't stopped her.

"I have not come here to try and turn you from Queen Sulma, my Mother's sister," Lyth offered in the local language once things had calmed down slightly. His words appeared in Katian on the bottom on the screen. "I am here to support my mate; I believe that Her Champion, Hyretha, vouched for me, Queen Hydrathia?" He asked her politely.

"It is the only reason I did not rip you apart personally," the big bitch confirmed in the same language, more for her pack than him.

"I understand your concerns," he offered. "I hope that I can convince you all I mean no harm."

"He had balls to go out there," Rock murmured. "Especially if he didn't do any preaching."

"Bastet and Sulma are on better terms than most," Jake pointed out. "She is Bastet's daughter after all. I have to agree on the balls to go there. Hell of a first season, sending a bunch of Kats to live with a Hyena pack."

"Toss the audience into the deep end," Chance chuckled slightly, before he recognized what was coming up next. "The very deep end, unless I'm remembering wrong," he mused, wrapping an arm lightly around Midnight's back as the greeting ceremony became decidedly sexual among the Hyena and the narrator began to explain what was going on.

Lower ranking members nuzzled, even sucked off or were mounted by higher-ranking ones. Beyond the obvious scintillating content to capture attention, it did show the audience two very important things about Hyena society. Even the lowest ranking female outranked the Queen's mate, and every guest outranked the males. Though the male guests were outranked by the local females, the female guests outranked all but a handful of the forty-odd females.

"Lucky girl," a female from the gathering murmured at the amount of licking out Tamera received.

"Friendly group," somebody else commented ... Pat, Chance thought.

"Was Hyretha that friendly?" Rock teased Jake lightly.

"She's a Stripped Hyena, and nearly unconscious when we pulled her out," Jake shook his head. "Different culture."

"Pity," Rock chuckled, watching the show. It was strong for television, but the camera-work, when it was steady, was clearly the documentarian's loathing of leaving anything important to the locals out, rather than a pornographic interest. "Bet some of the critics will rake it over the coals for this," he mused.

"Just as many will praise it, and they'll be the ones with anthro backgrounds," Keeu countered.

"Not to mention it'll make for good ratings," Jake chuckled, noticing her arousal and quietly wondering if it was the scene they were watching, or if it was from being next to him and snuggling close. He still wasn't sure if her seemingly perpetual interest in him was because of him or something else. She'd dated others, but it seemed more out of an interest to look normal than any interest in the tom.

After a few minutes to firmly establish what was happening in the interim, the first commercials hit, followed by the latter part of the party. The locals were bringing out food and local crafts, which were set out along with more normal, at least to the audience, supplies that Tamera and her group had brought along. Tamera and Hydrathia, both now better dressed in brightly colored robes and fine local jewelry, were talking about what they'd brought along. Food, medical supplies, liquor from MegaKat City, and a brace of blast-rifles that Tamera presented to the Queen Hydrathia herself with a clear understanding for the fact that it was definitely a chancy gift.

They were accepted with appreciative grace, and the spread the crew offered had clearly won over many of the tribe members that were more cautious about them. In return the crew received hand-crafted weapons, clothing, jewelry and a feast everyone would enjoy.

"I really hope that doesn't make the local Lions extinct," Jake murmured about the rifles.

"I'm sure the network's legal eagles already thought about it ... I know Tamera has," Chance murmured. "Given we haven't heard of mass slaughter yet, I don't think any serious harm was done. I know she insisted they only send one power cell for each."

"Which will seriously limit their usefulness in a war," Jake nodded with clear relief. "How long since the season finished filming?"

"They're still out there," Chance said. "This was filmed eight months ago. As I understand it, they'll be with the pack for a full year and they'll make a season."

"What sort of schedule is the show on?" Rock asked curiously. "I haven't really looked ahead yet, but that seems like a pretty long time to be out there and still filling out the season."

"Weekly," Chance said. "I really don't know anything about how many episodes they'll make. They might not even be sure."

"Shows like that stack it up on the front end," Heather piped up. "One of the camerakats on Mythbusters was on a crew for Mother's Rule a few years ago. Half the season was filmed in the first month. The spread the next twelve months over the second half."

"That'll help," Rock nodded slightly. "By the way, caught your last show; you've got some real guts, going through some of what they throw at you," he chuckled.

"It's part of the job," she smiled at him in thanks, knowing full well he was talking about the 'driving while angry decreases fuel economy' myth. "I think they thought twice about the frilly ballet stuff by the time I parked," she sort of giggled, a dangerous gleam in her eyes. "And Jenny is fond of saying, payback is a bitch."

"Remember, nothing that makes your boss take out a restraining order," Chance chuckled lowly. "You like your job, even if you hate it once in a while."

"Know what that feels like," Mark chuckled.

"Oh, I promise, nothing like that," Heather grinned, her face lighting up. "They appreciate the kind of payback I dish out now. I just tweaked Jenny's shampoo so she turned a lovely shade of neon green. You'll see it in a couple episodes."

"Cool," Jarod, her younger brother, grinned, turning his attention back to the show as the pups came out to meet the newcomers.

The oldest, a single female nearing puberty, was the first, followed by three litters, each a couple years younger and larger than the previous. By the time the youngest group, well under a year and barely crawling, were introduced, there were twelve in the group.

"Strange pattern," Kensa murmured, trying to work out what she was seeing.

"Mortality rates are very high in the wild lands," Owl Eyes told Jake's daughter by Kensu Chim. "Each litter would have started as large as the first. It is not uncommon to loose them all before adulthood."

"How do they have pups that size?" Meg asked, shaking her head.

"Painfully," Owl Eyes said simply. "They are born much, much smaller than that," he added. "Those are a couple months old."

"They grow fast," she murmured as Tamera and the others met the pups, keeping a respectful distance at first.

It wasn't long before the middle litter found out that this stripped newcomer may be small, but she was good to play with and capable of rough-housing with the best of them.

They shifted to a voice-over from Tamera, talking about that first day meeting the Pack. After a brief recap, and a hint of things to come, the show wrapped up, starting the end credits to the first episode.

"You have anywhere you have to go tonight?" Keeu asked Jake quietly.

"Not that I have planned," he said truthfully. "What's up?"

"Well, if you wanna go change, maybe we could go for a swim?" She asked him. "I've been practicing," she offered with a shy grin.

"Sure," he smiled at her and turned to give Rock a lingering, passionate kiss as they stood. "Now behave without me," he teased the big tabby.

"Right, right, only have orgies with people who aren't Furlongs or Clawsons," Rock teased back, licking his nose

"Or Ravens!" Jake laughed and darted off to change, his mate on his heels. It earned them both tolerant rolled eyes from the many adults used to the two behaving like lovestruck kittens. Rock followed him into their house, stretching out on their bed.

"So, what're you gonna tell her?" He asked the cinnamon tom, watching him strip down.

"I'm going to have to say yes soon, aren't I?" Jake sighed as he pulled out his favorite thong swimsuit; one that matched his fur color so he looked nude until he was close.

"Just have her promise not to call you Uncle Jake any more, it might help," Rock offered with a chuckle, kissing Jake's neck from behind. "She's not a kitten anymore, as much as it might feel like she is. I promise I won't get in the way, but do you need your nerves a little steadier?"

"Mmm, I'm not about to object," he purred, leaning into the touch. "You know she wants more than sex."

"I think she does," Rock agreed. "But then, she might not even be sure what she wants yet," he admitted as he turned Jake in his arms and kissed him tenderly, drawing it out to arouse his mate. "I'm okay with it though... the question is if you will be," he said seriously, rubbing Jake's back.

"Her age I'll get over with," he said with certainty, leaning against his mate's chest and purring. "Dating my partner's middle daughter ... that's harder. It's just weird to think about."

"If Chance wasn't okay with it, don't you think he'd have said something?" Rock pointed out. "The same with Midnight, really."

"Oh, they would," Jake chuckled weakly and pressed against Rock's warmth, enjoying the feel of strong hands squeezing his ass before fingers slipped under his thong. "It's not that. It's just weird to think about dating my partner's daughter."

"So just be careful about it," Rock smiled, kissing his neck lightly as he brought his hands around to the front inside the thong. "She's got it bad for you ... always has, if you ask me. It's a good thing; help keep you young," he teased.

"And we don't have it bad for each other?" Jake claimed an energetic kiss that ended with a moan of raw enjoyment as he felt Rock's hand close around his hardening cock inside his thong. "Gods, I love your touch," he whispered. "There's never been anything like it, pleasure or pain."

"And I love touching you ... want me to burn off the energy from the show, or leave you ready to play when you go for your swim?" Rock asked even though he knew the answer just from the feel of his mate's body.

"I'd love it," he gasped as Rock sank to his knees with a small whoosh of air and took Jake's cock into his mouth eagerly, sucking and licking until it hardened fully.

"So do I," Rock purred, cupping and fondling and squeezing Jake's balls as he turned his full attention to his mate's pleasure in getting him off hard and fast.

"Not waiting any time," Jake's entire body stiffened as he arched his hips into the intense pleasure-pain mix he loved beyond reason.

Rock would have told him to give it to him, but he didn't want to spare his mouth for the words with a trickle of pre on his tongue.

"C-close," Jake gasped, thrusting into Rock's mouth as he leaned forward a bit. The sharp pain of his balls being twisted brought a roar and shot of seed for his mate as soon as they were released.

Rock grinned and swallowed the load, sucking and licking Jake's cock until he was spent.

"Oh yeah," Jake breathed out as he leaned forward against Rock's shoulders as the buff tabby stood and kissed him soundly. "That was good. Thank you," he nuzzled him affectionately as Rock tucked him into his thong. "You want some?"

"Mmm ... maybe when you're back," Rock purred. "If she's willing to try a Jake Sandwich, maybe," he winked, kissing Jake back, letting him taste himself in his mouth. "We don't want to keep her waiting too long though ... you know how teenagers can be."

"And she's been trying to get me alone for years," he nodded and snatched a last kiss before heading to the pool behind the two large homes that were centerpiece of the property. He could hear the celebration going on out front even though it was starting to darken.

No real surprise; family gatherings, even relatively small ones like this, usually lasted into the wee hours of the morning if dinner got involved. It wasn't uncommon for breakfast to be offered before things were over, and half the crowd crashed on the property before heading home.

The lights around the pool came on, illuminating the tiles surrounding it and the short, muscular shekat waiting for him. Her silvery bikini stood out against her black fur as much as his blended in and lit up her icicle blue eyes. Her auburn tail twitching at her side betrayed her nerves as she fought every urge to look back and see if he was really coming.

A bottle of wine and two glasses weren't exactly hidden nearby.

She was definitely planning on making a move and not taking no this time.

"I see you every day and it's still a shock how much you've filled out," he gave an honest complement.

"Meep!" She jumped as he spoke, looking back at him with a bashful blush. "Uhm ... sorry, you startled me ... thank you though," she smiled up at him. "So, ready for a swim?" She asked him, her eyes roaming up and down his body with an interest she was still trying to disguise.

"Always," Jake laughed much more easily and dived in sideways, entering the water smoothly and with a grace she envied.

She followed him in, slipping in more gradually and starting to swim after him. She knew she couldn't catch him, but maybe she could snag him when he came around for the lap. To have him facing her only a couple feet away when she came up for air surprised her into inaction.

"I think I'm ready to stop playing games with you," he said quietly, visibly uncomfortable with what was happening.

"Oh! Uhm... w-what do you mean?" She asked him, her tail trying to twitch beneath the water as she felt her stomach twist. She was sure he'd figured out what she'd wanted, and that he was about to try and let her down easy. She just wasn't sure if it was possible to let her down any way but hard.

"What's between us," he nearly sighed. "Keeu, I've known you were attracted to me ... well, probably before you even recognized it," he reached out to set her hair on her shoulder right. "When you reached puberty it started to become mutual. I was hoping to put this off a few more years, give you a chance to have a normal life, find out what it's like to not be around a danger magnet."

"You do remember who my Dad is, right?" She joked, cracking a bit of a smile. "And my Mom? And sibs? I don't think there's such a thing as not being around a danger magnet for me."

"Brat," he teased, tapping her on the nose. "Still, do you have any idea what living with two Champions is going to be like on that level? You'll be a prime target for some very unpleasant people."

"I know," she nodded seriously. "As well as I possibly can without living the life." She wrapped her arms around him lightly. "Jake, this isn't a whim or a crush. If it was, I don't think it would've lasted this long," she pointed out.

"I know," he murmured, shifting to hold her uncomfortably. "I have issues, you must know. How much you look like the other two shekat's I've fallen hard for. How young you are. How vulnerable you are to the forces in my life."

"You're hardly old, Jake," she pointed out, enjoying his scent and the edge of arousal on it.

"I'm older than your father," he said.

"By a whole year," Keeu rolled her eyes. "Jake, I'm almost a full priestess of Izaris. I know what's going on as well as anyone here ... better than some," she pointed out. "Besides... how big a difference is it going to really be, after a few decades?"

"None," he consented. "I just hoped you'd have more of a life first, unlike me."

"I do live in MegaKat City," she pointed out. "Not exactly a normal city. Besides... it's not like I've put my life entirely on hold waiting for you," she offered.

"Keeu, you're eighteen," he said gently, brushing a finger along her jaw. "Even with your training, you haven't lived on your own or found out what life is about. I care about you, I'm very attracted to you, I'm worried that right now, this is a mistake."

"What do I have to do to change your mind?" She asked him, pressing into his touch with a low purr.

"How about we start with the practical?" he licked a drop of water from her forehead. "Have you figured out how you feel about sharing a bed with your uncle?"

"It'd... be a little weird, at first," she admitted. "But as long as I wasn't the one in the middle, it'd be okay... I hadn't been thinking I'd be moving in right away," she offered.

"Okay," he nodded. "Have you thought about kittens?"

"Well, I know that it's going to be expected of me," she nodded. "I also know that I'm not ready for it yet, but one of these days I do want to have kittens. Kinda hard to make it out of our family without either loving or hating them," she grinned. "I ended up on the 'liking' end."

"Which is good, given those already in my home and what would be expected of any female mate of mine," Jake managed a nervous grin. "Though they'll probably be all but grown by the time you move in. Do you know what Rock is the champion of?"

"Tamorl, Eshik, and Marka," she nodded. "Pain and unusual relationships. It was one of the things they grilled me on in the seminary," she chuckled. "They really wanted the POV of living with two Champions in the close family."

"But do you understand what that means? To me, as his mate. To the way we raise our kits about pain. Bastet is Tamoil's daughter. She is the fertility goddess, but her origin was in separating the pain of birth, of giving life, from the pain of danger and death. What it will mean for you."

"I know, Jake," she assured him. "That was covered too. As for what it means to the kits... pain is a part of life. They need to know about it, as much as they do about everything else. And you two are more qualified to teach them responsibly than just about anybody else."

Jake nodded. "It also means that we are not afraid of it. We both embrace pain, necessary and unnecessary."

"The way you've taught all of them to recognize when they are hurt, and recognize when the pain has served it's purpose," she nodded. "Beyond that... how much do you need it, in a lover?" she asked him seriously. "I'm not that experienced with that, in particular, but I've tried a little."

"I don't need it, and from you, I probably won't even ask for it," he said gently. "Rock doesn't need it either, but we enjoy it with each other. While we can't go as far as we did before he was a Champion, you will eventually see things that would put the Inquisition and Xenquii torturers to shame. It is part of what we do."

"I understand," she nodded. "I can handle it ... and it would be one extra healer in the house, eventually," she offered. "Especially with my extra resources," she offered with a bit of a grin.

"Never a bad thing, as long as she can tell when she's needed," Jake kissed her gently. "Have you used your resources to look up a little about the first few years I was with Rock? How long we dated before I was ready to commit to anything formal?

"I won't freak out about it; I'm being taught to handle that sort of thing too," she promised him. "And no ... I kinda thought that wouldn't be fair," she admitted. "But Dad's talked about it; I know you're not one for short courtships. And that's okay with me," she smiled, kissing him back. "I'd want to make full Priestess before anything like that, myself. Prove that I can do something with myself, to both of us."

"Good," he murmured. "Not that we waited that long to make out," he purred nervously.

"That's not a major commitment," she pointed out with a shy smile. "Want a drink?"

"Sure," Jake smiled and relaxed in the water as she poured two glasses of a deep red wine, one of Jake's favorites. "Care to move to the hot tub?" he suggested with a nod towards the attached swirling hot water pool.

"Sure," she nodded, taking her glass and the bottle over to the hot tub, her fur slicked down tightly against her shapely body as she slid out of the cool water and into the swirling water of the hot tub that adjoined it. She watched Jake make the same shift, her eyes drawn to his groin and the obvious arousal there. She licked her lips unconsciously, then slid back into the water of the hot tub, making plenty of room for Jake next to her.

"So... did you know what I was gonna say before I even asked you to come out here?" She asked him with a blush.

"I had a fairly good idea," he nodded and sipped the wine as they both relaxed in the hot water. "I've known you were interested in me for years. I've been trying to delay this conversation for as long."

"I'd always thought it was because you weren't interested in a kit," she smiled, snuggling up against him lightly. "Is Rock okay with it?"

"I'm not, but you're not exactly a kit anymore," he murmured and slid an arm around her to rubbed her side. "Rock's okay with us. He's more unhappy with the stress it's put me under than any idea of us being together. Just one thing. You cannot be calling me Uncle Jake anymore. While it may help Eshik and Marka's standing, it would hurt Bastet's standing too much in the trade. I would prefer if you stopped calling Rock 'uncle' too."

"I've been trying not to say it too much, unless I was talking to Mom and Dad," she smiled, purring at his touch. "Especially 'Uncle Jake.' That does get a little creepy," she giggled.

"Speaking of which, I know Chance knows and is okay, but what about your mom?"

"I don't know," she admitted, looking into her glass. "She started to give me one of those Big Talks once, but Dad said something to her and she never finished it."

"Probably told her what kept him from objecting even louder than she did," Jake nodded. "Have you found out some kinks or positions you really enjoy?"

"Mmm ... well, when my nerves aren't all on edge, I like showing off," she giggled, nuzzling his shoulder lightly. "I like giving oral ... role-playing's fun. And, uhm..." She blushed more deeply. "Kinda part of the first one, I like it when somebody comes on me, and then rubs it into my fur, or lets me do it."

"So far you'll fit in nicely," he chuckled softly. "Especially the showing off part. We do perform on the stage at Warlords, among other clubs."

"I know," she grinned mischievously. "I've seen a couple of your shows," she admitted.

"Did you get off on it?" he purred seductively.

"Oh yeah," she purred back. "It was worth the trouble sneaking in," she grinned, reaching under the surface of the water to rub his thong tentatively and felt him lean into the touch just a bit.

"What got you the hottest?" Jake asked as he nuzzled her neck and drew her close to his body.

"Watching Rock whip you until you came, with Kathie sucking you off and clawing your thighs," she blushed deeply, pressing close to him, maneuvering her thigh up against his bulging thong.

"You were wishing you were in her place, mmm?" he rumbled, no longer making any effort to contain his arousal. "Do you enjoy receiving oral?"

"Not as much as giving, but I like it," she nodded. "What do you like, besides pain?"

"Urethral play, bondage, exhibitionism, giving oral, receiving anal ... role play can be a lot of fun, though Rock and I don't do it much," he mused as he slid a hand into her bikini bottom and rolled her clit with a finger.

She shivered at the touch, whimpering softly.

"Any scenario you like more than others?" She asked him with a gentle kiss, rubbing against his thong a bit more as he thrust lightly into the contact.

"Not that comes to mind," he almost growled in mounting arousal. "Right now what appeals is having you on my lap."

"Thought you'd never ask," she purred, pulling his thong down to expose his rigid shaft and heavy balls. "Maybe we can go inside after this?" She suggested, moaning as his fingers slid the crotch of her bikini to the side and guided her onto his cock with a mutual moan.

"Sure," he purred, enjoying the extra thrill of what was a socially illicit act. "Gods, you're tight," he moaned, startled by it.

"I exercise," she mewed, kissing him hungrily as she squeezed down around his thick, rugged length, loving the feel of it inside of her. He slipped right into her sex like it had been made for his cock. Maybe it had been, if what she was learning was true and her attraction to Jake as a kitten has been the same as she felt now, but muted by her lack of sexuality then.

"Keep it up," he grunted, his claws making tiny pinpricks in her hips as they thrust against each other, both of them close to the edge far too quickly.

"I will," she promised with a whimper, rippling the walls of her sex around his cock as she bounced in his lap, sending little waves off to be swallowed by the swirling waters of the pool. "Wanna come inside me?" She asked him as she felt herself starting to get close.

"Inside you, with you coming around me," he claimed her mouth, rocking his hips to keep the pressure and motion going against her clit as he plundered her mouth. He grunted as his balls tightened and he strained to hold off until she came.

It didn't take long; hard as she was trying, she didn't have his experience at this sort of thing. Before long, she cried out into his mouth, her pussy contracting around him, milking him hungrily, begging for the seed he was ready to supply with a grunting roar she swallowed. They rode out the pleasure running out of control, her sobs audible as he broke their kiss and bit down on her shoulder to take him through the last thrusts of his orgasm.

"Wow," Keeu gasped as they began to relax. "Never been that intense before."

"Emotions can make a difference," Jake offered, still trying to control his breathing.

"So can skill," she giggled, only to moan as their movement rubbed her body in all the right ways. "Another round already? Or inside first?" She asked with another kiss.

"Mind laying on the edge of the pool while I clean up the mess I made?" he purred with a hungry look. "It's about time I changed your mind on just how good receiving oral can be."

She looked around, making sure nobody was coming back, then nodded, pulling off of him with a groan and slipping up onto the edge of the tub.

"Got anything to keep me quiet?" She asked with a deep blush and moan as he caressed her thighs and kissed just above her pubes.

"Not really," Jake glanced around. "Just our suits," he murmured with another kiss just above her clit. "I guess one of those could work."

"Mmm ... gag me with yours, tie my hands with mine?" She suggested with a playful grin, spreading her legs for him, her feet still in the water.

"Kinky little creature," he grinned and made short work of stripping both their bottoms while leaving her breasts covered to enhance the thrill of it. He shifted to sit on the edge and got her to sit up so he could tie her hands behind her back, then gagged her with his thong as best it could.

"All 'ours," she murmured around the makeshift gag with a twinkle in her eyes. He couldn't help but wonder just what context she was putting all this into, in her head... was she building a scenario at all? What was it, if she was? He'd have to ask, though he'd have to be careful with the wording too.

He slipped back into the water, his hard cock twitching in the jets of water as he pulled her close and she laid back on the tile, dripping wet with water, his semen trickling from her pussy. The position of her hands in the small of her back arched her sex downward and put her clit more prominently in the air. With a smile and gentle hands he began to kiss his way from just above her pubes to her clit, swirling his tongue around the hard, erect nub full of over-sensitized skin.

She whimpered into the gag, arching up into the contact as her toes curled beneath the water. As if an idea had come to her, she twisted her feet inward, rubbing them against his hard cock. She raised her head, grinning around the gag as she looked down at him, as if asking for permission.

"Do anything you like," he purred as he slid two fingers into her pussy as he turned his mouth's full attention to her clit and clit hood.

She moaned lowly, shifting her feet so that the bare, leathery pads of one rubbed the top of his cock, the furry top of the other rubbing the bottom, stroking his shaft with her feet as he suckled and nipped at her clit and the tender skin around it, her dripping sex tightening on reflex around his fingers before she focused enough to start milking them.

It was incredibly hot; bound and gagged out in the open with a big family party going on just the other side of the house. Anyone could come by and see her with her legs spread and Jake's head between her thighs, finger fucking her as he sucked on her clit.

Her feet moved faster as she felt herself getting ready to come again. Finally, he caught her clit between his teeth, just away from the sharp tips, and started shaking his head like a terrier with a rat. It only took a few seconds of that before she let out a keening scream into the gag, coming hard, her sex contracting hard enough around his fingers he was sure they'd bruise, her juices squirting out and all over his chin, neck, and chest. Her claws popped out, raking along his cock as her legs tried to curl.

Keeu lay there for a moment, panting raggedly, staring up into the night sky as she tried to recover from the most intense orgasm she could remember.

"I'll hazard a guess you liked that," Jake grinned down at her as he picked her up, still bound and gagged, and walked into his home without any concern for being seen.

Keeu was a little more concerned, she stifled a concerned sound, but nodded all the same, pressing her legs together so her state of dripping undress wasn't that obvious as they entered the dark, four-story house built for two adults with space-consuming hobbies and eleven kittens with plenty of space to spare. It wasn't that different in design from her parent's home next door, though the decor was decidedly different.

"The party will be going for hours yet," Jake whispered as he carried her to the master bedroom, a place where the implements of pain were rarely put away.

She shivered as she looked around, reaching down with her bound hands to wrap them around his rigid cock as he carried her, stroking it lightly.

"'ever 'id all 'is," she admitted, the gag gargling her words.

"Those are for use on me," Jake reassured her as he put her on the bed and exchanged the makeshift bindings for real ones that locked her wrists to opposite edges of the bed. "They only get used when the sub wants it," he said firmly and removed her gag. "You can't make enough noise to be noticed in here. Trust me."

"Okay," she nodded, working her jaw for a moment now that she could fully. "Mmm ... that tasted good," she winked at him playfully, stretching herself out as well as she could. "I am up for the lighter stuff, you've just got an ... intimidating collection," she admitted.

"Well, he's the Champion of Pain, and I'm the nut case that liked taking masochism to the point it killed me, just for fun," he pointed out with a chuckle, stroking her sex lightly, simply enjoying the feel and smell of her pleasure and hunger. "I don't think there is anyone mortal that takes things as far as we have."

"Mmm ... do you miss being able to go that far?" She asked him.

"Sometimes," he admitted before sinking into her with a groan and kiss. "No one is as skilled as Rock in pain, but I have lovers I trust that can draw the killing out for days if I really want to go that far," he said as he began to thrust slow and deep. "Haven't for years."

"M'kay," she mewled softly, squeezing down around him. "Oh... love you, Jake," she murmured as they kissed and he took her slow and deep for a more gradual buildup of their pleasure.

"I love you, Keeu," he murmured, admitting it for the first time out loud.

Hours later Rock rolled his head, stretching his neck and shoulders as he came back in after helping clean up after the party and hustling the kits into bed. He sniffed the air, chuckling as he smelled the potent aroma of sex and sweat.

"Well, apparently it went well," he murmured, stripping his shirt off and walking back to the master bedroom. He looked in, seeing Jake and Keeu snuggling together, twined around each other in bed, asleep in the midst of a coital embrace. He smiled softly; Jake had been worrying about this longer than she had. He was glad it had worked out.

Now, of course, he had to figure out how it would work out for him. He knew Keeu wasn't going to take his place, but what place would she have in his life?

He could already feel Eshik and Marka's influence in the back of his head, trying to convince him to go for a full triad, but he knew that even if she was comfortable with it, he wasn't. Not yet, at any rate.

He finished undressing and crawled into bed against Jake's back, reaching around them both with a long, powerful arm. He hoped they wouldn't mind waking up with him there... they shouldn't, but it was always unpredictable.

Jake shifted slightly, murmuring in his sleep as his brain placed who was there, and he snuggled back against his mate with a contented, happy sound as he moved his arm to embrace Rock's.

"Love you too," Rock smiled and kissed his neck affectionately.

He reached down, snagging the covers and pulling them up over the three of them. They'd had threesomes before, and times when three people had shared the bed despite one or the other of them not being involved in the sex. This was the first time it was probably going to be a regular event though.

Somehow... it felt right, he thought as he snuggled up and closed his eyes. Hopefully, it still would in the morning... especially if Jake woke up and got out of bed early.

"There she is," Night Raven whispered to Kul as they spotted the Lynx making her way through the corridors of Leng, heading for Dhiren's quarters in the uniform of one of his harem guards ... such as it was. "You ready to take her, when I've got her ready?"

"Of course," he smiled down at hir smaller form and enjoyed the sensation it caused in him, a physical pleasure that wasn't sexual. He was quite sure their father would disapprove of it greatly if he ever found out, so he hadn't even told hir. He was pretty sure it was what was between their parents though.

Night Raven nodded and the short, slender, black-furred Kat stepped out into the Lynx's way.

"Joasta?" Shi asked, looking as friendly and helpless as shi could. "Could you help me look for something?"

"Of course, Night Raven," the Lynx said politely, though she hid her agitation poorly. "What do you need?"

"I lost one of the rings Father gave me," shi explained. "I last had it right around here; it's probably rolled under something. Could you move that for me?" Shi asked, indicating a heavy couch near Kul's hiding place.

Joasta nodded and slid her fingers under the edge of one side and lifted to walk it out at an angle so Night Raven could look under it.

It put her off-balance, and focused her attention entirely on the task at hand. Just what Kul had been waiting for. He lashed out with his tentacles, wrapping them around her as they extended to their full length and strength, tying her legs and arms, and clamping down over her mouth so she couldn't scream.

It didn't stop her from biting down hard on the thing in her mouth, or driving her claws into any part of her attacker that she could. It didn't do her any good, but she'd hardly be a guard if she didn't do her best in any fight.

Kul pulled her close to himself, tightening his grip as he wrapped his arms around her to pin her arms down. He held her for a few minutes, until she stopped struggling, the breath crushed out of her lungs until she'd passed out.

"Come on!" Night Raven grinned, taking off for their private quarters, followed quickly by hir half-brother hauling their catch.

"We'll teach her not to make faces at us," he rumbled.

"Definitely," Night Raven purred, hurrying ahead and opening the door to their rooms. "How long until she wakes up, do you think?" Shi asked as Saljar looked up to see who it was, then lowered his head with a whine of welcome.

"Not long," he shrugged. "She'll soon be as obedient as your brother there."

"If he's lucky, maybe he'll get to show her what we give good doggies," Night Raven smirked, closing the door behind her brother and privately delighted at the excitement Saljar was trying to keep contained at the idea. "Come on, let's get her clothes off."

Kul easily stripped her with little effort thanks to his tentacles and much greater size. He bound her on the upright frame they had in their quarters for harem playthings as shi arranged the toys they'd decided to use on her, few of them meant for pleasure, but fewer than most designed for pain.

"Mmm ... think we've got time to fool around before she's up?" Night Raven asked him as he finished tying her to the frame. "It was incredible, watching you bind her like that...." Shi purred throatily.

"She's quite helpless," he grinned back and pulled Night Raven to him with a tentacle and kissed hir soundly as another tentacle slid along hir hardening cock and down along hir swelling feminine sex. "There is no reason not to play a bit."

"Then fuck me," shi whispered, spreading hir legs for him as they undressed each other. "Let's give her one chance to play, instead of to be played with; see how she likes watching us when she comes around."

"And see how quickly she grasps the situation," he grinned and threw hir down on the bed before driving his full, hard and ragged cock deep into her pussy while one tentacle wrapped around hir cock, the toothy maw at tip sucking and nibbling, while another tentacle pressed into her ass before balling up to act like a Kantin's knot.

"Fuck yes!" Shi cried out, thrusting against his cock, grabbing his head and kissing him hungrily. Her hips rolled, alternating between thrusting into his tentacle and back onto his twisted shaft. It wasn't long before shi roared in pleasure, hir body tightening and milking him as hir cock squirted fertile seed between them from hir nearly hidden balls.

As shi came down, shi focused on milking his cock and tentacle, trying to get off that way too as shi made out with him, kissing him deeply. Hir eyes strayed over to Joasta as shi heard her wake up.

"Maybe she'll like us now," shi purred lowly.

"Doubt it," he chuckled and continued to thrust into hir, using a lifetime of knowledge of hir to rub against all the right places inside hir. He began to grunt as he neared his peak, and didn't worry about holding back when his balls began to tingle.

Shi roared with him, coming again, milking his cock and tentacle through their shared orgasm. Shi looked over at Joasta, seeing the unconscious expression of revulsion.

"Mmm ... it's not going to get you out of here any sooner to keep making the same mistake," shi said lazily.

"You're siblings," she said simply, knowing full well if they wanted her to approve, they'd get it, but she'd at least tell them why they were sick.

"Only half!" Night Raven pouted, trying to be cute before shi kissed Kul. "Mmm ... same mother, different sires. Besides ... as long as we're into each other, it keeps us out of you," shi rumbled.

"What do you want?" Joasta asked, her tone respectful.

"Only the respect we're due," shi purred, sliding out of her brother's embrace reluctantly. "Nobody looks down on us," shi growled playfully, walking over to the frame.

"I do not look down on you," she insisted.

"Oh, no, only our relationship," shi chuckled lowly. "Would you prefer we play with you?" Shi purred into her ear.

"No, Night Raven," she said quietly. "Does your father know you are lovers?"

"Who do you think encouraged us to sleep together first?" Kul chuckled as he stood and walked over to her. "I think you need a proper reminder in who rules who here." He rumbled hotly, gripping her jaw and turning her face into his, his tentacles playing with her naked breasts. He grinned further when she started to pull away on reflex. "Just like our father, we can have whatever we want."

"Unless it can get away from us... can you get away from us?" Night Raven taunted. "It's so much more fun when you struggle, you know...." Shi reached around, stroking Joasta's pussy-lips with hir claws.

"Why would I struggle?" she asked. "As you said, it is your right."

"Oooh, she learns fast," Night Raven giggled. "Mostly because most girls outside the harem don't really appreciate Kul's... assets," she grinned. "Why don't you show her?" She asked her half-brother, pivoting the frame so that Joasta was dangling from it, facing him.

The Lynx blinked several times as she assessed what she was looking at. Part Kat, part Kantin and part ... she wasn't even sure what.

"Isn't it lovely?" Night Raven purred, pushing two fingers up into Joasta's dry sex, starting to finger-fuck her rather gently, her thumb circling on the Lynx's clit. "It's so good inside you too," shi grinned, trying to arouse their captive while abusing her.

"It's ... different," she admitted, unable to take her eyes off the strange sexual organ. She winced more than felt good, though she knew full well what the quarter-breed was trying to do and did her best to set her mind to cooperate with it. It would be a lot more pleasant if she could become slick soon.

"You want to taste it, don't you?" The herm asked her, pressing against her g-spot, adding a third finger even as the Lynx winced.

"If you say so," she said, her voice pained.

"Mmm ... you will," shi promised, working until shi had the slightest trace of honest arousal slickness before pulling hir fingers out. "Kul, honey?" Shi grinned, purring at the attention a tentacle was giving her pussy.

"Mind sharing her back there?" he grinned back and stepped up, pleased that Joasta took his cock in her mouth without any resistance and seemed to make an effort, though it was blatantly obvious that she didn't know how to give a proper blowjob.

"Not at all," Night Raven groaned as she sank hir cock into Joasta's moist sex. Shi nearly whined in pleasure as one of Kul's tentacles wound around hir cock inside Joasta, while the one in hir pussy staid there and a third pushed it's way into her ass.

They could both tell their plaything was trying to work with it, and she didn't really like what they were doing to her.

"That's not the right attitude," Night Raven groaned. "You should be glad we're paying you some attention, and not fucking each other, shouldn't you?"

With her mouth full, Joasta couldn't reply, but her body language was unmistakable in it's rebuke of the idea.

Night Raven leaned forward, kissing Kul tenderly as they fucked the Lynx.

"You know why you should be grateful?" Shi panted, hir balls starting to tingle again.

"I'm sure she doesn't," Kul chuckled, thrusting into her mouth. "And she knows better than to try and answer with her mouth full."

"It's so much more... mmm... fun when they do though," Night Raven giggled. "Mmm... the way you can make 'em choke on your cock...." Shi groaned lowly, hir half-brother's tentacle around hir shaft, milking it, making hir erupt into the hot, wet canal of the unwilling Lynx between them.

Hir body milking the tentacle in hir sex, the instinctive tightening of Joasta's body, the feel of her hot mouth around his cock... it all worked to push Kul over the edge again too, and he roared as he pumped a bitter load down her throat, pulling out of her body and wiping his cock off on her face, holding his tentacles in place for her to lick them clean.

"You're faking it well," he told her with a smirk as she complied with the implicit demand.

"Faking what well?" she asked weakly.

"Playing along," he chuckled as she licked him clean. "Most people who aren't part of the harem try to fight. Which means we'll just have to get a little more creative," he rumbled as Night Raven pulled out of her and disappeared into a back room. A moment later, she heard a high-pitched, buzzing whine start.

"What?" she tried to twist her head around to see what was going on, more than mildly afraid it was power tools. Her heart was pounding at the thought they might have a saw or sander of some kind... but it turned out to only be an electric shaver.

Kul turned her upright again, walking around behind her.

"Have you ever had fleas?" He asked her curiously, kissing her neck as his tentacles explored her body and Night Raven considered the Lynx's thick, fluffy coat.

"No," Joasta shook her head, staring at the clippers. "How much are you going to cut off?"

"Just enough to make our point... and a little more, for our own amusement," shi purred. Kul lifted Joasta's breasts, and Night Raven took one roughly in hir hand, starting to shave it.

It was the first serious reaction they saw from her, and it still wasn't that satisfying, even when Kul slammed into her unprepared ass and began to fuck her hard enough to make her breast wobble in Night Raven's hand, leaving cuts and an uneven trim.

"We will break you," shi promised, starting on her other tit, thick fur falling to the floor, blood welling up from small cuts, especially when the shaver caught her nipple.

"Not much left to break after your father," she pointed out, wincing at another cut.

"Dearie," shi giggled, reaching up and pulling her head down for a deep kiss. "You've got no idea what broken is... yet," shi grinned, starting to shave her cheeks, ears, and hair until all the points that marked her fur as a Lynx were gone, leaving her skin a badly trimmed mess oozing blood.

"You'll only just still manage be a guard when we're done, assuming your absence doesn't piss off Father enough to finish the job," Kul grinned as he grunted and filled her ass with his seed.

"And if it does, you'll be useless to us afterwards... don't worry though, we'll keep an eye on you until your fur grows back ... itches and all," shi grinned. Kul pulled out of her ass roughly, tearing the muscles there with his knot and strangely-shaped cock. They both savored her scream of pain and the ineffectual efforts of her bobtail to cover the bleeding hole.

"It should only take three or four weeks to start to look normal again," Kul grinned down at her.

"Start to," Night Raven teased, pulling her tail up and starting to shave the fur from it. "Mmm ... of course, whoever gets you after us might decide to keep you shaved. The rest of the guards can be kinky, after all."

"Not nearly as kinky as Father," Kul laughed and racked his claws down her back, drawing just the smallest amount of blood. "Though I think the real torment for this one will be having to get off again and again with us."

"You think so? Mmm ... well then, why don't we let the poor thing go so she can clean up for a bit?" Shi reached up to undo the straps. "You'll clean up all this extra fur, then come back here, if you know what's good for you," shi said seriously.

Joasta nodded and went to the room Night Raven pointed her to for a quick shower.

"I do think so," he rumbled and turned hir around for a kiss as he felt hir female sex up. "It makes you so wet to torment them. She'll be in there a while," he shoved hir onto the bed and pinned hir wrists as he slammed into hir sex. "Makes you feel so good."

"Fuck yes!" Shi panted, hir cock hard against his abs. "Mmm ... want you to fuck me while I poison that tight little cunt of hers," shi growled lustily, kissing him hard.

"I love the way you think," he growled as he pounded into hir, aware of when their plaything came back into the room and the hopeful whine of Saljar.

"Kittens?" Night Raven whispered the question to him, milking his cock with hir pussy. "In her," shi clarified.

"Mmm, his, yours, mine?" he raised an eyebrow at her as he pulled back from tying with hir at the last moment, grinding his knot against the spot just below her mostly internal balls at the base of hir sheath that got hir off so very well.

"Gods below, YES!" Shi cried out, reaching down to grab hir cock and squeeze so shi couldn't come as hir pussy clenched down around him greedily, orgasm interrupting any chance to answer him.

"All of the above?" Shi murmured teasingly once shi came back down. "Maybe leave her ready when we give her to Father."

"Mmm, yes," Kul grinned and kiss hir before pulling out. "Let Saljar have her while we get the supplies."

"Sounds good," shi rumbled, getting up and looking over at Joasta. "You're getting a bit of a reprieve; we have to go get something," shi said. "Down on your hands and knees."

As shi spoke, shi made a few subtle hand gestures to Saljar; ones he knew from other playthings they'd brought home. Once she was down, he could go to town.

The uneasy, half-shaved Lynx complied and knelt as instructed, her face down, ears drooping and tail down. As she bent down, Saljar jumped up, pretending to strain at his chain as he yelped and barked and whined, his own massive erection obvious.

"Play nice with the puppy!" Night Raven called out with a wicked giggle as shi and hir lover left, both naked, for their supplies.

"Oh crap," Joasta muttered, lifting her tail slightly to expose her sex and hoping he'd leave her ass alone if she gave him an easy offering.

She heard the chain break... or at least give... and knew he'd be on her any moment. She braced herself... and then almost jumped out of her skin when she felt him lick her dripping sex, instead of just plunging himself into it.

She'd heard rumors that he wasn't an animal, but Kul and Night Raven's sibling that they'd turned into a pet. Maybe those were right.

"Saljar?" she asked softly. "Can you speak?"

He gave her a particularly long lick, from her clit up to her dripping tail-hole, making what was left of her fur itch and tingle.

"Shouldn't," he said very quietly.

It was still enough to make her relax a bit. He wasn't an animal. They just treated him like one.

He was as much a victim as she was... was that a good thing, or a bad one?

"I understand," Joasta replied quietly.

"Can I?" He asked, mounting her, rubbing his massive cock against her sex.

"Yes," she arched her back down a bit to offer her itching sex up to him.

He sank himself into her with a lusty growl, biting down on her shaven scruff with his massively powerful jaws without hurting her. Despite the pain in her ass, the giant fucking her sex felt reasonably good. He was polite, and in the same status as she was at the moment.

Maybe if those brats thought she liked being fucked by their pet, they'd leave her to him more often than they took her.

As he started thrusting faster and deeper, she started to reconsider her assessment. He clearly wasn't all that experienced, but he made up for it in size and enthusiasm, and he did have some idea how to thrust to make it feel good. His cock slid along her g-spot, as much because there wasn't anywhere else it could slide as because of his skill, and stopped just short of slamming into her cervix as he fucked with the full power of his prehistoric frame.

It was better than Kul, and much better than Night Raven. That gender mistake with tits was the real evil in the house. Shi had the males who thought they were in charge wrapped around hir little finger.

Whoever killed hir, and she was sure somebody would, eventually, would be doing the world a colossal favor.

She felt Saljar's knot pressing up against her entrance, but he held back, not wanting to tie her just yet. He released her scruff, throwing his head back with a howl as he came hard inside of her, filling her to capacity with seed, some of it squirting back out as she felt her own body tighten in an orgasm she'd been holding off since this had all started.

He continued to thrust, his cock rubbing inside her body and his heavy balls slapping against her thighs and clit at every move as she lost the fight to hold back and cried out with pleasure as she came.

"Awww, so it seems she likes being his bitch," Night Raven grinned as shi and Kul returned with a bottle and syringe. "Is the dog more your speed, sweetie?"

She looked down, faking shame to cover her anger at them as Saljar climbed down, returning to his spot submissively.

"Good boy," Night Raven giggled, fetching a leash as Kul drew the deep, midnight blue fluid into the syringe. Shi put the leash and collar around Joasta's throat, cinching it tight.

"Now, Joasta, since you like being a bitch... roll over, doggie."

There was a moment of hesitation, just enough to irritate Night Raven. Shi twisted the choke collar, cutting off her air until she complied.

When she did, the young Kat forced her legs apart, and Kul sank the needle into her clit, injecting some of the dark fluid there before he put the rest into her jugular. It burned, drawing a strangled scream from the Lynx as the magic enhanced chemicals went to work on her system.

Kul licked her blood from the needle, setting the syringe aside as he went to sit down on his bed and watch, patting the mattress next to him. Night Raven jerked the leash so Joasta got onto all fours, then walked over to snuggle up next to him.

"Want to know what that was?" Shi giggled with a mischievous grin.

"Y-yes," she struggled with the furious arousal beginning to well up through her body. Just that made her suspect she knew, but if they'd tell her, that worked too.

"That was mother's special mix of Blue Heat," Kul purred. "You'd better hope that Saljar satisfied you, because if he didn't, you're about to discover what a real heat is like."

"Really, if it works right, it doesn't matter what anyone does to you, you'll still be begging for more cock and come inside you," Night Raven giggled. "Him, us, the entire barracks, even the ball-less males in the harem."

"Of course, they'll be the only ones whose kits you won't be full of after fucking them," Kul chuckled.

"Oh! That's my favorite part," Night Raven grinned. "Should I tell her about the special ingredients?"

"Oh, she doesn't want to know about those," Kul smirked down at her.

"What?" Joasta whimpered and squirmed, trying to grasp how the drive to mate could be so much more intense.

"Well, we mixed in a few extra tidbits," shi giggled. "So when you do have kits and pups, they'll take twice as long to be born... and be big enough to show it."

"It'll kill me," she sobered despite the fire burning in her body.

"Mmm ... maybe," Night Raven shrugged. "Though really... do you think Lamashtu's Midwives will let you off that easy?" Shi grinned.

"No," she whimpered and reached down to try and give herself some relief from the burning, aching need.

"I hope you'll appreciate your children," Kul rumbled. "Now, do you want a little relief?"

"No," she cried out, only to whimper when Night Raven yanked her hand away from her sex.

"I think she needs to be tied up to behave," shi smirked at their plaything.

"I think you're right," Kul grinned. He got up, fetching some strong silk scarves and tying her hands behind her back. "Now... why don't we amuse ourselves while she considers her mistakes?" He purred, kissing Night Raven deeply.

"I like that idea," shi purred back and slid hir hand between his legs, enjoying the feel of his rock-hard cock fueled by the heat-scent in the room.

"Saljar," Joasta whimpered, spreading her legs and lifting her hips up towards him.

"Ah ah - you're asking the wrong person," Night Raven grinned. "Mmm ... after all, the puppy can't understand you. You have to ask his owner ... and yours ... for permission." Shi yanked on the choke chain for emphasis.

"Please, let him fuck me," she begged, her eyes closed.

"I'm not entirely sure she has the proper respect yet," Kul chuckled, rolling on top of Night Raven and kissing hir, the unnatural eye in his hip still looking back at Joasta... even it looked smug.

"Please, let him fuck me, Masters," she spat out. "I want his cock inside me," she whimpered needily, knowing what they wanted to hear. Her absolute humiliation.

"Mmm ... go ahead, Saljar," Night Raven moaned as her half-brother's cock sank inside her sex. The Hyaenodon got up, mounting Joasta eagerly, licking her neck as he started to fuck her hard.

"What about my friends?" Garnet, the only male kit of the eleven in the house, tried not to whine as Rock helped him pack the single suitcase he was allowed to bring on the trip.

"I know you're going to miss them, and they're going to miss you," Rock admitted. What else could he say, really? "But just think about what you'll have to say when we get back? You'll have been around the world and back again, and have the best stories of the lot of 'em."

"I probably won't be in the same classes any more," he countered. "Why can't I stay? Midnight's always taking care of me anyway, and she did give birth to me."

"She did," Rock agreed. "But she agrees with us; it'll be good for all of you to see the rest of the world and what's going on ... what it's like outside of MegaKat City. It's a chance that your Uncle and I didn't really get, until we were grown up, and this is an opportunity that you shouldn't pass up. Besides, would it really be fair to Kaylinn and the others for you to stay here while they went with us?"

"I suppose not," Garnet mumbled, looking longingly at the many things he couldn't take with him. "I was kinda hoping to avoid listing to all the girls complain about the things they'll leave behind," he admitted.

"There are a few private places folks can escape to if they have to," Rock promised him with a chuckle. "Besides, you guys'll all have enough souvenirs before too long that you won't know where to put them."

"How many places are we going?" he glanced up at his sire.

"Around seventy countries," Rock answered and chuckled at Garnet's open jaw. "It'll average just under two weeks per country, though some may be more or less. Now you see why we want you to all travel light?"

"I guess," the kit admitted. "What about you and Dad Jake though? Where will you go for your own time?"

"We'll all have space most of the time," he promised. "Various temples will be putting us up when we stop. The jet is just transport."

"So I won't have to share a 'room' with the girls?" He asked, perking up some.

"No promises on never," Rock chuckled and ruffled the boy's sandy hair. "But most of the time you'll each have your own room, if you want it. We know you always do."

"And you know 'Naya never will," he muttered, shaking his head. "Think I'd go nuts if I had to stay in a room with her for the entire trip."

"You'd probably crash with the adults before her," Rock laughed, only to flick his ear at a distressed screech from another part of the house. "Do you think you can handle picking which toys to bring? It sounds like I need to go mediate with Kensa and Fumiko."

"What else is new?" Garnet half-laughed, starting to pack again as Rock went to go check on the two sisters who had been sired by Kensu Chim, the Champion of Tenoic.

"Okay, what is the issue?" Rock demanded as he stuck his head into the room the two Siamese-heritage girls shared and found them trying to pull a toolkit from each other's hands.

"Oh for Kat's sake," he groaned. "Look, one of you pack it, you both use it, just like always, you'll be fine!"

They both stopped, looked at him, then each other, and had the grace to look back at him sheepishly as Kensa let go.

"Sorry Dad," they said in unison.

"Just make sure you have what you'll need... and remember that Jake does usually keep a full kit in the jet," he reminded them.

"He doesn't always share when he's working," Fumiko, the orange eyed one with and copper points and socks, said respectfully.

"He will share on this trip," Rock promised them. "He put the luggage limit, he'll share his tools."

"Yes, Dad," they nodded with a grin and promptly unpacked to reprioritize.

Rock shook his head and headed out, going to find Jake and let him know. He was sure he wouldn't mind, but it would still be best to give him advance warning. It didn't take long for his ears to lead him to the first born of their kittens, a small, slender creature that could have been a clone of Midnight, even though Jake was her sire. Her mind was much more like Jake's though, but turned to more traditional crafts.

They were in a conversation/debate over the one-suitcase rule because of her tools, or more precisely, her loom.

And her easel and paints. And her various other tools. Some days, Rock almost wished she'd never found her way to Fahik's temple ... let alone managed to excel at everything they'd asked her to try.

"Anything I can help with?" He asked warily, sticking his head in the door. With Tammy upset to the point of tears, there were going to be some exceptions.

"Would you mind calling Fahik's temple and finding out if any of our stops are not near one of the temples?" Jake sighed. "The loom may not be easy to rent or borrow, but much of the other large items will be. I'm sure most stops will have local stone and metal workers."

"I'll check," Rock promised. "By the way, the Twins are going to want to borrow tools on and off, while we're on our tour. It was that, or they'd probably go naked rather than leave 'em behind," he chuckled.

"I'm sure," Jake couldn't help but laugh before turning to their artistic daughter. "Pack everything but your craft supplies. We will help you select what to bring when we know what can not be readily replaced on the trip, all right?"

"And my loom comes with the big tools in your workshop?" she said evenly, ready to fight for it and the ability to continue the half-finished tapestry on it.

"Yes," he nodded in resigned agreement. "I will make room for the loom. It is not easy to replace on the road."

"All right, Dad," she agreed and turned her attention to other things. "Good luck with Keeu," she winked at him.

"He won't need it," Rock chuckled before going to get the phone, leaving Jake to go talk to the girl that was becoming ever-easier to consider his second mate. He was sure that part was Eshik and Marka's influence.

"Hey Keeu," Jake stuck his head into the room that she hadn't even finished moving into, and was now expecting to move out of for a couple years. "How are you doing on the packing?"

"I'm wishing somebody invented an automatic book scanner," she sighed, working at the computer, a thick book beneath the lid of the scanner as it read through. "Trying to get as many of them as I can onto my Kindle ... at least I'm still mostly packed otherwise," she smiled over at him.

"Can't you access them from the Great Library?" he cocked his head at her even as he analyzed the mechanics of her request and how long it would take him to create it.

"I'm still in training," she pointed out, "so I don't have full access yet... besides, they only have the non-fiction titles," she blushed a bit. "Some of the old classics don't have decent translations available yet," she said, pulling out the foreign-language book she was scanning and putting the next pages in.

"How many books do you have left?" he asked politely, sliding his arms around her and down her chest as he kissed her neck.

"This one'll do the trick, for what I'm trying to get... I can pack a few of the others, and the ones I hide under the pillows can always be picked up on the way," she gigged, purring as he hugged her from behind. "Mmm... if I had to, I could just take this one along too, I suppose," she admitted. "It's just real handy to be able to search the text."

"You know, if you ask really nice, I could work up an automatic book scanner for you in a few hours," he purred suggestively. "One that could continue to work after we leave. You could download new scans whenever we can get internet access."

"Mmm ... threesome nice, or check my suitcase nice?" She grinned playfully back at him.

"You bound to the bed so you can't move nice," he purred as he brought his hands up to squeeze her breasts.

"Mmm ... whatever Master wants," she purred happily, reaching down to pull her shirt up and off. "How much do you still want me in?" She asked, turning to kiss him. "And could you mark me, while you're at it?"

"Stockings and bra," he purred and unbuttoned his shirt, watching her undress with hungry eyes. "I will, if you please me enough."

"Yes, Master," she purred, quickly stropping down to the requested items, laying back on the bed after moving her suitcase, crossing her wrists by the headboard and crossing her legs demurely, long socks the only things on them.

"Such a pretty creature," he rumbled as he tossed his pants aside and pulled out a spare rope from the toy box under the bed. "Just how sluty are you?"

"Mmm ... if you check, Master, you'll find I've got another tom's seed in my pussy yet from earlier... does that answer your question?" She grinned, spreading her thighs a bit to tease him with a coy glimpse of her sex. They both knew full well it was his, but she knew that he preferred an utter slut in his bottoms. It hadn't taken her long to get him to explain that he liked getting the same sort of act he gave, and she'd quickly taken to the role. It wasn't exactly a stretch, really, and it was a rush to get him so turned on that he lost track of any game or play and just fucked her until they were both worn out.

"Yes, it does," he grinned as he pulled a thin, double helix shaped dildo with bright colors. Without a word he knelt on the bed and spread her legs, pinning one knee out flat with a hand and the other with the opposite knee. He slid the dildo into her sex, getting it good and slick with their own fluids before he teased her anus with the tip.

"Mmm ... does Master think I need to be punished for straying from him?" She asked him teasingly, even though they both knew it was really his from earlier when the kits were having a play break outside. She pressed her ass against the broad-tipped dildo, stretching her anus a little around it, but leaving it up to him to push it into her. She didn't have to wait long for it's unique feel to pass inside of her.

"I think so," he rumbled in mock anger as he thrust into her pussy deep and hard. "First to wash that other tom's seed away."

"Oh!" She cried out softly, pressing up into his thrusts. "Yes, Master... I'm sorry, Master!" She mewled submissively, enjoying thoroughly the feeling of his cock in her pussy and the way it rubbed against the bonded double helix in her ass. Knowing what that feeling was doing to him made it all the better.

She milked both the lengths in her body, making the dildo 'thrust' in and out a bit as Jake pounded her, his cock curving a bit back and forth as the dildo made it shift. It was a delight to watch his face and the shifting expressions of pleasure there as he let go of all inhibitions and drives but the desire to come hard and often inside her slick body.

She rippled the walls of her sex, eager to feel him coming inside of her again, gasping as he pushed her bra up and nipped her breasts playfully, his balls slapping against her ass and the base of the plug inside it. Her ears flicked slightly at a rising argument outside, but didn't think enough of it as the pleasure began to spiral through her again.

Jake's grunts as he was pushed close to the limit again distracted them both, even as the door was pushed open.

Keeu cried out, her body clenching down around him and milking his cock, hungry for his seed as she came hard and he joined her with a roar, continuing to thrust into her with each squirt until he was spent for the moment.

"Dad?" a young voice prompted.

Jake snapped his head around, his ears flattening in annoyance. "Willow," he tried not to growl even as it sank in what it must look like to the girl.

"Uhm...." She blinked, staring at the scene. "Does Mom know about this?" She asked carefully, trying to figure out just why it was that her father was in bed with her sister... and why her sister was tied to the bed.

"Yes, get out," Jake tried not to snap. "I'll be out in a minute."

The two girls nodded and scrambled out, leaving the strange scene to sort itself out without them.

"The one time I don't lock the door," Jake muttered as he pulled out of Keeu and shifted to untie her with a kiss. "Apparently we haven't been blunt enough in explaining why you joined us."

"Mmm ... or with what noises they shouldn't open a door on," she agreed, kissing him back. "I think they'll live though ... I'm just glad they caught us now, instead of last night," she grinned.

"They grew up with Rock and me," Jake couldn't help but laugh as he pulled on his pants. "They don't care what dad's doing," he added before opening the door to deal with this latest crisis of packing. "All right, what's wrong?" he glared between the blue-eyed, auburn furred, black-haired daughter by Midnight and the solid black daughter with orange eyes sired by Kyale.

"We're sorry we walked in on you two," Willow said, flattening her ears out. "We didn't think you an' Keeu were... well, how were we supposed to know?"

"I figured it out," Kaylinn announced, poking her head in from her own room. "That's why I kept packing when you two went out."

"Well why didn't you tell me?" Willow demanded.

"I didn't think you were stupid?" She countered.

"Enough," Jake stopped the spat before it had really started. "Willow, what is the issue?"

"Uhm..." She picked up on the irritation in her father's voice, and shrunk slightly. "Kaycee's not using the suitcase you got her...."

"The duffel bag's the same size!" Kaycee piped up quickly. "It holds the same amount of stuff...."

"Yeah, but it's got all those extra pockets you can put more stuff in!" Willow said, quickly getting back into arguing mode until her father growled softly.

"Kaycee, everyone is packing in a suitcase," Jake told her with an inward sigh.

"But it's the same size!" She protested. "It doesn't hold any more, it just holds it better...."

"Kaycee," Keeu said, getting down on her knees so she could look the kit in the eyes better. "Does it really hold it that much better that it's worth arguing about? Besides, it's not as sturdy... if you pack it as full as you pack the suitcase, it'll probably start to tear pretty soon, and then you won't be any better off."

"I guess," she murmured, deciding not to argue too much more. "Are we gonna have to call you Mom?" She asked abruptly.

"No," Keeu smiled and ruffled her hair. "I'm just your father's lover, and probably will be only that until you are grown and moved out."

"Good," Willow said. "'Cause calling you Mom would be really weird."

"For both of us," Keeu agreed. "Now, go on and finish packing... you and Kaylinn can help Kaycee get everything into her suitcase. Remember that we'll be picking up some of the little stuff we need, okay?"

"Okay," Willow nodded.

"Hey, why do I have to help?" Kaylinn poked her head out of her room again.

"Because you're the smart one, apparently," Keeu pointed out. "Besides, then you can all make sure you're not double-packing anything that somebody else has plenty of."

Kaylinn regarded her suspiciously, glanced at Jake and realized that her father wasn't going to contradict her any more now than he had before. "All right," she muttered and came out to join her sisters in repacking Kaycee's bag.

"The joys of packing a large family," Keeu chuckled lightly.

"Nothing compared to raising them, or the fuss when we told them they'd have one suitcase each," Jake told her with a kiss on the cheek. "I'll go build that scanning machine for you. Then I'm giving it to Abi."

"Not until you've come back here and given it to me - I owe you the better part of an hour," she winked, kissing him back as he drew her against him.

"I intend to collect," he promised with a low purr and squeezed her ass. "Though now that you don't have to scan all that stuff, help the kits pack?"

"Promise," she giggled, licking his nose and heading off to find out who had the farthest to go yet.

Anne Gora looked around casually as she walked into the Oueste Viejo in the Canidor district, trying not to look too out of place. She wasn't the only Kat in the bar, but she was definitely outnumbered thoroughly by the kantin, even only half-full. She wasn't sure if it was a good thing or not that most of them would probably recognize her from the news.

"Looking for a story, chica?" A short Chihuahua asked her with a grin. "I've got some I could tell you all night long." She ignored his atrocious pickup line, and the handful of other comments she heard, as she headed over to the bartender, an older Kit Fox, for her contact information.

"Senorita Anne?" He asked her, giving her a brief looking over before satisfying himself who she was. "From El Zorro," he said, handing her a drink and a sealed manila envelope with a note taped to the front.

I'm sorry for the theatrics, but you know my position. You'll understand after reviewing these. If you want more information, ask the bartender for a payphone and follow his directions. I'll be waiting.

She continued to read, and it took all her self control not to show just how excited she was at the promised proof of high-level insider dealing and embezzlement, among other tidbits that everyone knew was going on but no one could, or would, produce proof that could stand up to media standards, much less court standards.

"I would like the payphone directions, senor Romerro," she told the bartender politely.

"Ah, the payphone outside doesn't work that well," he sighed. "I keep calling the company, but they never get out to fix it. The shortest way to the best one around here is out the back way, turn left, and cross over to the club across the street in front of you. It's just outside there."

"Thank you," she smiled at him and walked out the back, keeping a careful eye out to ensure she wasn't being followed as she continued to the payphone.

Following the directions, she saw that the club the phone was outside was the Kat's Me-Ow, well-lit and apparently busy to judge by the small crowd outside the club waiting to get in, all of them dressed up for some sort of event inside. A lone figure was standing a bit further away, dressed in a black cape and broad-brimmed hat with a simple mask concealing his face, smoking a cigarette and leaning up against the phone booth.

El Zorro, of course. She had to chuckle as she walked over to the booth and he extinguished the cigarette, tossing it into the street.

"Your costume's waiting inside, Conchita," he told her with a smile, crooking his arm. "And I already paid, so we can skip the line," he winked from under the brim of his hat, waiting for her to take his arm.

"Why thank you, El Zorro," she smiled and accepted his invitation, deathly curious even as she contained herself.

He led her inside, and into the co-ed changing rooms, opening up a locker with an elaborate costume inside, an old-fashioned dress from the original Zorro films, with more frills than she'd have been caught dead wearing for anything but a costume party.

"If you'd like, you can just pull most of it on over your outfit," he told her easily. "I hope it fits properly," he chuckled. "I had to guess at your size."

"As long as it's a costume party, I don't mind," she smiled at him, her mind running down the very short list of Kit Fox males who could have even second-hand access to the information he'd already provided to her. While it wasn't proof, she was sure it was Mark Guila, the Deputy Mayor's mate and a key adviser in the last several campaigns.

"It is," he reassured her as she dressed. "A perfect cover for a kantin and kat who aren't too interested in everybody knowing who they are. I'm willing to let you know who I am - if you don't already - but I'd prefer to keep it as quiet as possible, for now. It's not just my career that's at stake, I'm afraid."

"I understand," she nodded and swirled in the dress for him, faking a coy flirtatiousness. "We do make quite a nice El Zorro and Señorita Anna Maria Verdugo."

"Indeed you do," he smiled, taking her arm again and leading her through. "We'll go upstairs to one of the private rooms soon," he promised her. "I've got my information up there," he explained.

"I am looking forward to it," she purred deeply. "Do you come here often with your other lady?"

"More often while we were courting," he chuckled. "And what about you and your fellow?" He asked as they made their way to the dance floor to keep from looking too obvious.

"I don't have a fellow," she smiled flirtingly, though they both knew it was just for show as they danced.

"A pity," he chuckled. "You should have somebody to help take care of you... give your poor camera-kats a break," he winked.

"Oh, don't worry about me," she giggled, slipping into the role with a fair amount of ease. "I don't go to bed lonely."

"Good," he smiled. "I'd hate to think you had to do without when you didn't want to," he chuckled, slowly working the two of them closer to the stairs to the private rooms they'd built on the second floor recently. With both of them paying attention that they didn't attract attention, the transition to the stairs went smoothly, and they were soon in the private room with the door locked.

"Finally," 'El Zorro' sighed once the door was closed. "I don't mind telling you, I've been as nervous as if this was a first date today. If I let you know who I am, I have your assurance you'll do your best to keep me anonymous related to this?"

"As far as the law allows me," she nodded seriously. "Which I'm sure you know is quite extensively. I'd never get a hint of two-thirds of my headlines if I wasn't protective of my sources."

"I know," he nodded. "I just don't want to become part of the headline myself," he explained, taking off his mask. She'd been right about who he was; Miss Briggs' mate. "Especially since Callie doesn't know that I'm here, or about a lot of what I'm going to tell you. She's going to be royally pissed when this hits the fan, and I don't want to completely destroy my relationship with her, or our kits, doing this."

"I understand," Anne said, more somber than usual when presented with the political story of the century about to be cracked right in front of her. "I will do my best to keep your name, and identity, out of it."

"Thank you," he nodded. "I'm sure she'll figure it out, but I want to have a little more control over how. At any rate, let's get down to business. I'm sure you're already familiar with just how much of the Mayor's job Callie is doing. Most of this focuses on the small parts of his job he does keep control over, though I'll open up the festivities with proof that Callie's been covering for him for decades." He opened up a briefcase on the bed and pulled out several photocopies of documents that Callie had signed through the years. Parole approvals and denials, budget documents, hirings and firings... all of them perfectly legal for Callie to have signed, but it cast doubt on just how much the Mayor actually did.

"What gets really interesting is what he does do," Mark explained as she looked them over. "The LIMHA grants, for example. Doesn't it seem a little unusual that the Mayor would pay such close attention to grants for underprivileged housing?"

"Given what I know of his connections to various constructions companies, on and off the books, not really," she said. "I've never had proof of anything."

"Good, you have been paying attention then," he chuckled. "Unfortunately, that's just what they want. It'd be too obvious to just pocket the LIMHA grants, or to funnel them to one of Manx's companies. So instead, Steele Construction lowballs the bid to the point where they can't actually make money on them. But, since they're working on 'charitable projects' with low-income and minority housing, they can eat the losses and take them off the company's taxes. That's where the shell game starts.

"They lowball the bids, win the contracts, and build half the new houses in Canidor and the Bars ... houses owned by Manx-Pace Management Corporation. Guaranteed income on a large scale - low rates of income, but a high number of houses. Which means that Manx-Pace get a good PR boost for keeping rents low on their low-mortgage housing, and that they get an A+++ bond rating when they float a few hundreds of millions in bonds. And who do you think buys those bonds?"

"So that's why Callie said that Manx Towers practically bankrupted the city, but she didn't accuse the Mayor of embezzling city funds to do it," Abi realized.

"Exactly. It's all very legal ... but, when you consider that the Mayor's cousin is CFO of Manx-Pace, it's hardly ethical that his employees are the ones making the purchasing decisions that let them put up billion-dollar buildings, is it?" Mark grinned, showing her copies of the emails between Manx and the city's investment brokers.

"Damn, that shouldn't be legal," she muttered, absorbing the sheer scale of what she had in her hands. "I only have one real problem with this right now," she looked over at him. "With nothing that can go to the DA for an indictment and so much of the government involved, never mind major corporate powerhouses, the net result is likely to amount to a general shrug at proof of the corruption everyone knew was there. It's too big a story."

"Which is when you tear down the rest of the house of cards," he said. "The first proves Manx is incompetent, and that he's been hiding behind Deputy Mayor Briggs for decades. The second proves the corruption, and links the city's budget troubles to the Mayor and Aldermen Pace and Steele lining their pockets at taxpayer expense. That strips out their popular support. No matter how corrupt they are, they are still popular with the people, which means that the DA wouldn't want to go after them unless that was gone. He's an elected official too, one who's much younger and less conniving than they are.

"What we use to open them up to prosecution is this," he said, handing her three envelopes. "Proof that the Mayor's been taking bribes since he was the assistant DA, including several nice fat ones from the Manges and their ilk. When Callie took her job, and most of those bribes stopped ... the only times they worked was when he remembered to go behind her back on something. Steele's been taking them too, but they're the least of his upcoming legal problems." He tapped the second envelope with a grim expression.

"From that look, I'm going to love this," she couldn't help a vicious grin. "This will take time to put to full use, but given how long I'm sure it took you to collect it, I'm sure you know that."

"You're going to love it, or you're going to want to shove Steele off the top story of City Hall, depends on whether or not you have Enforcers in the family," he said quietly. "This is the one that was the hardest to hold on to, but I know it's not happening any more."

Abi sobered instantly. "I don't know many families who don't have an Enforcer somewhere in their ranks," she said with just a bit of an edge in her voice as she began to skim the hundreds of pages of documentation. Her tail fluffed out as she realized everything that was implied in it.

"Steele was having his favorite son use his position as Second-in-Command of the Enforcers to buy shoddy armor and weapons from companies he owned. Sometimes, they just skipped the middleman and had him sign purchase orders for dummy corporations that were supposed to be coding upgrades to their software... if they ever did anything, it was just running a halfway-decent virus and spyware sweep, and charging a damned fortune for it. The Steeles pulled down millions before the Lieutenant Commander's unfortunate demise, at the cost of dozens of Enforcer lives. The hardest part of getting this information was tracing the investment chain back to Steele... fortunately, I have a friend who's a forensic accountant."

"Who either owed you one hell of a favor, or does now for letting him play with this kind of account," she murmured, trying to digest the kind of powder keg in her hands. This was beyond huge. "Have you made any contact with the DA or Enforcers over this?"

"I have," he nodded. "That's how I know the DA is leery of going after Steele in the current climate. He knows we've got something that could rip the system apart... but it has to stick. Particularly given that LC Steele is dead, his father could say that he had no idea what was going on. The fact that he hasn't tried to set it up again helps. Insulate himself, throw his son's already-tarnished memory under the bus, and get away with it... before ripping up everybody who tried to take him down. Especially since all the evidence that he did know about it is accounting - dull as dust to most juries, compared to a father in anguish over his son's apparent crimes. On the other hand, if we can get the city wanting blood already, and then nail him to the wall, the prosecution will be much easier. At the very least, it's going to lead to recall elections in the highest levels of city government. With any luck, we can kick them out of office and stick them in prison."

Anne nodded, still trying to digest everything she now had her hands on and the repercussions of it going public in the right, and the wrong, way.

"I will help as much as I can on the publicity level," she told him. "This story is big enough I'll have to bring the station in on it to do the job right. Have you arranged for the internet leak?"

"Material for bloggers and slash-dotters are already prepped and waiting to be uploaded to the right places," he nodded. "I just wanted to give you the first shot at it, since you've certainly earned it over the years. You've also got information on Pace and Nelson; they've been skimming profits off of Megakat Maximum's mining operations for the last several wardens. I'd also like your take on how to handle the last parts here. I'm sure you can figure out that I've got something an ulterior motive here. With Manx out of office, as he'll have to be when this is over, and with Steele, Pace, and Nelson facing prosecution, the odds are that Callie will end up in the Mayor's seat. I'm sure you can imagine the sort of resistance she'll be up against though."

"Yes, I can, and I don't know half of it I expect," Anne nodded. "I'd be willing to bet that in these files is enough to politically destroy anyone who is capable of posing much of a threat to her."

"A threat to her directly, of taking her place now, yes," he agreed. "But she'll have to work with another nine aldermen who are entrenched in the old system, and the people who replace Steele, Pace, and Nelson probably will be a part of it. They can't take her out of the mayor's seat on their own, but they can make her absolutely useless between now and the next election. That would mean that Callie gets to serve out the rest of Manx's term before another figurehead takes over and it's back to business as usual." He pulled the last piece of information out of the briefcase; a DVD.

"Right here I've got the more usual political material. Nothing illegal, nothing that unethical. But let's just say that certain members of the city council should know better than to seduce my interns in their offices, especially by offering them jobs after they graduate. The interns are all willing to be interviewed about what happened, and how it was a horrible mistake that they wish they'd never made. I just don't know that this story needs to break just yet."

"No," Anne couldn't help but snicker. "You are a devious little creature, but I think you know that. I'll see that it hits the air around election time. I'm sure you'll have your work cut out for yourself keeping her from killing you over four years of being useless in the mayor's office."

"She won't be useless," Mark promised. "That's exactly why I have these ... if they don't make life unduly miserable for her, my interns might just be too busy to remember what happened that long ago. Besides, what she doesn't realize is that she's been doing the Mayor's job for years, now she'll just have the pay grade to go with it... and somebody who's been practicing for ten years to take her place," he grinned.

"If even half of what that sounds like comes true, the city will be in for a real renaissance," Anne smiled as they began to repack the evidence. "You have originals and copies for your own needs, and backup?"

"And instructions to send the information, and my plans to this point, to Vanessa and Callie if anything happens to me," he nodded. "I don't think Manx would try anything, but if Steele and the others heard about it, I wouldn't put it past them." He closed the briefcase and gave it to Anne... who found that it fit quite nicely beneath her dress. "It's been a pleasure meeting you, Miss Gora... would you like to go get back to work, or finish that first dance?"

"Mmm, you do seem to dance quite well," she purred somewhat playfully. "I think dancing with this under my skirt might be a bit awkward though, unless it would be noticeable if we didn't?"

"Not here," he chuckled. "The club's... understanding of couples who leave in the middle of events. Good luck then; El Zorro will be available through the usual channels," he smiled, putting his mask back on.

"Thank you, El Zorro," she bowed with a curtsey and giggled when he took her hand and kissed it with the chivalry of the time. "I hope this goes as well as we both hope."

Anne Gora was still shivering in excitement when she pulled into her reserved spot next to Tina Jensen's sporty red coup in the secure parking garage under her apartment building. At three in the morning, it was dead quiet. It was too late for the swing shifters, too far past last call for the drunks and too early for the graveyard and day shifters. Really, it was way too late for her, but she wasn't feeling the time. The day had been far too exciting.

As she rode the elevator up to the top floor, she couldn't help but think it was a pity that Tina would be well and truly asleep by now. She could really use a solid fucking to help her wind down.

She purred at the thought... maybe she'd be willing to wake up and help her wind down, if the vibe 'accidentally' got a little too loud next to her in bed. It would hardly be the first time, and it wasn't like they had to work the next day.

Anne opened the door of her apartment, only to freeze as she heard a muffled, blood-curdling scream. She rushed in, wondering what the Hell was happening... and stared at the TV as she realized it was the screensaver of the DVD that Tina had in. The black-on-brown mackerel tabby was asleep on the couch, snoring softly on the arm-rest next to an empty bowl of popcorn, a pillow clutched tightly in her arms, her legs curled up under her in her favorite "horror movie position," as she'd always put it.

"Now I know I was out too late," Anne chuckled quietly to herself, picking up the remote and turning off the TV. Tina never watched this sort of movie unless she was sure Anne wasn't going to walk in on an unfortunate moment. She glanced at the title as she took the DVD out and put it in its case.

'The Offering 3: Virgin Massacre'

She shuddered, once more grateful that her girlfriend was so respectful about not watching these things when there was any real chance she'd see them.

On the up side, it meant Tina had probably fallen asleep horny and had some sexy dreams in the meantime.

With a soft look for her roommate, lover, confidant and occasional sanity keeper, Anne shook her shoulder gently. "Hey Tina, let's go to bed."

"Mmnh?" The tabby blinked blearily, looking up at Anne. "Oh! Sorry... must've drifted off," she admitted sheepishly, leaning up to give Anne a kiss. "What time is it? How'd your meeting go?"

"Beyond incredibly well," Anne couldn't help but grin and pulled Tina into an affectionate hug as she stood. "This is the story of a lifetime, and then some."

"Well, that explains why it's 3 in the morning and you're waking me up," Tina giggled, standing up the rest of the way and kissing Anne, rubbing her back. "Wanna tell me about it on the way to bed?"

"El Zorro finally showed me his face, and handed me what must be more than a decade of information gathering on the corruption in city government," Anne said as they walked to their bedroom, stripping as they went. "Nothing was a surprise, really, but he gave me proof that will stand up in court."

"Very cool... so what did Carl say, if you told him about it yet?" Tina asked her, reaching around her back to unhook her bra, her ample breasts hanging free as she took it off and tossed it into the hamper as they walked into the room.

"After interrogating me on my source, and consigning himself to the fact I wasn't going to reveal it, he started to work on the liability angle." Anne laughed easily, eyeing her lover's slightly plump, very snuggly form. "I pointed out that's what the lawyer was for and he started to work on just how many stories this was going to turn into to have the desired effect."

"What'd you come up with?" Tina giggled, turning around to sit on the bed and get her pants and panties off, leaving herself in just her ankle- socks. "And just how long will it be until I have to shoo the other reporters away from the door to keep them from bugging you?"

"A year, maybe more," she admitted, turning somber for a brief moment as she sat on the edge of the bed to kiss her gently. "We may end up with armed bodyguards and a safe house to live in before everything settles down."

"That serious?" Tina asked, getting more serious as she shooed Isis off the pillow and drew Anne close to her. "It's more than just Manx being an incompetent bastard, isn't it?"

"A lot more," she nodded, kissing her gently as she cupped and caressed Tina's full breasts. "All the corruption everyone knows is there any can't prove, I was handed proof of. He's spent years gathering it, cross-referencing it, even had a forensic accountant track down the paper trail. It's really impressive work, but it's so big and is going to destroy so many powerful people that even my status as a top reporter won't protect us from some of them."

"This is even bigger than that last big mob series you did?" Tina shivered, remembering how frightening that had been before things had settled out.

"Much bigger," Anne confirmed.

"Holy shit," Tina murmured. "Anne... maybe we should spread this out some? Make sure you're not the only person on the collective shit list?"

"Tina, this is the kind of break that can make a career," Anne chided her. "There are safeguards worked in, the same as if something happened to my source. The DA already has everything, the station does, the station lawyer has another copy, El Zorro has it all and I have a copy. They're all going to know when it hits the fan that even though it's my story, I'm not the only one with the intel."

"Good," she nodded. "It's just... shit, Anne, if it's that big, it kinda scares me. There's going to be a real shitstorm, isn't there?" She wrapped her arms around Anne with a sigh. "I worry about you," she murmured, as Isis jumped up onto the bed with a 'meow' of protest at being displaced.

"With very few exceptions, the entire elected government is going to be forced to abdicate, many are going to prison, and the local corporates and lawyers they're so cozy with aren't likely to fair much better," Anne nuzzled Tina's short, dark chocolate brown hair even as she spared a hand to pet Isis. "It'll be okay, Tina, but I wouldn't blame you if you want to have a very public breakup until things blow over."

"Have I ever wanted to do something like that?" Tina said firmly, looking into Anne's eyes. "Babe, it's going to be rough, but I told you years ago that I'm in this for the long haul, okay? I might be scared... I'm not that scared," she said, kissing her tenderly and rubbing her back.

"I know," Anne nuzzled her affectionately. "With things this big, I just like to remind you that I wouldn't blame you for some distance. I am about to piss off some very unscrupulous sorts, though with Felina in charge, I wouldn't be too surprised if a lot of them had accidents once she gets her hands on these reports. It's cost the lives of quite a few officers over the years, and she's not nearly as straight-laced as her uncle was."

"Mmm ... so you expect to report on a lot of car crashes and obvious suicides of disgraced public officials? Can't say I really like it, but it's better than being scared of them for the next few years. So... on a happier subject, what's El Zorro actually look like?" She asked teasingly. "You've never seen him before, if I remember."

"I'm just saying don't be surprised by it," Anne murmured, stroking her hair. "Enforcers don't take well to folks that cost lives, especially of their own. As for El Zorro, he's quite handsome in a youthful way. I really can't say much about him without breaking my word about him to keep his identity out of this."

"I understand," she nodded. "Mmm ... so, how about a new topic? Knowing you, you're hoping you'll get me to wind you down properly?" Tina teased, licking her chin lightly.

"That is one way to put it," Anne purred, sliding her hands down her lover's zaftig body until she slid two fingers across her sex as they lay back on the bed and Isis made herself scarce with a huff.

"Beginning approach to Hakotea International Airport," the Ameris' voice broke into various conversations in the primary passenger compartment, and interrupted Rock making out with Jake's female form.

"Time for Mom to turn back into Dad," Kaylinn giggled as she hurried into her seat to buckle in.

"Not this time," Jake told her with a chuckle. "Traveris is a land ruled by females. Since Bastet saw fit to grant me the ability to become one, I'll be using it to smooth relations there."

"They'll take to him much better as a her," Keeu said with a snicker.

"Y'mean we'd be in charge if you were still a tom?" Willow giggled.

"No, I would be," Keeu smirked.

"Great," Garnet groaned... mostly good-naturedly. "An entire country like our place."

"In more ways than one," Jake grinned at his only male descendant. "You shouldn't have any problem fitting in with all the practice you've gotten."

"Are we gonna go somewhere they wouldn't be bossing me around eventually?" He asked hopefully.

"You? Not a chance," Kaylinn giggled. "We know you."

"We will be going places that aren't matriarchies," Rock chuckled. "But not getting bossed around by your sisters is your own job, Kiddo."

Garnet let out a long-suffering sigh, rolling his eyes a bit.

"That said, nobody should wander off on their own," Keeu said. "Especially not you or Rock," she explained to Garnet seriously. "Keep your cell handy, and ready to dial out fast. There shouldn't be any trouble, but unattended toms in Traveris can get some very aggressive courtship."

"I'm ten," Garnet pointed out, as if it wasn't obvious that he thought he was too young to be interesting like that.

"You're plenty old for them," Jake said firmly. "That you're a Champion's kit makes you all the more interesting for them, and eligible from birth."

"That's weird," he murmured. "So do they know you're not really a fem here?"

"Anyone who knows who I am will," Jake nodded. "It was pretty big news when Bastet selected a tom as Her Champion. From what I've gathered, most of Traveris think my new ability to shift into a female is Bastet fixing an accident of birth."

"Bastet isn't as important in Traveris as She is in most Kat-dominated lands," Keeu added. "Like Tusandrin, Traveris has it's own pantheon and has only given grudging clearance to some outside gods to establish themselves, or accept that their Queen Travaria is another name for Bastet."

"So is this gonna be one of those places where they try running us out early on, or have they kinda gotten to accepting her better?" Kaycee asked them.

"I was invited, so they aren't likely to try and run us out," Jake said as they touched down. "It doesn't hurt that I'm on good relations with one of their few resident Champions besides their queen."

"Mika?" Fumiko asked, perking her ears up. "I think she lives around here, doesn't she?"

"Yes," Jake nodded. "Traveris is her homeland, and where her kittens by me live here with her, her mates and other kits."

"Will we be spending some time with her?" Kensa asked, just as interested as her sister. "More than just meeting somewhere for lunch or something?"

"Right now we are planning to spend a week at her house," Jake smiled at her. "The other week with be at Bastet's temple in Vaderia."

"Marrat's going to be jealous," Keeu giggled. "Just remember not to hassle her," she reminded the two brilliant, creative kits.

"We'll be good," they promised in perfect unison as Ameris rolled to a stop in a private area of the relatively small international airport.

"And that's what scares me," Keeu chuckled at her cousins. "Now, does everybody have the stuff that Customs will want to check out near the top?"

"Yes, Keeu," a chorus of female voices, and one male, answered.

"With any kind of luck my status will let us stay in a nice waiting room while they process paperwork," Jake said as she stood, snatching a kiss from Rock in the move. "This is not one of those countries well a well-practiced customs office."

"Most of where we're visiting doesn't," Rock pointed out.

"What?" one of the girls objected with a betrayed squeak.

"Oh, some stops are going to be international cities like MKC," Jake assured them in general. "A lot of this is reaching out to the temples that don't seem much traffic outside their village."

"You didn't say it'd be two years running around country villages out of one suitcase each," Kensa protested.

"And we won't be," Jake said with a look that warned that much more complaining would be a bad idea. "Those are, however, most of the places I'll be visiting."

"Don't worry, if we're somewhere that's too rough we'll stay on board the jet for the most part," Keeu reassured them. "You'll find it's not too bad after a couple months to get used to it."

"Remind me why we're doing this?" Tammy almost whined.

"Because your fathers believe it will be good for you," Rock told the slender black shekat firmly. "Now come along. Customs is likely to have a field day with the workshop and I want to be somewhere air conditioned for the questions."

"I don't blame you," Keeu chuckled. "For what it's worth, they'll probably be busier looking for how Jake turned into a fem," she snickered. "Given the track record there."

"They'll only settle down when Mistress Kasulani assures them that it is a gift from Bastet," Jake chuckled, only just letting their stewardess do her job and open the hatch for them.

The hot, dry air rushed in, fresh with the faint scent of expensive oils and the flowers in the gardens of wealthy homes and public parks.

"I so missed this climate," Jake breathed it in deeply before he stepped out into the glaring sunlight and calmly walked down the stairs that had been wheeled up to the jet.

"It certainly beats hot and humid," Rock agreed as the kits hurried down, most of them looking over at the luggage cart that was being wheeled off for inspection.

"Personally, I prefer things a little cooler, but it's not bad," Keeu agreed as the family gathered on the tarmac. "Just don't know that I'd want to live in it."

Rock nodded in agreement, but didn't answer as the complex meet and greet between two large parties of dignitaries began with the Queen of Traveris and Champion of Bastet.

The kits were a little surprised when they were included with it. Not just that their parents introduced them, but that the Queen and her entourage paid them no small amount of attention.

For once, Garnet was glad to be one of the few toms there - it meant he could pretty much stay in the background without any real trouble. The only attention he seemed to get he could easily play dumb to; as he'd been warned, several of the shekats, both his age and adults, seemed interested in him.

It was creepy in the extreme as far as he was concerned, but he did his best to be friendly and play at being oblivious, or just slow in the head, about the reason for the attention.

He told himself, inwardly, that it was just friendly interest... interest in what he'd be like when he grew up. That wasn't quite as creepy, at least.

When the assorted introductions were done, Mika led them off into an air-conditioned area to wait while Customs went through their things.

"I did tell them that you can change naturally now," she told Jake. "They're just not entirely convinced yet, I suppose."

"I find it quite understandable," Jake assured her. "How have things gone in the last few years? I understand you had a healthy litter of daughters not long after mine."

"I wanted to make sure everything was still working after two gender swaps," she chuckled lowly. "But yes, they're just fine. They're looking forward to your visit, actually."

"Oh?" she raised an eyebrow. "In what context?"

"Well, Sheyara and Milena are looking forward to meeting their Sire, the Champion of Bastet," Mika explained. "And my three youngest are quite interested in meeting their MegaKat City cousins; even if they aren't related by blood, they've often talked about wishing they could visit MKC and meet their older sisters' relations. Felina is particularly eager for when they've finished their primary schooling so she can try getting into MKCU," she chuckled.

"It won't be nearly as much fun as she thinks to live in the big city," Jake couldn't help but chuckle. "Has she talked about whether she wants to have an apartment, dorm or trying to bunk at my place?"

"Not yet," Mika chuckled. "What would you recommend, keeping in mind her heritage and the complications from it?"

"Safety wise, it's hard to beat staying with me if she is going to be in MKC. On the other hand, I don't think she could try for a more dangerous place in general," Jake shook her head as they all relaxed in the plush garden lounge with decorative fountains with colorful fish, free flying tropical birds and fragrant flowers. "The other side of that is the culture shock of staying with me. With an apartment, she could stay with other VIP foreign students. They may not all be from Traveris, but they have some things in common."

"That would probably be the best bet," she nodded. "That's still several years off, of course. While Izaris' priesthood are helping her tutoring, I'm keeping her from getting too far ahead for her development."

"You might want to keep her away from Shadow then," Jake nodded towards his firstborn, who was tormenting Keeu with an endless stream of questions and trivia about the plants and animals, and occasionally correcting a sibling on how to catch something. "She's latched onto Fahik, but at this stage there is a limited difference that I've noticed. Keeu's a senior Initiate of Izaris."

"An honor to meet you, Champion Mika, but I'm afraid I'm a little distracted," the older teen said apologetically.

"I understand," Mika chuckled. "It's much easier with extra helpers," she reassured her, "but when you can find out anything, you get used to questions fairly early on."

"So I'm learning," Keeu chuckled before she had to fish Willow out of a fountain.

"As for Shadow, I believe you're right about Fahik," Mika said. "The differences will show up soon... has she found a specialty yet?"

"Everything," Jake rolled her eyes, though there was pride in her expression as well. "Current obsession is weaving with a loom, and she's decidedly good at martial arts, but she's already mastered a dozen crafts."

"A dozen?" She asked, looking over at the black-furred kit with more interest. "I'm assuming the Church has been testing her... they rate her as a master?"

"They have, and they're training her," Jake nodded. "I've heard it described as instant mastery, a gift Fahik gave some of His followers long ago, as transference, which I admit I don't understand, and as instinctive connection to the Great Library. Whatever it is, it's amazing, and occasionally scary."

"More than a little," Mika nodded. "Don't let anybody else in Traveris know about it, at least not as something linked to Fahik. He isn't as popular here as Izaris, and if I'm right she's very valuable, even only partially trained. It's entirely possible that somebody would want to take her to be trained 'properly' by the local equivalent."

"Thank you," Jake inclined her head slightly. "We'll be careful with her. What do you think she is? I can't shake the feeling that the priests are not telling me everything they know, just enough to get me to leave."

"I can't say I blame them, necessarily," Mika admitted. "The Defenders of Fahik have been extinct since the time of the Twelve. They were ruled too great a threat to Their power, and despite Fahik's losses they didn't have the sense to keep their heads down. Their dedication was stronger than their survival instincts. Are you familiar with them?" She asked him.

"Briefly," he said. "They were His warrior-priests, I believe."

"A reasonable assessment," Mika nodded. "The Defenders of Fahik were capable of mastering anything they set their minds to... not quite instant mastery, but it took only a few hours, and they could master a broad range of skills. During peacetime, they joined the priests and worshippers in their practice. During wartime, the Defenders could become master warriors or mages in the space of time it took to perform the ritual. A fully trained Defender could perform the war-dance, then shift from one martial discipline to another in the space of a breath, as the situation required. Unfortunately, as is often the case, skill was inferior to number and raw power. While they could achieve mortal mastery swiftly, the Twelve and their lieutenants could surpass that."

"A tactic I'm all too familiar with facing," Jake said grimly. "After the Twelve were gone, is there any record of why he never created more Defenders?"

"Not enough power to give anybody the proper Gifts, I believe. That, or nobody with the talent ... probably a bit of both. After all, Fahik has never been a particularly potent deity."

"True," she mused. "Still, if it's true, she's in for quite the interesting life." Jake paused, a thought tweaking her face into a grimace. "Is there a record of how far civilization and technology has gotten before the system crashed in previous rounds?"

"Never much farther than we've gotten now, but it's a casual relationship at best," Mika reassured her. "The falls have been all over the board."

"Good," Jake let out a small breath of relief before her attention was attracted to a small sound of distress from her only son. "Excuse me. I think I need to rescue Garnet."

"A good idea," Mika agreed, after glancing over at the scene. "I'll let the Ambassador know that he's off limits later," she promised as Jake stood.

"Thank you," she said before striding over to her son and the adult Caracal who was speaking politely enough to the kit, but looking him over like he was a prime cut in a meat market. "Madam Ambassador," she caught the Caracal's attention. "You are frightening my son."

"My apologies, Champion," she said, inclining her head to the shorter female as Garnet shifted to hide behind Jake. "I was simply telling him that I hoped he would have a chance to meet my youngest daughter during this visit; I think they would get along quite nicely."

"It is quite possible," she smiled politely. "With ten sisters his age, he is simply nervous about the prospect of more girls in his life. He is a little young to understand the difference yet."

"Perhaps later then," the Ambassador chuckled. "You're quite fortunate, Champion; ten skilled daughters, and a lovely son as well. Good fortune to them all," she said politely, moving along.

"To yours as well, Ambassador," Jake said in parting before turning to Garnet. "You might want to stick close to Keeu or me in social situations," she said gently. "I didn't think you would be approached quite so directly."

"Neither did I," he shuddered lightly. "Are we gonna meet them later?"

"I'm not planning on it, but it can happen," Jake said firmly. "Just stick near the adults and it'll be fine."

"Okay," he nodded as Jake guided him to Keeu's care by the fountain that seemed to be holding much of the kittens entranced with its colorful fish. "Just wondering if you were gonna take her up on her offer."

"No," Jake assured him before returning to the socializing she knew she was expected to do.

After a certain amount of socializing, leaving the kits under Keeu's protection, Mika managed to extricate them all from the painfully dull situation. They made their way, along with their newly-checked luggage, out to the large stretch limo that was waiting to take them to her palace.

"It shouldn't be a long drive," she told them. "Assuming that the bazaar is reasonably slow today, at any rate. So, how busy is your schedule already?"

"I tried to keep today limited to checking in an settling in," Jake said as they settled down along the sides of the stretch limo. "Tomorrow I have lunch with the Queen, and evening service in the Temple of Bastet here in Hakotea. Then things pick up as the temples are spread out."

"Understandable," she nodded. "Well, hopefully you'll at least have a comfortable night here," she smiled. "Will you be going to services yourself, or taking everybody along with you?"

"A mix," Jake said. "We don't want the kits to be completely wrapped up in what Rock and I are doing, but we do want them involved in it. We also want them to experience the different cultures and norms of where we go."

"I understand," she nodded. "Would you like me to try setting up some opportunities for them to get out, here and there?" She offered. "My kits' tutors would be glad to have somebody who can't just ask Mom for an answer and have her give it to them without thinking," she chuckled.

"That would be very welcome," Jake overrode some looks and sounds to the contrary. "With your status, I trust your tutors are capable of keeping high-risk kits safe while still educating them in the real world."

"They've fought off a kitnapping team from the Xenquii before," Mika said with clear pride in her servants. "They're very good at their jobs in that respect."

"I would be surprised at anything less with you," Jake said in approval. "I bet they are used to inquisitive troublemakers too," she teased her own kits, with a particular look at Kaylinn and Willow.

"Very," she chuckled. "Though knowing you, your kits will manage to find a type of trouble they're not used to."

"That's largely a given," Jake admitted. "Between dame and sire, there wasn't much hope of anything else."

"Do you know who has which sire?" Mika asked, hoping she knew Jake well enough that it wouldn't be an offensive question.

"Midnight gave birth to Tammy, Garnet and Willow in a litter. I sired Tammy as a tom. Garnet was sired by Rock, with me as his dame, and Willow has Midnight as her dame and both Rock and I as her sire. Their fourth littermate, Nash, was sired by Chance and is being raised by them.

"I have birth to everyone else in a single litter. Kaycee's sire is Kyale, Kensa and Fumiko were sired by Kensu Chim, the Champion of Tenoic. Kaylinn, Ghunaya, Tesra, Marri and Jenna were all sired by Rock."

"Champion Mika, is it really that dangerous here?" Marri asked, wondering if her looks as a heavily built Caracal might put her in even more danger.

"No, Marri," she reassured the girl. "While kitapping and attacks do happen, it is fairly rare. You've got practically nothing to worry about, unless something very unusual were to happen. Unless, of course, you dislike being flirted with as much as your brother," she chuckled.

"Garnet's just a party pooper," Marri giggled. "I'm not as bad as Kaylinn though."

"Hey, I'm not bad, I'm just friendly," she protested with a pout.

"Too friendly sometimes," Keeu told her. "Which is nothing you haven't heard before."

"I take it that Kaylinn's growing up quickly?" Mika chuckled. "No shame in it, my sisters were the same way when we were younger."

"No shame, but some concern," Jake said evenly. "I know it's normal in some areas at her age, but not in MegaKat City. I'm just being overprotective because of who her parents are."

"The loving relationship between Eshik and Marka's church and Kitten Services?" Mika guessed with a low chuckle. "I understand. Fortunately, here They are much more acceptable... or at least one of them is."

"I know," Rock chuckled. "Eshik doesn't particularly mind, fortunately."

"Will you be visiting Their temples while we are here?" Keeu asked.

"I will," he nodded. "And Tamorl's, though both trips will likely be more private."

"Marka is worshipped in the open here," Mika offered. "Though many services are still done in private."

"I know," Rock nodded. "I checked in with how they wanted me to act while I'm here. However, I have been told that they would still prefer that I not bring strangers in without warning; I suspect they'll be without masks much of the time."

"Very trusting of them," Mika murmured. "They don't take chances with that often, not without cause, admittedly."

"The Champion and his mate aren't really chances," Rock chuckled.

"I'm not exactly unknown to Their Temple back home," Jake pointed out with a low chuckle of his own. "It was where we were married after all."

"And they took full advantage of it too, from what I heard," Keeu giggled.

"Oh, they did," Mika grinned at the younger female. "At least from what I've heard about it since."

"Was it recorded in vid in the Library somewhere?" Keeu suddenly perked up as the thought crossed her mind.

"Yes, but it would be quite rude to look at it without permission," Mika chuckled. "Particularly since you live with the owners of it."

"Kinda like the rule about checking out the upcoming blockbusters before they hit the theaters?" Keeu guessed.

"Something like that," Mika agreed.

"Are we gonna get a chance to go shopping later?" Willow asked, looking out the windows along with the rest of the kits.

"Yes," Jake promised them. "You will also go on outings with Mika's kits and their tutors."

"Okay," she nodded. "There're some pretty things out there."

"There will be everywhere we go," Jake reminded them as the limo entered the restricted neighborhood of the city's elite. "Remember space considerations when you find something pretty."

"Also remember that tourists tend to get pointed towards shiny things that aren't of particularly good quality," Mika chuckled.

"We know," Fumiko said easily, her dark tail swishing behind her as she looked out at the shift from shopping to wealthy residential. "We're pretty good at spotting that sorta stuff."

"Miss-know-it-all helps out too," Marri giggled teasingly at Shadow. "Tammy here knows enough crafts to tell what's quality and what's not."

"You know I hate Tammy," she growled at her sister.

"It's your name," Marri countered, puffing up her fur in challenge.

"Marri, she wants to be called Shadow," Jake broke it up patiently. "It is her right to be called something other than her name."

"Your father told me," Mika chuckled, breaking the tension. "Maybe you'd be willing to let me look at some of your work once we're at my house?" She asked politely.

"Yes, Mika," Shadow brightened quickly. "Most was left at home, and my loom is on the jet, but I can make something for you to see."

"That would be very nice," she smiled. "We'll be there soon," she added as they pulled through into a second gated community within the larger gated neighborhood. "This is one of the facilities for high-ranking government employees; I got one of the nicer palaces with the Church's help and my family wealth."

"It does pay to take care of your Champions," Jake grinned at her.

"When the Champion lets them," Rock teased his mate.

"As if you're any better," Jake leaned over to kiss his cheek. "And you chose to be a Champion."

"I did," Rock agreed, turning to kiss her lightly. "Which is probably good... no clue how I'd've turned out if I'd been raised by the churches."

"Thoroughly screwed up in the head, by most assessments," Mika said easily. "That's why they don't go for 'from birth' Champions."

"Hardly anyone does," Jake agreed as the limo pulled into a palace that shown of glittering crystal and white marble. It was very much like the Libraries, and distinctly different from all its neighbors, though there was a strong architectural similarity. "Just the mother goddesses for the most part."

"Oh wow," Shadow breathed, her emerald green eyes going wide. "That's incredible."

"The Priestesses helped build it... though maybe you recognize some of the work?" Mika asked her curiously.

"I'm sure Calimisa and Calimista were involved," Shadow said as she shifted her focus from admiration to analyzing. "No one can grow and carve crystal like they do. Oh! I see Brandin's sigil on the underside of that terrace."

"Very good," Mika smiled. "It was particularly difficult to get Brandin to come here... he was half-convinced it was a trap and that we wouldn't let him go," she chuckled. "I had to offer one of my mates in a good-faith trade before he finally agreed to come. Of course, right now the Xenquii nobles can testify that we did, quite willingly."

"And you have your mate back?" Keeu asked as the four doors to the passenger part of the limo were opened in unison.

"Oh yes, and I'm still not sure who was more happy to be back home, though Neuki is quite sure it's him," Mika chuckled, slipping out after her guests. "They treated him very well, but he found the entire idea of 'equality' very unsettling. It seems he's acquired a new appreciation of his limited responsibilities as my mate."

"What do you mean?" Garnet asked curiously.

"He was exposed to many ideas that he is ill-suited to doing that would be expected of him in many societies. Concepts like having to support himself, care for himself, directly approach those he's interested in sleeping with or dating."

"Being an adult," Kaylinn piped up as she got out of the limo.

"To you, perhaps, but he is very much an adult here and none of those things are expected of him here, or ever would be," Mika told her. "I don't think the poor boy had any luck at any of it while he was gone, particularly not dating. He's got a naturally submissive personality that it takes a select person to properly appreciate."

"He likes being taken care of," Keeu summarized. "Do you have any mates that are more independent?"

"I do," she nodded. "Jonah is from Sayden Bay, and much more independent, and Naqishim came to me from a mistress who couldn't put up with him any more because of it," she chuckled. "They all find me a good mate, as far as I know; I'm more understanding of different levels of independence than many others."

"Something of a national trend?" Keeu asked her curiously.

"Now you're playing analyst," Mika chuckled. "Though you could be right. The next generation is more tolerant of males who talk back and act out, and the moghayir are far more accepted by them, though they still keep as quiet as they can."

"Moghayir?" Keeu cocked her head slightly as they were guided into the fastidiously clean palace.

"Transgendered," Rock supplied without a pause. "Tolerance of them is definitely one of Eshik and Marka's favorite projects here."

"And I'm sure that quite a few of them are among Their faithful," Mika nodded. "Not that I try to find out who in particular all that hard." She led the way into the sitting quarters, reclining on a pile of cushions. "Make yourselves at home, my servants will take your luggage to your quarters. Would you like something to drink?"

"I know most of the kits would appreciate something cold," Jake smiled at the gaggle of kittens trying to be polite despite being tired, stressed, thirsty, hungry or all of them.

"On its way," Mika exchanged a smile with Jake before any preferences were said. "Keeu?" she glanced at the adolescent, not sure if she wanted the mixed drinks her elders were having or something else.

"Some juice, if that's all right," Keeu said easily. "Better for the heat out here than liquor."

"Quite true," Mika admitted even as she began to pour the mixed drinks. "It is a reason you will find mixed drinks much more common here than drinking it relatively strait."

"It's cultural as well, as I remember," Jake teased her lightly. "Something about beer being safer than water to drink until very recently."

"Your cities can't say much better," she teased him back, the insults tempered by tone. "We simply never forgot that drinking unpurified water is a bad idea."

"I've got other reasons too," Keeu chuckled.

"Not that used to alcohol?" Mika guessed.

"Not really," she admitted. "I've only been legal to drink for a couple years, and my mom's not much on the kits drinking before they're done growing."

"Not a particularly bad idea," Jake admitted as she accepted a drink from Mika. "Though I do think she takes it a bit far. Now, what's this with spoiling my only son?" she grinned at Mika.

"With ten sisters, and about to meet my daughters, he needs a little fortification," she teased as a Desert-Cat tom distributed drinks to the kits, being sure to give the chocolate cookie milkshake he'd brought out to a wide-eyed Garnet first.

"How many daughters, sons and mates do you have now?" Jake asked with a cock of her head. "I heard something about a small clan worth."

"You might say that," she chuckled. "I've got my three mates, eight daughters, and four sons. Of course, most of them are grown and live elsewhere right now, but I still have our daughters here, and my youngest litter."

"I would have though some of our kits would have gone on to school or a trade by now," Jake raised an eyebrow in a bit of real surprise.

"Kits of two Champions, with three Temples that have a vested interest in them, one of which is not accepted by their home country?" Mika chuckled. "They're being well-trained, but they're living here while they study. It's much safer, given how many people would like to get their hands on them. Especially Dark Kat... I'm afraid I've irritated him myself, once or twice, and I feel safer keeping them close to home until they're finished training."

"I can understand that," Jake nodded slightly, all too aware of the reality. "Are any showing exceptional promise?"

"As anything but priestesses," Mika laughed. "Neither one of them wants anything to do with the temples... I can't help but think their sire has something to do with that," she teased.

"Oh yeah, blame the sire for anything you don't appreciate in a kit," Jake laughed. "Any other traits you want to heap at my feet?"

"Only the ones he shares with them," she chuckled. "After all, I don't have any issues with the temples. Though I imagine the interest in the military academy is probably a shared responsibility," she smiled, sipping her drink.

"It's not a bad one to have when you're a natural target from birth," Jake pointed out. "That could be survival instincts. Either of them mechanics or inventors in the making?"

"Not that I've noticed so far," she admitted. "Though Jasmine seems to be inclined towards computers so far. She'll do well in the Intelligence Corps, if she goes that route."

"Mistress," a servant spoke in the break. "Your kittens are here to greet the guests."

"Good," she nodded. "Show them in."

Jasmine and Cartha, Jake's daughters, were the first to come in, exquisitely dressed but with something slightly off about their appearance.

"Hello, sire," Jasmine smiled warmly. "It's a pleasure to see you again."

"You are a fine-looking shekat, sire," Cartha added with a polite half-bow to Jake.

"You have both grown up well," Jake stood to greet them, scritching their jawline in an affectionate and very familiar gesture. "How has life been treating you?"

"Quite well," Jasmine smiled, taking a drink from the tray and sitting down.

"We're both going to be entering the Academy when the next classes begin," Cartha grinned.

"And we've both tested quite high in the entrance classes," Jasmine agreed. "Though I don't think we've have been allowed in if we hadn't," she chuckled.

"I could have bought your way in, but I wouldn't have," Mika told them with some pride in the pair. "You earned your places, as you will earn everything you have as adults."

"We know, mother," Jasmine reassured her. "I meant that you wouldn't have let us enlist if we hadn't tested in the top 5%," she chuckled.

"I'd be disappointed if you weren't in the top one percent," Jake said with mock sternness. "Have you selected your specialties yet?"

"Linguistics," Cartha smiled at her and poured her own mixed drink, light on the rum and heavy on the fruit juice. "I think I'd like to teach eventually."

"Isn't it a little odd to go into a military academy when you're planning to teach?" Keeu asked curiously. "Especially given your mother's connections?"

The politely phrased challenge took her back a bit, but she focused on the small black shekat that seemed to be about her age for a moment as she formulated the answer. "Have we been introduced?" Cartha glanced between Keeu and Mika.

"This is Keeu, my new mate," Jake made the introduction quickly. "Keeu, Cartha and Jasmine are the kits I sired for Mika."

"A pleasure to meet you, Keeu," Cartha said politely. "We're a little more ... nationalistic ... than our mother. Yes, I could teach anywhere, but I want to teach officers and officials who need it for the good of Traveris and the Queen."

"Ah, I understand," Keeu smiled. "I hope you didn't feel I was being rude, I was just curious why you'd take that route to teaching. If you're hoping to teach other officers, then it makes perfect sense."

"She's just surprised to be hearing my arguments coming from a stranger," Mika chuckled. "I asked her the same thing when I found out."

"I'd also like to see a couple decades of field experience, maybe get to travel the world, before I settle down to teach and find a mate or two," Cartha added. "There is nothing like living somewhere to learn how to speak like a native."

"Even the Library can't really teach you slang and intonation," Keeu agreed. "Well, I wish you luck then," she smiled. "And a pleasantly interesting career."

"Thank you," Cartha smiled and relaxed, keeping half an eye on the younger kittens as they checked each other out.

"The best kind," Jasmine grinned. "Do you mind if I ask a personal question?" She asked, looking between Keeu and Jake.

"I don't mind," Jake relaxed back, fairly sure where this was going.

"Go ahead," Keeu nodded.

"I was wondering how you two hooked up," Jasmine said easily. "There's quite an age difference."

"When I finally told my folks that I had hooked up with Jake, my father said it was destiny," Keeu chuckled. "Seriously, he was my father's gunner, and my mother's best friend. I grew up with him in the household, and I've always been attracted to him. Fortunately, I had the sense to wait until I was old enough for him to not totally freak out before I told him."

Jake chuckled low in her throat. "It didn't stop you from being less than subtle for a good five years before that," she teased her. "I knew it was going to happen for years, but Rock's patron's morals aside, I wasn't comfortable with the age difference, even if it was legal. Eighteen's still pushing it, but Rock and I both agreed that there wasn't any point to continue denying what was going to happen. Those two evenings just happened to coincide."

"What happened?" Cartha asked with a low purr.

"There was a family gathering - which, for Furlongs, is pretty impressive," Keeu chuckled. "After it was over, I asked Jake to meet me out back by the pool, and told him how I felt when we met."

"And?" Jasmine asked with a grin.

"You're talking about your Dad, remember?" Willow pointed out dubiously. "And my half-sister," she added, making a face.

"Shh," Kaylinn giggled, looking over as Kimari sat down between Garnet and her.

"Let's just say that anything you hear about Jake and water is true," Keeu giggled. "It was a very enjoyable evening."

"So are the three of you together now?" Jasmine asked, looking at Rock.

"Ah, no," Rock chuckled. "I'm her father's cousin. While it wouldn't be an unsafe relationship, it's not one that either of us is overly interested in."

"Much to the consternation of some of Marka's faithful who know about it," Keeu giggled. "I've already had that conversation once."

"You have?" Jake looked at her in surprise, an expression that was matched on Rock's face. "They weren't too pushy, were they?"

"Not at all," Keeu reassured him. "It was more something that came up while we were talking, and they were surprised to find out that we weren't a triad. I was talking with one of the young priestesses as part of the prep for my reports, and getting the rules for what I could and couldn't say," she chuckled.

"Good," Jake and Rock both relaxed. "Who are your youngest?" she directed the conversation to safer topics than her sex life.

"That would be Kimari, Salice and Lander," Mika said, indicating them. "Mmm ... looks like they already get along with yours nicely," she smiled. "And like Garnet won't have any real trouble," she chuckled, a little surprised by the lack of attention he was getting.

"I'm sure he's relieved by that," Jake smiled slightly. "Is Kimari another early bloomer?"

"Why'd you ask that?" Kaylinn giggled, looking over from where she was whispering with the Caracal kit.

"Yes, she is," Mika chuckled. "Though not too early... rather like Kaylinn."

"Which is too early as far as Jake's concerned," Keeu said. "But then, I'm not sure I can blame him for dreading when ten girls hit their first heat, probably all at once."

"And probably on a cramped private jet, where they'll have to lock up the males with Furlong blood while it passes," Rock agreed with a low chuckle.

"I'd make sure we would be on the ground before that happened," Jake promised her mate. "But it's true. I'm not really looking forward to having eleven kits of dating age to keep track of the lovers of."

"Not all of us are interested in dating the moment it's legal, Dad," Shadow spoke up.

"Yeah," Garnet agreed, a wary eye still on Salice, even though it was Lander that was very subtly flirting with him.

"I'd just like to be friends," Salice offered. "You're cute, but I'm not Kimari," she giggled.

"Like you're one to talk," Kimari teased back.

"Girls," Mika said warningly. "Don't quarrel."

"We won't," they both promised.

"Besides, I think I'd want a pure blood mate when it's time to marry, and a local," Salice added, trying to reassure her mother's nervous guest. "You are our guest. It is against all the rules of hospitality to even try to pressure you to do anything."

Those who glanced at Mika during this couldn't miss the obvious pride she showed at her youngest daughter's statements.

"It's true," Keeu reassured Garnet. "It would be incredibly rude, at best."

"Okay," he nodded slightly. "I've just... well...."

"You've heard a lot about Traveris, much of it true," Mika said understandingly. "But we're working on changing some of that, and what you haven't heard about is our hospitality rules; you are our guest, and while that means they can flirt, they can't push too hard."

"It also means we are expected to protect you from the pressures of others even more than our own brother," Salice added. "Please be at ease. You will not be harassed or harmed while you are here if any Salion can help it."

"I think she's just showing off," Kimari muttered.

"She's doing an excellent job of it," Jasmine teased. "Even if she is being a little overly dramatic in spots."

"It is the truth," Salice dared her older sister to counter her, and the lack of challenge had it's desired affect on Garnet.

"And you will have our bodyguards available when you're not here," Mika added. "We will take good care of you, as guests, and as good friends of our family."

"Thank you," Garnet said meekly, and relieved.

"Now that the safety of the toms is settled," Jake said, turning her attention to Mika. "Why don't we turn our kits lose and talk something closer to business?"

"Sounds good to me," Jake smiled. "Just don't take advantage of them too much," she told her kits seriously.

"We won't," they promised.

"C'mon," Kimari giggled, taking Kaylinn's hand. "I'll show you around."

"Champion Mika," Willow asked as Lander led Garnet and Marri off. "Is there anywhere we should not go?"

"Please remain out of the servant's quarters," she told her. "They are well-marked with this sigil," she traced the outline of a circle within a circle with crosshairs that extended outside the outer circle, a touch of magic leaving the emblem glowing in the air. "If a room, drawer or case is locked, it is best to leave it be."

"I understand," she nodded and wondered off to explore, several of her sisters following suit in different directions.

"Mika, is there a craftshop I can use to create a few things for you to see?" Shadow asked politely.

"There is; Jasmine, would you be willing to show Shadow to Jenesa's quarters, ask her to keep an eye on her while she's working?"

"Of course, Mother," she nodded and guided the slender black shekitten out of the room.

"What's it like, growing up with all your sisters around here?" Garnet asked as he followed Lander on a brief tour of the palace.

"Probably not that much different than having all your sisters," the young Caracal grinned at him. "They tease me a lot, but they make sure no one takes advantage of me too."

"More than mine do," Garnet grumbled. "They're usually the ones taking advantage, when they can get away with it. So, is everybody looking at you as prospective mate material yet?"

"Mom's had a few offers, but it's just the political arrangement stuff," he shrugged as they entered the lush, water-rich gardens alive with colorful birds and fish. "There hasn't been anyone interested in me."

"Politics are big around here, aren't they?" Garnet asked, looking around at some of the birds flying through. "Wow... hard to believe it's a desert outside," he mused."

"Water and magic can create amazing things," Lander nodded. "I suppose politics is important here, at least among the elite like mom. She said she won't force me into a marriage, but she might not always have a choice."

"You ever think about trying to go somewhere else, where you aren't property?" Garnet asked him curiously, wondering just how much he accepted that sort of thing.

"With what Neuki says is the price, I'm not so sure it's a fair trade," he said a little uncertainly. "It really doesn't sound like a way I'd want to live."

"I guess that makes sense," he mused. "Personally, I just like the idea of being able to decide to do stuff for myself some day. Don't have to listen to parents or anybody else."

"You don't expect to listen to your mate?" Lander frowned. "Your parents seem to listen to each other, and they're both toms, normally."

"Well, yeah, but that's the thing - it's listening to each other. Not one or the other calling the shots. Think Dad said it was the difference between partners and property once."

"It's so much more work though, to support yourself and kits, and the rules about courting ... Mom insisted I at least know what they are for the outlanders I meet ... there is so much more too it than here. I don't think it's wrong or anything to do it that way," he added hurriedly. "It just seems like a lot more work."

"I understand," Garnet nodded. "And I guess you're right, but I dunno. I think I kinda like the idea of not being stuck with a mate who isn't a good one better than not having to work to support myself."

"I trust my mother to have me in mind when she's looking at potential alliances," Lander said. "She's made choices for some of my older siblings that they seem happy with."

"Guess that's the flipside of it," Garnet mused. "If you don't decide who you're marrying, you don't have the same odds of picking the wrong person." He looked up at a brightly colored bird that flew by, just outside his field of view. "Too early for either of us to be worried about it, anyways."

"It's honestly not something I worry about much at all," Lander said. "The birds are lovely. The butterfly and hummingbird garden is just over there. It's warm, but very humid for them."

"Does it ever make you feel a little guilty, having things like this in here and a desert outside?" Garnet asked him.

"Mom works very hard for this," he shook his head. "My great-great-grandmother was a subsistence hunter. She ate what she could catch and sold the furs and bits she didn't use for things she couldn't make herself. My great-grandmother and grandmother earned some wealth trading. They started with what hunting provided and learned to make a living bringing things to those who needed them. Yes, we have a lot of advantages and wealth, but it was hard work that brought it to us. It's not that different from the story of your parents, as I've heard it. Neither one started with much, and they are both very wealthy and powerful now, even if you do not count their influence as Champions."

"I didn't mean to say anything bad about your family," Garnet blushed. "I was just wondering... the Badlands pretty much end at the edge of town, for us, or I'd probably feel a lot worse about the big pool and everything," he admitted.

"Why?" Lander looked at him as they walked towards the butterfly garden. "They earned the wealth and right to such luxuries."

"And they did it in a way that helped a lot more people than a lot of others," Garnet agreed. "And I suppose that the Badlands are a bad example, but I guess it's just the idea that there's more we'd be able to do to help people... forget about it," he said, shaking his head. "It doesn't really make any sense most of the time, I guess."

"It's okay," Lander reached out and squeezed his shoulder. "It's not a bad thing to be touched by Vuf."

"Depends," he chuckled. "When you've had family split between MKC and Sayden Bay, it can be a little rough to follow him," Garnet half-grinned. "Even if his Champion is a friend of the family."

"His Champion?" Lander looked at him curiously. "Vuf's always been female, all the way back to Veldt."

"Uhm... well, over here maybe, but somewhere along the line she became a he in MKC and Sayden Bay and that area," Garnet said sheepishly. "I guess I kinda tend to think of him... her... as a him because of that."

"It's okay," Lander smiled reassuringly as he opened outside door of an air lock system that protected the specialized environment of the butterfly garden. "A lot of the gods seem to like changing their names, faces or even gender when they are in a new area."

"I think it's to keep people from thinking they actually know what they're going to do," Garnet chuckled, waiting inside while Lander resealed the airlock and opened the inner one. "They seem to like surprising people."

"Some at least," he nodded as the hot, moist air of the butterfly garden washed over them with the fragrance of many tropical flowers. "Some are probably to be more easily accepted in a new area. Like Bastet. She usually looks like the dominant race in an area."

"And always pregnant and female," Garnet nodded. "That much makes sense at least, though she might get confused if she met some of the people Mom knows," he grinned.

"Aliens always make for weird conversations," Lander laughed, frightening off a large, iridescent blue butterfly that was about to land on him. "Even the settled ones."

"Generally speaking," Garnet agreed. "Some of 'em are pretty cool though. Your Mom know many?" He asked curiously.

"A couple dozen, I believe," he said, leading the way deep into the lush, dark green garden where there was a small grove and finely carved wooden bench with a small creek in front of it. "She tries to visit every alien as soon as she can."

"No wonder she likes Mom then," Garnet snickered, flicking his ears as a hummingbird flew over to a flower shortly above his head. "She knows just about every alien around from the day they get here, practically."

"I think there are other reasons too, like how many new technologies Jake creates, though I'm sure it's part of it," Lander nodded and relaxed on the bench. "What are your interests?"

"Besides trying to duck my sisters?" Garnet laughed, sitting down next to him and watching the butterflies and birds. "Depends, I guess. I try getting into something, but I usually can't really stick with it long before the others try taking it up and blow me away. Sometimes it's just hard enough to get noticed by my folks, especially with Shadow and Kaycee around."

"Aren't sons valued in MegaKat City?" he asked with a frown, trying to correlate that with what he thought he knew of the area.

"Not any more than daughters," Garnet shrugged. "Especially not when the daughters have the sort of gifts they do. Bastet gave everybody else the long end of the stick except me... I just got a partial chromosome."

"Hu, I would have thought two males would appreciate their only son a bit more when they have so many daughters," Lander said softly, lifting a finger for a butterfly to land on. "I bet you'll find your place. It just might take a while."

"They try," Garnet admitted, smiling as a brightly colored butterfly landed on Lander's hand. "It just doesn't always help when you've got perfect sisters like mine. I try to make myself more noticeable by behaving," he half-grinned.

"That can warm any parent's heart," Lander snickered. "Hold still," he whispered and stood carefully not to startle something.

"What is it?" Garnet asked in a whisper of his own as he saw a recording crystal in Lander's hand.

"Butterfly on your head," he grinned and snapped several pictures. "You have a very pretty iridescent bow between your ears."

"Don't show my sisters," Garnet groaned quietly, blushing deeply beneath his fur. "I'd never hear the end of it."

"But it's so cute," Lander objected, teasing him as the insect fluttered off. "So's the blush," he added with a last snap of the recorder crystal before he sat down.

"That's the point!" Garnet protested meekly. "I'm not supposed to be cute." He looked back up at the butterfly that had just flown away from him. "Maybe I should try working out or something," he mused.

"Given who your sire is, you should buff out nicely," Lander purred. "I think you look good without it, though."

"Thanks," Garnet smiled shyly. "You do too," he added, looking over at the taller Caracal tom before something clicked with him. "Were you flirting with me before?"

"I was trying to," he admitted. "I wasn't trying to offend."

"You didn't," Garnet reassured him. "I just didn't get it," he said sheepishly.

"Because you aren't into toms, or just not into anybody yet?" Lander asked with a tight touch to Garnet's shoulder.

"Because I haven't really thought about being into anybody yet," Garnet admitted. "That, and I was so focused on worrying about the girls around here, I wasn't really paying any attention to guys."

"I haven't actually done more than kiss, but it's been fun to flirt with the other toms," Lander smiled slightly. "Some older boys swear it gets to be a real rush to have somebody else touch you."

"Judging by my folks, that depends on where they're touching you," Garnet snickered. "And yeah, it can be fun... like I said, I just didn't notice," he smiled, sliding a little bit closer to the Xanith tom.

"Have you seen what your folks do?" Lander rumbled, sliding an arm around Garnet's shoulders, trying to pay careful attention not to make him uncomfortable.

"A little bit, but they try to keep it away from the rest of us," he blushed, snuggling up against Lander slightly and wrapping an arm around his back. "With Keeu too, but they don't always remember to close and lock the doors."

"You want to find out what it feels like, being touched like that?" Lander whispered in his ear, the warmth of his lean body and hand on Garnet's leg almost burningly hot to the young tom.

"S-sure," he stuttered slightly, turning his face towards Lander, not sure if he should try to kiss him or let him do that. The Caracal nuzzled his neck and shifted his hand in to slide along his sheath, sending a sharp jolt of sensation that made him gasp.

"Ever gotten yourself off?" Lander asked with a nuzzle.

"No," Garnet purred softly as the surprise turned to pleasure, his hand straying down to mirror Lander's touch on the Caracal's body, returning the affectionate nuzzle.

"Hold that pose," a young female voice squealed in delight as the flash of the recording crystal went off.

"Marri!" Garnet shouted, looking over at her, his expression mortified before he pulled away from Lander and dove for her. "Give me that!"

The slender-build Furlong with Caracal markings laughed and bolted, but he was faster, and much more motivated. He caught up to her after just a few yards and tackled her, sending them both rolling into a small pond.

"Garnet, we weren't doing anything wrong!" Lander tried to find out why he'd reacted so strongly.

"You might not think so, but we're not the only ones who'll see the pic!" Garnet grunted as he tried to get the crystal away from Marri. But while he might have been faster, she was definitely tougher than he was. She twisted around on top of him, grinning as she got another picture of him from where she was straddling his waist.

"C'mon, Kaylinn'll love it!" She giggled. "Who'd've thought you'd beat her past first base?"

Despite not understanding what all the fuss was about, Lander took advantage of her focus on her brother to snatch the crystal cube her hand and erased the pictures. "It's your word against ours now," he told her firmly.

"Spoilsport," she pouted, taking the crystal back and climbing out, shaking the water out of her outfit. "They wouldn't have been that pissed."

"Now you see why I hate being the only brother?" Garnet sighed, getting up and shaking out himself.

"As if it's because you're the only boy," Marri snorted. "Kaylinn gets the same treatment," she told Lander. "He's just got an inferiority victim complex going."

"Kaylinn does this stuff all the time!" Garnet protested. "I had to sleep around enough of it, I should know. Besides, you guys don't pick on her all the time!"

"Then you know Dads wouldn't really be upset," she pointed out, still a little surprised that he'd actually tackled her. "Come on, it's just part of being in the family. Dad and Chance tease each other all the time too."

"Yeah, but can't you girls just leave me alone some time?" Garnet protested. "There's ten of you!"

"We do it to each other too," Marri pointed out again, her ears flattening out a bit.

"Yeah, but some of you are always after me," he rowled grumpily.

"So stop bitching and do it back sometime," she challenged him, trying to dry her long hair out. "Join the party for once."

"And get all ten of you coming for the payback?" He snorted. "No thanks."

"Whatever," Marri shrugged and turned to leave. "He really was cute with you," she told Lander softly. "I think he likes you."

"Thanks," the Caracal smiled at her, offering a hand to Garnet as she disappeared. "I love this garden, but maybe it'll be more relaxing to play in my room? I have all the latest games and a full VR system."

"Sounds good... sorry I blew up like that," Garnet sighed, looking around and realizing that the birds and butterflies had all hidden away with the fight.

"No need to apologize," Lander looked at him curiously. "You have every right to stop her."

"Yeah, but like you said, I kinda overreacted," he shrugged. "Let's go somewhere they can't find us," he smiled, trying to get back into a good mood as they left the arboretum.

"We'll at least know they're coming before they see us," Lander promised with a smile. "What games do you like to play?"

"Don't suppose you have the latest Tomb Raider title?" Garnet asked, guessing at what would probably have changed the least between home and here.

"Original and Traverin releases," Lander grinned. "Mom isn't much on sheltering me from the rest of the world."

"Cool," Garnet grinned. "Kit-rated version, right?"

"Mom's not that liberal yet," Lander laughed. "Yeah, it's just the adventure without the fooling around."

"Good," Garnet snickered. "Dad'd skin me otherwise. C'mon, let's go."

"Lenka? How come you changed into a guy's outfit on the way out?" Marri asked their escort curiously as they rode out to the bazaar in the back of the fourth SUV in the mini-convoy leaving from Mika's complex.

"Because I am legally a tom named Ledur," he said quietly, though he didn't try to hide it from anyone in the vehicle. "Lady Mika is kind enough to allow me express my moghayir beliefs while inside her home."

"So we call you Ledur outside, and everybody'll treat you like a tom?" Garnet guessed.

"They will," Ledur nodded. "And I'll be fine with it. Just don't call me Lenka, or act like you think of me as a female, if you do."

"What sort of trouble would there be if we did slip up?" Garnet asked carefully.

"You, as an outlander tom, would likely be ignored, or verbally corrected that I am a servant, and possibly on how to pronounce a male name," Ledur told him. "You are a tom, and thus my gender equal at least. As long as I act as I should, little would come of it. One of the girls would be corrected more firmly, because it would be viewed as a challenge to the social order. Being outlanders, it still would not be much more than a raised eyebrow and muttering as long as I did not act inappropriately."

"We'll try to remember," Marri nodded. "We don't want to get anybody in trouble. Why haven't you gotten yourself switched yet though?"

"Loyalty to Lady Mika," he smiled. "She has been very good to me, and to other moghayir. I am well known as her servant and many suspect or know that I am moghayir. As long as it is not in public and my Lady allows it, the law does not forbid it. As repressive as Traveris is on many things, it is also very reluctant to enter a home without its Lady's invitation. If I became a female, it would put a great deal of scrutiny on her and her liberal ways. I do not know if it would cost her status, but it would hamper her ability to help us."

"That sucks," Marri murmured. "If she ever moved out of Traveris would you get changed then?"

"Perhaps," he mused on the thought. "I have been this way for a long time. It is comfortable, in a way. I would likely live as a female in public though," he said. "It's not an issue though; Lady Mika is very unlikely to decide to leave Traveris permanently, certainly not while her kits are growing up. With one possible exception," he smiled at Lander.

"I wouldn't want her moving for me either," the kit pointed out.

"Do you think she'd send you to school elsewhere though?" Garnet asked. "Like with us?"

"I guess she might if I asked," Lander shrugged after thinking about it for a moment. "I haven't really thought about it. My education at home will be top-notch, and going abroad for a broader one might not be the best move."

"Why?" Marri turned to look at him.

"A lot of people wouldn't want to marry a tom who might have picked up more 'progressive' ideas," he explained. "My mother's views could be trouble enough, but nobody'd turn me down for being the Champion's son," he chuckled. "If it was reinforced by studying in, say, MegaKat City though... they might."

"You have to marry someone from Traveris?" she asked.

"Maybe not, but I don't know that mother would arrange a marriage with an outsider. I certainly hadn't thought about it," he admitted with a bit of a shrug.

"What happens if you fall in love?" Garnet asked with a frown. "Or prefer toms?"

"If I preferred toms, it wouldn't be a problem as long as I was still able to service my mate when she wanted," he said easily. "Especially if I was the ranking mate. It'll be up to whoever I marry, really, but I could even have lovers, slaves, and servants of my own if she wanted me to."

"What about love?" Garnet continued to frown.

"Yeah, doesn't that count for anything?" Marri added, glancing between Ledur and the Balinese female who was driving

"Not legally," Calios shook her head. "A good mother will take her kit's feelings into consideration, but in the end marriages are political and for producing strong kits, not for the adults."

"I'm pretty sure that if I met somebody I wanted to marry, Mother would try to arrange it," Lander offered. "She's good about that sort of thing. But, especially given who she is, I trust her to pick a good match for me."

"I guess," Garnet murmured. "It just seems ...."

"Unhealthy not to have a say," Marri said it for him. "Jake's mom tried to arrange dozens of marriages for him, back when he couldn't have done anything for her."

"But that isn't legal in MegaKat City," Lander frowned, flicking his ears. "How could she do that?"

"By trying to pressure him into accepting it," Marri said. "She wanted kittens and thought if he married a shekat she'd get them. He refused every time, but a lot of kits would have buckled and done what Mom wanted."

"I guess I can see why you don't really like the system here," Lander murmured. "But... the situation isn't the same," he pointed out.

"I didn't mean it like that," Garnet tried sooth over the poor wording. "Mika isn't like Jake's mom. It just seems unfair not to expect a choice in who you spend your life with."

"Yeah, it's not like it doesn't happen all the time in MegaKat City, it's just not as systematic," Marri added.

"Well... there's also the fact that you grew up thinking that wasn't right," Lander pointed out. "I mean... to you guys, it sounds like a horrible thing, but to me... it has its up sides, like I told Garnet."

"Yes," Garnet nodded slightly. "Jake's really fixated on the whole choice thing. Probably more than most, 'cause of what his mom did to him."

"Was she from Traveris or something?" Lander asked. "I'd almost expect it then."

"Nope," Marri shook her head. "The Clawsons have been in the city for a dozen generations. Dad was the only one to survive to adulthood in his generation, and the fertility problems in the family made her crazy."

"I hope she's doing better now," he said sincerely. "Apparently the relations still aren't that good."

"Grandma is Rock's Mom," Garnet agreed, picking up on the cue that Lander had noticed. "She's... well, she's always been Jake's Mom, when we hear about her."

"It's not that often," Marri said quietly. "I don't think they hate each other or anything like that, but I think he's still holding a grudge. I know her meddling didn't stop with the marriage."

"It didn't?" Garnet stared at her in shock.

"Nope," she shook her head. "Dads don't talk about it much, but I heard Jake ranting about her once. He was really wound up about it."

"Just as well not to bring it up," Lander advised. "Things like that usually aren't any good to learn about."

"With you there," Garnet agreed. "Anyways... most of our family gets along a lot better," he shrugged slightly. "How about yours?"

"There is some tension with how liberal Mother is, but none of them are really in any position to argue with her, since she's a Champion and brought incredible wealth to the family business," Lander shrugged. "I think it's the kind that any family has."

"Probably... what do the Salions do, for business?" Marri asked curiously.

"We began as traders in fur, meat, herbs and other wild products we could hunt," he smiled with honest pride in his bloodline. "Over several generations we became more skilled at bartering and began to trade the things we traded our products for. Grandmother was a very skilled merchant that had begun to trade outside Traveris' borders when Mother was born. Mother expended our reach well into other countries."

"I thought her connections were through the intel community?" Marri asked. "Not business."

"Salions are merchants," Lander smiled at her. "Goods, information, it's all the same idea."

"I suppose," she mused. "So, how did she get together with you?" She asked Ledur. "Or meet you, anyways?"

"I was introduced into her service by a friend of hers in the Temple of Eshik and Marka," Ledur said easily. "At the time, they wanted to get a feel for her views, and she was looking for a new servant, so it seemed like a good combination. She realized what was going on, of course, but it didn't take her long to realize that I was sincere in my curiosity about her views, and that I didn't have any other intention in being there."

"How long ago was that?" Marri asked curiously.

"About twenty years ago, when she was looking for a new tutor for her kits... a litter that's already moved out. Most have graduated school and continued on to various careers, not Jasmine and Cartha," he chuckled.

"She's been good to you for a long time then," Garnet said. "Do you have anyone special?"

"I do have a relationship with Neuki," he smiled. "Mika comes first, of course, but he and Lenka get along quite well. It was a long time, while the Palace was being worked on," he chuckled.

"I can imagine," Garnet nodded in sympathy. "Have you ever found females interesting?"

"Very interesting, but not many of them would accept me as an equal," Ledur chuckled. "Outside of the Temple, at any rate. I do have lovers and friends there too, of course."

"What's it like, being different like that?" Marri asked, aware the vehicles were slowing, getting ready to park.

"It's difficult," Ledur admitted. "Though possibly not in the ways you'd expect. I've gotten used to having to hide myself, but the Temple offers me some outlet there. The hardest part is knowing that I'll never be able to marry, not the way I'd want to, unless I can find a very accepting female mate. Even then, most of the people who'd be willing aren't willing to put up with what they'd have to do in public."

"Why didn't your folks arrange a marriage for you?" Garnet asked.

"My family didn't have much to offer a mate for me," he admitted. "So I went into service. One of my former Mistresses had me trained, with my mother's permission, as a tutor for her kits, and I went from there staying in domestic service without ever really being that interesting to anybody as a mate."

"So you don't expect you'll ever marry or have kits?" Marri asked as they got out of the SUV and joined up with the rest of the gathering.

"Not without changes," he agreed, following them out. "We can talk more about this later, if you'd like."

"I would," Marri said, sniffing the hot, dry air for the fragrant cacophony of food, incense and spices. "Oh, wow, that smells great."

"The bazaar usually does," Calios smiled. "Now, everybody stay close; we'll get lunch first, and then start on the tour."

"Yes, ma'am," Kaycee yipped happily, her nose going a mile a minute as the three adults and two teens sheparded eleven kits towards the food courts and their wide variety of native foods; cooked and uncooked, prepared and not, and occasionally still crawling. "I heard about honey ants?" she looked at Jasmine hopefully.

"Yes, they are in the food stalls," she smiled at down at slender black kitten. "Along with many other insects."

"There's gonna be some meats that didn't recognizably crawl recently, right?" Kaylinn asked Jasmine quietly.

"Yes, there will even be a few you should recognize," she smiled back. "I hope you like spice."

"With our folks?" Tesra laughed. "Oh yeah, we're good with spicy."

"Never found anything we couldn't handle," Jenna grinned.

"Oh really?" Cartha grinned.

"Be nice, sis," Jasmine chuckled. "It's poor manners to inflict some of our more exotic tastes on them."

"Unless somebody volunteers," Kaylinn grinned as the general energy among the Clawson kits began to increase. "You don't grow up with the three toms we did and not have a serious sense of adventure in spice."

"Which means, 'what's the strongest you've got?" Garnet grinned.

"Dangerous, but I guess it does run in the family," Cartha grinned back. "Have you ever tried haval?"

"Umm, it's a fine mash of stuff with bird peppers, or something like it?" Shadow said, not completely sure of it.

"Killimuri peppers," Kaycee corrected with a grin. "Kyale refuses to introduce Jake to it. She said he might get addicted, and spread it to the guys."

"We'll have to bring some home with us," Jenna giggled. "Even if Kyale will want to hurt somebody for it."

"Let's make sure we can take it first," Shadow grinned, eliciting a series of giggles from her siblings.

"As if Kaycee would ever admit it was too hot," Kaylinn teased.

"A good warrior doesn't show pain," the sleek black shekat replied smoothly.

"Aren't you a little young to be a warrior?" Salice asked as they started off for one of the nearby food stalls.

"Not for where my sire is from," she shook her head. "Many have killed in battle by puberty."

"Who is your sire?" Jasmine asked her curiously. "I thought you were all Jake and Rock's kits."

"Nah," Kaylinn shook her head. "We all have one of them as a parent, but not all of us have both."

"My sire is Kyale Bulank, the MMA champion," Kaysee said proudly. "She was turned into a tom when Jake became a shekat. Kensa and Fumiko were sired by Kensu Chim, the Champion of Tenoic. Shadow and Will have Midnight as their dame. Everybody else is by Rock from Jake."

"It's complicated, so we all just call Jake and Rock our Mom and Dad," Willow giggled, looking at the offerings that were available for lunch.

"Yeah, some of us just really take after the non-family member," Kaysee grinned. "The twins are another example."

"That's Kensa and Fumiko," Shadow added. "They finish each other's sentences."

"There are the honey ants," Jasmine pointed to a stall with many kinds of insects, both living and dead. "The shield-shaped ones are good too. They taste like candy."

The kits made their way through the stalls, picking out their meals. Kaycee was perhaps the most obviously at home, picking up honey ants, some of the ones Jasmine had pointed out, and a meal of deep-fried mantises, scorpions, and rice.

Most of the other kits focused on the meals with fewer legs, sticking to poultry and local animals that they couldn't always recognize but at least understood the parts of. A couple of them tried some of the insects, but they were far less common than on the native's plates.

"And I found some of the haval," Marri grinned, setting a small pot of it in the middle of the large group that gathered in one of the open courtyards with tables and chairs.

"All right!" Kaylinn cheered and promptly dunked a scorpion claw Kaycee had dared her into getting into the pot.

"So what do they taste like?" Marri asked, adding a bit of the spicy paste to her mutton and rice.

"Crunchy on the outside, and kinda like crab-flavored marshmallow on the inside," she said after chewing for a while and swallowing. "Not bad, really, and that haval rocks!"

"How strong is it?" Garnet asked curiously, taking a piece off the bright blue and yellow frog he'd picked out. "Anybody from around here know if they go together?" He asked them, glancing between the adults.

"Stronger than you'll like," Kaycee told him helpfully as she happily munched away on her insect laden plate. It wasn't easy to tell whether she was enjoying the rare food or the looks her enjoyment of it earned more.

"Thanks," Garnet nodded, instead opting to take the meat and rice without the extra sauce, though most of the others dipped into it. He did notice that Calios skipped it, the Balinese apparently not overly fond of it either.

"Nice to know not everyone here likes it spicy," he smiled at the long furred cream shekat with chocolate points.

"I'm not native to Traveris," she smiled at the kit as he deftly removed meat from bone with his teeth. "I was born in Veldt and was part of their diplomatic envoy to Traveris for many years. I stayed because I feel in love with a local Lady."

"Lady Mika?" Kaylinn guessed. "Since you're teaching for her?"

"No, I am with Lady Saluna," she smiled at the heavily built black-on-gray tabby. "I have been friends with Lady Mika almost as long as I have been in Traveris."

"She's been helping teach the kits as a favor to Mother since we came alone," Cartha smiled. "Something about the kits of two Champions needing extra supervision."

"That and with two girls, she couldn't expect Ledur to care for you two hellions for long," Calios chuckled.

"I could have keep them in check," Jessin snorted.

"But if you'd had to, you wouldn't have gotten to spend as much time with Cartha while I distracted Jasmine," Calios smiled at the former military intelligence officer.

"Which would mean she'd have actually had to work to get into the linguistics program," Jasmine teased her sister lightly.

"Hay, I did work for it," Cartha snorted.

"Girls," Jessin's disapproving tone silenced the exchange instantly.

"Ecu'u," the teens said the apology in unison.

"Was that a fight?" Kaylinn glanced between the Traverian natives.

"Not really," Calios told her. "It's merely unseemly for their status in front of guests.

"Even if most of them are kin as well," Jasmine said apologetically. "We do try to behave better than that most of the time."

"That's really getting along," Kaylinn said in a mixture of bemusement and disbelief. "We'll get into knock-down, drag-out fights when teasing goes too far."

"It hadn't gone very far yet," Jasmine chuckled.

"Yeah, they can really get into it when they want to," Salice grinned.

"Could we tone it down a little bit?" Garnet asked quietly. "The colors are getting loud," he murmured, sounding more than a little confused. It was a tone that was more than enough to get all his sisters' attention.

"The colors are too bright, or making noise?" Shadow asked as she stood to kneel next to him, her black features knotted in concern.

"Making noise," he said, closing his eyes tight.

"Is there anything left of the frog he was eating?" Ledur asked, looking at the kit's plate. He picked it up, quickly inspecting what was left of it. "Properly cooked... he'll be fine in a few minutes," he offered.

"Does anyone else have a meal containing hallucinogenics, narcotics or things that cause side-effects?" she asked quickly, her voice low out of respect for her brother as she covered his eyes with her hand to block out more light.

"No," Jasmine said, shaking her head after a quick look. "Not anything serious, at any rate. A mild buzz at most, and not even that for most people."

"Does the frog usually cause this?" she asked evenly, reassured by how nonplussed the locals were about it.

"Not this strong; it's why Ledur checked to make sure it was fully cooked," Cartha explained. "It usually makes colors and sounds more vibrant if cooked properly."

"So no more of that frog for you," she told Garnet gently, sure he was perfectly happy to comply with the restriction without the order.

"You really didn't have to tell me, you know," he grumbled lightly. "How long'll this last?"

"It should pass in about five to ten minutes; I'll get you a new meal," Ledur promised. "It'll help you process the toxins. It may be worse because you went straight to the meat, instead of putting some rice beneath it first."

"Or I'm just sensitive to it," Garnet said calmly, the tension fading from him as he settled in to wait out the strange sensations. "Thanks," he added as he heard Ledur get up.

"It's possible," Cartha nodded. "You're handling it well," she offered, taking his plate to dispose of the risky parts of it before Ledur returned with a replacement of rice and mutton, with a serving of chilled fruit for desert.

"Thanks," he murmured as the distortion began to fade. "Is that a common thing to eat?" he asked as he began to feel more like himself.

"Not usually," he reassured him. "Some people are particularly fond of them, but they're not a common meant for most. Mostly an issue with nobles, at this time of day."

"Leave it to the tom to pick the psychedelic meat," Kaylinn giggled.

"It's not like you haven't eaten frog a few hundred times," Garnet countered with a snort. "Thanks for the new meal, Ledur," he said to the only other tom present.

"Not a problem," he smiled. "If you're feeling up to it, eat some before you go to open your eyes, it will help."

"All right," he nodded and dipped his fingers into the rice, mixing it with the mutton a bit to get a feel for where things were and pinched up a mouthful to eat. "This is good."

"You'll be okay?" Shadow asked.

"Yeah, I will be," Garnet told her before cracking an eye open.

"Is it a bit calmer?" Calios asked him gently.

"Much," he said with obvious relief. "The mutton is good too, and the rice spice."

"It's very easy on our foreigner stomachs," Marri admitted, eyeing Kaycee and Kaylinn's plates in particular. "I still can't imagine insects as desert."

"They're full of honey," Kaycee told her before putting one of the small ants with a hugely swollen, translucent golden abdomen into her mouth where she slowly popped it with her tongue against the roof of her mouth.

"I'm sure it's sweet, but ant for desert still seems weird," she shrugged.

"And Kaycee is all about weird," Willow teased. "It's her sire's doing."

"At least I can go into the forest and not starve," Kaycee countered evenly. "Kyale's trained me well, and so has Dad."

"We know, we know," Kaylinn waved off the impending lecture. "Finish eating. I want to shop."

"Oh yeah," Shadow perked up. "I can't wait to see the local crafts."

Kaycee inspected a pair of long, slender blades carefully as she made her way through the bazaar with the others. She turned one of them over in her hands, getting a feel for its balance and edge. The blade was exquisitely etched, but not the best actual fighting blade.

"You coming, Sis?" Shadow giggled over her shoulder. "Or you going to stick around here for a while yet?"

"I'd like to look at the ceremonial weapons a bit more," she called over, relaxed in the way a fighter was on a busy street. "I'll catch up in a bit."

"I'll stay with her," Calios offered. "Make sure she doesn't forget to come along," she chuckled, though they both knew she was more worried about keeping up the family's obligation.

"You don't need to," Shadow offered. "I have my GPS cell with me."

"I'd rather not leave you alone in the bazaar; Lady Mika would be furious if I'd left you alone," Calios smiled.

"I can come along too," Kaycee said easily. "Can we just come back this way later?"

"Of course," the Balinese nodded. "That won't be a problem."

"Thanks," the lithe black girl smiled and gave a last glance at one of the finer weapons in the stall before rejoining the group. She knew even with a one to one ratio of locals to Clawsons, they were going to have quite a time keeping everybody together, especial with three of the locals just as distractible as her siblings. "I've always loved these open-air markets for crafts and food. My sire introduced me to the idea on the occasions I could join her for a few days when she was a name attraction somewhere exciting."

"How close are you to your sire?" Calios asked her curiously. "I'm familiar with her, though I'm afraid we've never met."

"Fairly close," she smiled. "She's been close to my Dads for decades. They still talk about her moving in sometimes now that she lives in the city full-time, but she has a long-time lover of her own, and now that Keeu's moved in, I kinda doubt she ever will."

"From what I know about your fathers, I'm sure Keeu wouldn't mind some help keeping them in line," Calios chuckled. "It's a pity she never moved to Traveris; she'd be quite welcome here, especially considering her upbringing."

Kaycee gave her a curious look. "She was raised as a tom where females are property."

"And now she is a very strong-willed female who keeps a male lover and servant," the chocolate-point Balinese shekat pointed out. "One who is happily submissive. To have overcome the mores of Majeare and gotten to the point she's at would be very impressive to most."

"It is," Kaycee smiled slightly. "I think she's too fond of Jake to move somewhere he's not likely to visit often. I can see how she'd be respected here though. Does the MMA ever come to Traveris?"

"Only for the female-only matches; we're trying to get the annual Female Fighter's tournament moved here from the Golden Empire, but it's an uphill battle."

"I can imagine," Kaycee murmured, her mind going over what she knew of the desert kingdom that shared so much in common with Traveris that their differences were all the more striking. "Especially with the Visa issues for males with Traveris. They are a huge chunk of the audience to lose revenue from."

"Quite," Calios chuckled. "I'm trying to convince them to pick a spot along our shared border and share the event, rather than trying to take it over, but that's more trouble here than over there."

"They aren't trying to shield half their population or more from outside influences while hosting an international event," Kaycee nodded, politely waiting for several of her sisters to finish ogling a jewelry stand. "It can't be an easy balance to strike."

"Not at all," the Balinese smiled. "Fortunately, I happen to be a sufficiently neutral party that they're willing to let me try sometimes. There are advantages to being an outsider - both sides are willing to forgive you 'missing' the 'obvious' facts."

"Which makes them actually say it, opening a dialog," Shadow joined the conversation briefly. "The first step in effective negotiation."

"Something you're familiar with?" Calios asked her.

"We all are to some extent," Shadow chuckled. "Too big and assertive a family not to have it be a survival tactic with our folks. I've studied it a bit more though, as part of my optional Social Studies courses."

"Yeah, she's the one who's studying international diplomacy 101 already," Kaycee snickered.

"No, I just learn enough about other places to handle 'em like you guys," Shadow teased back as the group began to move again. "It's not a passion of mine, but the class was good for it's level. I can hold my own through the primary schools."

Shadow let the conversation drift away from her as she looked at all the stalls, displays and people, as interested in the different ways various peopled looked at her and the group as she was in their merchandise. The group stopped at a clothing and fabric stall, but it was another weapon stall, one that looked to have the real thing, that caught her attention.

She glanced at the group, and moved to the weapon stall only two places away on the other side of the causeway.

"Do you see anything that interests you?" The Desert Cat female running the stall asked with a smile, noticing Kaycee after another customer finished doing business and walked away. She glanced up, looking around for a guardian or parent, noticed the others nearby and turned her full attention to Kaycee.

"Are your weapons designed for use, or display?" Kaycee asked politely, her eyes drifting towards a slender, curved short sword that would function as a long sword for her.

"Use," she chuckled. "Are you familiar with them?"

"Some," she nodded. "I train primarily with the staff and shorter blades. May I test the balance of that one?" she indicated a well-crafted sword with little decoration beyond the hilt crafted into a black hawk's head and shoulders, its wings spread into the cross-guard.

"Certainly," she nodded, picking it up and handing it over. "Just be careful with it."

"Yes ma'am," Kaycee said as she unsheathed the blade and held it out, testing it's balance in several positions, then laid it across her finger to find it's center point. It quite wasn't the quality that she was accustomed to, but it was respectable.

"You were hoping for better quality," the Desert Cat said before she had even finished. "I keep most of those in back. Few here today are interested in such work."

"Yes, please," Kaycee nodded and sheathed the sword before handing it back. "I do like the design. My parents and sensei believe in quality weapons."

"The best warriors do," she smiled approvingly. "Come," she said, setting the blade back on display. "I'll show you my best wares." She motioned, leading the way to the far side of her stall with Kaycee at her side.

Behind the stall the goods were in a chest, and two Desert Cat kits playing a quiet board game on top of it. They greeted their mother in a dialect of Taverian and hopped off the chest so she could open the simple keyed lock.

With Kaycee and the merchant both focused on the chest, neither of them noticed two Caracals slipping around the back of the booth. The kits, not knowing they weren't just other customers, didn't say anything about them. One of the Caracals pulled out a silk rag as they walked up behind the two of them... and that tipped Kaycee off. Her sharp nose picked up the biting smell of the chloroform poured onto the rag.

Just before the one of the Caracals grabbed for the ten-year old she ducked, catching sight of the other grabbing the merchant. Kaycee twisted and kicked her foot out to catch her attacker's knee.

"Jessin!" she snarled as loud as she could as she tried to make good an escape towards the causeway. "Help!"

The one holding the Desert Cat dropped her, spinning to chase after Kaycee, snarling something in Taverin she couldn't quite make out. She leaped after Kaycee before she could make it into the open, tripping her and pinning her to the ground. The other one grabbed her scruff and forced the rag against her face.

Kaycee struggled, tried not to breath in, and found both to be difficult when pinned with an adult Caracal on top of her.

Her vision was starting to blur when she caught movement out of the corner of her eyes, and got a desperately needed breath of fresh air. Ledur let his momentum carry the one who'd had the rag back into a wall, scratching at her face with his claws as Calios and Jessin hauled the other one to her feet, and Jasmine and Cartha pulled Kaycee clear.

"Merchant ... kits okay?" Kaycee asked with another gasp of clear air.

"Focus on breathing, sis," Shadow's voice centered her attention as she was handed off to her siblings and age-mates, now in a close group around her with Jasmine and Cartha on guard while the adults bound the attackers.

Kaycee nodded, trying to breathe more steadily. In the back of her head, she wondered how Kyale would have rated her performance.

"They're fine," Cartha told her after a brief exchange with the merchant. "They thank you for distracting them."

Kaycee nodded, still woozy and wondering whether the merchant had been the target, or if she had been. The tactics made her fuzzy brain think it was likely her, and that sense got even stronger as oxygen cleared the chloroform from her system.

"The attackers, still alive?" she tried to focus on what was going on even as she realized that Shadow wasn't nearby anymore.

"She'd helping Ledur," Garnet whispered in her ear. "He got hit hard."

"Is he okay?" She asked, looking around to take in the scene. She could see the Caracal tom nursing several wounds, a couple of them on his face, but the one he'd gone after looked to be in worse shape.

"I will be," he promised her as Shadow checked his injuries. "Are you okay?" He asked her.

"Yes," Kaycee nodded firmly. "Just some chloroform and a couple bruises. I've taken worse sparing. Who were they after?"

"You have to ask?" Garnet asked her incredulously.

"The merchant seemed to think it was her," Kaycee pointed out.

"It's pretty clear they were after you, but I doubt they'll talk right now," Jasmine said. "The Guard should be here shortly."

"I thought so," Kaycee nodded. "What kind of crime is this?"

"Since Ledur was the only one hurt, likely only a few years in prison, a fine for the attempt of what you would be worth in random, and restitution to Mother for his injuries. If you'd been hurt, it would have been much worse, by Mother's hand if nothing else," Cartha explained. "It's a cultural norm we share with many in this area and several others. Kitnapping is barely a crime, as long as no one is injured."

"I think maybe we should go home," Garnet suggested quietly. "We'll be here a couple weeks to check things out again."

"But the odds of another attempt on the same day is much smaller," Kaycee objected. "I'm fine, really."

"It's very true," Ledur nodded. "Though it might be best if I returned, and sent another of the servants along in my place, just in case."

"I'll take him home," Jasmine offered. "Bring back a couple guards. Just stay close together until we have a few more bodies to watch out for trouble."

"We will... I'm sorry I drifted off like that," Kaycee apologized, turning her eyes down sheepishly.

"You were not told not to cross the causeway," Cartha said gently. "We do need to avoid that now that you are definitely a target. I'm sure they were just after the first kitten that strayed, not you personally."

"I think I'm glad it was me," Kaycee murmured uneasily, her attention drawn to the merchant talking to Calios. "I have the best combat training of any of us."

"Yeah, but Kaylinn and Garnet have the constitution to roll over on a Caracal," Marri tried to lighten the mood by teasing her.

"Lady Kaycee, please accept this in thanks for your consideration of myself and my kits," the merchant bowed to her and offered a velvet-wrapped item the length of a long dagger or knife.

Kaycee almost instinctively glanced at her hosts, very cognizant of how easily she could offend without meaning to. Cartha nodded slightly with a subtle hand signal to accept.

"Thank you," the lithe black kitten accepted the gift. "I only did what was right. It was my presence that brought you in danger."

"We are still quite grateful," the Desert Cat smiled. "Kitnappers or robbers, you saved us from them either way."

"Long and healthy life to you," Kaycee said as they parted and the bazaar returned to normal, though the various Clawons were still rather keyed up by the events.

"Good to have a day or two to relax without state events," Rock chuckled, walking through the bazaar with Jake, who was still wearing a female form. "Or Bastet's temple shutting down half the town with the celebration for you being here."

"I'm surprised the party was as big as it was, given that Bastet isn't a major deity here," Jake said as she considered a finely decorated armored choker. "It would set off her fur nicely."

"Kyale's?" Rock checked, considering it. "It would. Or Midnight's ... not really Keeu's style though."

"Not really Midnight's style either," Jake couldn't help but chuckle at the idea of her wearing armor, even decorative armor. "Kaycee would probably like it too."

"But that gets into jewelry for ten girls and a tom," Rock winced at the idea of finding that many pieces.

"If they picked it out, it'd only take them a little while," Jake chuckled. "But you're probably right. For Kyale though, it's a good match."

"Agreed," Rock nodded, looking up as he saw somebody approaching them. "Huh... okay, that's different for the locals," he murmured, looking at the two people in robes, wearing ornate masks. "Think we've got company from the local Temple," he said, recognizing the masks as representations of Eshik and Marka, and the dress designed to conceal their gender and build.

"For you, no doubt," Jake said before turning to the merchant and making short, fierce work of the bartering process for the armored choker.

"Greetings, Champion," the priestess in Eshik's mask said politely, bowing lightly towards him. "Would you and your mate be willing to join us at the Temple? We would like to celebrate your visit, if you are willing."

"We would be honored," Rock bowed politely in return.

"If you would come with us, we will show you to the Temple," she said, a smile in her voice. "Would you like your purchases taken back to the palace where you are staying?"

"No need," Jake assured her as she slipped the choker into the inside pocket of her sash.

"Excellent; please come with us," she nodded, turning to lead the way. "Our Temple is more noticeable here than in many places, thanks to our general acceptance."

"At least in certain aspects," Rock smiled slightly as the followed the two priests in their unusual, gender-muting costumes.

They led the way to the quieter parts of the city, where many ornate temples to local and foreign deities stood. The one they led them to still fit with the philosophy of hiding a temple in plain sight, oddly enough - while vastly more ornate than most temples to Eshik and Marka, it looked just like its neighbors, except for the masked guards at the door in bright red sashes.

"It's different," Jake said as she took in area. "Fitting though."

"Thank you," she nodded, leading the way inside. "Do you have your sashes, or will you need them supplied?"

"We did bring them, but they are at Mika's palace," Rock told them. "If you have ones we can wear, it is likely easier than picking ours up."

"Agreed," she nodded as the guards closed the doors. She reached up, taking the mask and removing it ... revealing a Caracal tom's face. "Inside, we don't wear the masks," he explained. "Outside, they are a necessity for most of us," he added as 'Marka' took off 'his' mask and revealed a distinctly female Caracal's face.

"We would be quite pleased if you referred to us by our presented genders, however," he said. "Many of the Temple's members are transsexuals, and in here we live as we wish we could outside."

"Of course," Rock nodded easily. "The way of Eshik and Marka, filtered through Traveris. Do you have a sash prepared for my rank?"

"We do," the priestess smiled. "Follow me; my name is High Priestess Tyarra; my mate is High Priest Shyalm." She removed her robes, revealing her own black sash over a much lighter tunic and breeches. Glancing into an open room on the way by, Rock saw that it seemed to be the chosen 'uniform' for relaxing members of the Temple, one that could easily be taken for either gender if it had to be.

"Our defense against a possible raid or intrusion by outsiders, in here," Tyarra explained, leading the way to a luxurious room with the complicated sashes the pair wore visible. Jake's on a chair and Rock's hanging from the end of the bed. "Please, consider the room yours while you are here," she smiled.

"Thank you Tyarra," Rock said as he tied the red sash with a black stripe down its center and a gold and blood red hem. "Is there anything in particular I can assist you with while I am here?" He asked and checked as Jake tied her own sash, one even more complex than Rock's. The dark blue of Jake's sash was offset by two stripes down the center, one of red and the second the white of a healer, with a hem of gold alternating with black.

"The celebration primarily," she said easily, not even reacting as Jake shifting to his male form. "We haven't been having any particular difficulties, though if you could attend services some time before you leave it would be most appreciated. There aren't any debates scheduled among the nobles that we have any particular stake in, so we don't need to try pulling in any extra support... and, to be honest, I'm not sure how helpful your presence would be," she admitted.

"I understand," Rock acknowledged. "We would be pleased to attended the celebration and a few services."

"Have you had any difficulties getting members to one of the gender-change beams?" Jake asked politely.

"More difficulties in getting them back," she admitted. "It's a pity that we can't get one of your portable models into the country, it would be a Godsend to us. Unfortunately, we can't even really speak out in favor of it on the rare occasions it comes up, not without exposing ourselves too much."

Jake glanced at his mate, who nodded.

"I could put one together while I'm here fairly easily," he offered.

"If you're willing to take the chance and we can find all the components, we'd be immensely grateful," Tyarra blinked. "We hadn't expected anything like that."

"I have a talent with machines and I should have everything I need in the workshop on my jet," Jake smiled at her. "I'll leave you with schematics as well, in case anything happens to the real thing."

"I meant the chance of being caught," she pointed out. "It would be disastrous for everybody involved. The local attitudes have made owning one very similar to owning your own nuclear device."

"I know," Jake nodded. "You are risking far more than I am. If you find the risk of having one worth it, I'm willing to risk providing one."

"We will discuss it. I feel it would be, but it's not solely my decision," Tyarra said.

"I like the idea, though it's concerning," Shyalm added. "Something this important, and dangerous to us, will be brought to the congregation for opinions."

"Would you like a tour of the Temple, while the preparations are being made?" Tyarra asked.

"Yes," Rock nodded. "How big a celebration will it be?"

"Not nearly as large as Bastet's," she chuckled. "A parade, much like the other, but not quite as flashy, and with a much smaller party at the end. We don't have the funds or clout to shut down a good portion of the city for three days." She started to lead them out, and around to the main rooms of the Temple.

"It will still be a good bit of public good will with the masses," Rock said, watching and mentally mapping the temple as much as his mate did. It seemed much like the Temple back home, except for the clothing people were wearing. Before long, he realized that most of the people here were reversing, to one extent or another, the common gender roles of Traveris.

"That is what we hope," Tyarra smiled. "We get along well with most of the nobles, particularly since we don't try to convert most of them. The common people, however, aren't as familiar with us. We will be taking a few small chances with this, having toms run some of the stalls and speak to people, but we're hoping to only send the message that we're not as hidebound about the roles as most."

"Have you approached Mika about making her presence known?" Jake asked. "She may well be willing to show up to provide a bit of subtle support. She is very liberal for Traveris."

"We've considered it, but we haven't just yet," Schyalm admitted. "While she is a good ally of ours, in the long run, we're also concerned about her abilities as Izaris' Champion.

"So you don't have much focus on the S&M and incest angles of Their portfolio here?" Jake asked.

"Not as much, but we do still focus on them to some extent. The S&M aspect is our public face," Tyarra explained. "And one of the reasons we're as popular as we are locally, and with the nobles. We can supply them with toys and products that are difficult to get without our network and help."

"Always a nice bit of leverage," he smiled. "How can I help the celebration go well?"

"By being there, mostly," she chuckled. "We will be masked, but we had hoped that the two of you would be willing to go unmasked. Your presence lends us a certain validity, just as Rock's presence at your celebration indicated support from our Temple and Tamorl's."

"I'm quite willing to go without a mask and in formal robes," Jake said without hesitation. "Would it be better if I was female?"

"Same here," Rock nodded. "We'll both be there, obvious and without masks."

"Excellent," Tyarra nodded. "As for the gender you use... either one would be fine by us. Honestly, I'd prefer whichever you're most comfortable in, probably male. However, I'm not sure how Bastet's Temple would take to it, after your very public appearance as a female."

"After carrying, giving birth and nursing eight kits, I'm fairly comfortable as a female," he chuckled. "I'll probably stick to female then, to keep things consistent."

"Doubtlessly," she laughed. "Please take no offense, but are you truly an Acolyte in our church?" She asked him.

"None taken," he promised. "I am. It was sorted out after our wedding. I knew more than most Acolytes, so I went through the tests and rites for the rank."

"The same way I did, he just stopped," Rock added.

"I suspect that one of these days," Shyalm chuckled, "theological scholars are going to look back at this time and wonder what the Hell the gods were thinking. The Champion of Bastet and Halikar an Acolyte of Eshik and Marka... did you go to Tamorl's church as well?"

"On occasion, but I'm not technically a member," Jake told him with a stretch as they walked. "I appreciate the value of pure pain in learning."

"Fair enough; they're not as secretive as we tend to be," he nodded. "Beyond our obvious role as a haven for transsexual individuals in Traveris, we also provide a place for dominant males and submissive females. That's actually one of our stranger elements, compared to the mainstream faith," he explained, leading the way into the main Temple after he removed the sash from the door. The Altar was an ornate rack... what was striking was that a statue of Eshik was bound to it, one of Marka, wielding a flogger, posed and ready to strike. "Our branch focuses much more on the elements of the canon that featured Marka's submissive behavior with her brother. Obviously, we don't show this to many outsiders, though we can explain it if we have to."

"Fortunately, one of the Temple's public stances is that it's good to have your mates and slaves familiar with your end of bedroom play, as well as theirs - they appreciate your efforts more," Tyarra winked.

"I'm sure it doesn't go over well, even with the explanation," Rock chuckled. "You have an alternate, I assume?"

"We just have to remove the statues," she nodded. "Then we can have the guest of honor take one of their places, if they wish."

"Not a bad arrangement," Jake nodded in agreement. "When is your next service?"

"That depends on you two, actually," she smiled. "If you're willing, we've got everything set up so that we can hold the parade and celebration this afternoon. Otherwise, we'd been hoping to hold it tomorrow instead. Either way, we intend to hold services the evening of the parade, for anybody who is interested. If we hold them tonight, we'll keep the celebration going through tomorrow, otherwise we'll wait until it's wound down before starting the services."

"This afternoon works for me," Rock said.

"Same here," Jake agreed. "The midnight service for Bastet I agreed to attend shouldn't overlap much."

"Not at all," she chuckled. "Only the playtime that often follows. If you'll come with me, we can start to get you ready then."

"Excellent," Rock purred, honestly excited to promote his patrons in such an open fashion.

Marchwi Cayron lowered her face, confident in her robe and hood to conceal the magical brands that no amount of dye work could conceal for long, but less confident that these two at the front of a parade wouldn't recognize her. Eleven years and some ago was the last time they'd crossed paths, and it was a moment she could never forget. She'd made right and removed most of the brands, but the last two would never go away and she knew it.

Today, when they got off those fancy camels and mingled with the crowd, she'd manage to kill at least one of them. Champions or not, she had the weapon that would allow even her to kill them.

She slipped it carefully from its sheath, feeling the comforting weight of the knife in her grip. Rock's eyes passed over her... and he turned back, looking at her for a long moment.

Had he recognized her?

If he had, he didn't know from where; he was already moving along, the parade coming around the outside of the ring of people. Soon she would have her chance... he didn't even have a guard, besides his mate. The Champion of Bastet and Halikar was well known to be an exemplary fighter, but even he could be surprised, and she'd spent a lifetime perfecting that skill.

She only needed a brief opening. If she was very lucky, she could get them both, or at least badly wound Jake. With the stealth granted by looking like she belonged and only wished to get close like everyone else did, Cayron moved forward as the two champions dismounted and began to mingle.

Her biggest concern was Jake's senses would detect her. She knew that Halikar's Champion had a talent for sensing threats ... but it had been worked around before. Besides, in a crowd like this he wouldn't be able to pinpoint her location until it was too late.

Rock and Jake made their way towards her, oblivious to her presence as they chatted with some of the true locals surrounding her. In just another minute, they'd be within blade-reach. She shifted, putting herself on the big tabby's side, but kept a couple people between them as he passed. It was in the group closing behind him, trying to his attention after he passed that she finally worked next to him.

"Dad!" A voice shouted, just before she attacked. Rock twisted around towards the voice, trying to figure out what was going on, but it was too late.

Jake's head snapped around in time to see the glint of the ornate, golden-hilted blade as she drove it into Rock's lower back and threw his kidneys, slicing and twisting as much as she could as she pulled the long dagger out and twisted to face Jake's attack as Rock dropped to his knees. She couldn't afford to have him live long enough to be rescued.

The buff tom managed to half-twist, grabbing her robe and pulling it back. Pain slashed through her body before he collapsed, forcing her to stumble backwards. The crowd around them screamed, starting to run from the fight. Jake shifted to his male form to access the combat abilities of Halikar's Champion and lunged at her, golden flames wreathing his body as he tackled their attacker.

Cayron slashed at him, the flames searing her fur as she tried to get a clean thrust, instead only managing to cut him with the enchanted blade. She saw the recognition hit his face when he got a solid look at it, then the fury took over and she saw nothing but golden flames as they burned her flesh and bones to ash.

Ghunaya forced her way through the crowd, Keeu right behind her, but stopping to hold the other kits back when she saw the scene.

"Dad?" Ghunaya whimpered, on her knees next to Rock as he bled out from the gaping wound in his back.

"I'll be okay," he gasped. "Stay back."

The tall, slender tabby nodded and backed off, turning to focus on her siblings as they got close. She knew Keeu had her work cut out for her in calming Jake down from the raging fire hawk with nothing to kill.

"Jake, she's dead," Keeu said, coming as close to Jake as she dared. "You have to back down, so we can take care of Rock," she told him, wincing as Rock let out a ragged scream of pain.

"Gods, I hate Tamorl's healing," she shuddered, unable to restrain her reaction to the sound. The wound she'd seen... going through the pain of it in the space of a few seconds probably would have killed most people. She could only be grateful that neither of her fathers were anything like most people.

The sound did serve to distract the rage that had consumed Jake, and the flames flared hot and bright before fading away as Jake shifted to his female form and rushed the few steps to his mate.

"Hold on, it'll be over soon," Jake offered what words of comfort she could along with the limited healing magic she had to offer.

"I know," Rock hissed. "Dammit... same fucking knife Max had, wasn't it?" He growled lowly. "Make sure we get it melted down this time!"

"It was," Jake nodded, glancing towards the smoldering remains of melted street. "Is," he murmured in shock to see the weapon undamaged in the center of his fury.

"Did you see what happened?" someone in a fancy Leopard mask asked Keeu, fear clear in her voice.

"Not clearly," she admitted, picking up the dagger cautiously. "Somebody tried to kill the Champion with this."

"Tried, not succeeded," Rock said firmly, trying to get to his feet. He could feel Jake's initial resistance, but soon felt his mate begin to support him instead.

"Dad?" Kaycee was the first to approach them. "You're going to be okay, right?"

"I will be," he promised, reaching back and wincing as he touched the still-seeping wound. "Just going to need a bit more time to work on that. Jake, can you give me enough help to show that I'm all right?" He asked his mate quietly. "Slow down the panic."

Jake nodded and poured as much healing magic as she could into her mate. It wasn't enough to dull the pain noticeably, but it did close the wound and allowed him to stand strait.

"Allow me to clean the blood off, so we can show that the injury is past," High Priest Shyalm said and knelt with a jug of water and clean rag.

"Thank you," Rock nodded. "I'll need to see a doctor to make sure everything mended correctly, but for now I'll be fine." He waited for Shyalm to clean the wound then climbed back up onto his camel so it was clear he was all right.

"The person who attacked me was dealt with," he told the crowd, his deep voice carrying well, reassuring those gathered more than his words. "There's no more danger here, and everybody's all right!"

"Except the attacker," Kaylinn muttered under her breath.

"Wh-what was that fire?" someone nearby stammered.

"When I was attacked, my mate came to my defense." Rock helped Jake up onto her own camel. "As the Champion of Bastet and Halikar, her powers killed the attacker."

"Is it true you were born a tom?" someone called out.

"Yes," Jake answered, turning her head towards the voice. "I still spend most of my time as one. The shift is Bastet's gift to me."

"Should we cut this short, Champion?" Shyalm asked him quietly. "Get you to a doctor, and get the people focused on something else?"

"Once the celebration has gotten back on track," Rock said firmly. "I will be fine for an hour or so."

"Very well," he nodded. "But in an hour and a quarter, we're taking you back and our own medics will check you out."

"Agreed," Rock nodded before turning his full attention to the crowd and reassuring them that everything was fine despite the scorch marks and melted stone and earth of the roadway where his attacker had once been.

"Do you know who it was?" Keeu asked, trying to conceal her nerves. "You've seen that weapon before too."

"I've got my ideas, but I think Jake saw her better," Rock told her. "And yes, I have; don't let it get away from you. I don't want it used against us ever again."

"It will not get away from me," she promised. "Will it be safe on Ameris?"

"Yes," Jake answered her. "If it was used by who I think, then she acted alone."

"I'll take it back then," she nodded. "Safer if we get it under control now, rather than later. You go make sure Rock doesn't manage to find another hitkat with a grudge," she smiled weakly. "I'd really rather not have to go through this again."

"I will," Jake promised with a bit of a smile, grateful that Mika had sent some of her servants along to help keep tabs on the kittens.

Keeu moaned softly, spreading her legs further apart and arching her back against her bound wrists as Jake lightly fingered her sex.

"Mmm ... ready to break every local rule about sex?" Rock asked Jake with a low purr, nuzzling his neck as he slid up against his back.

"I know I am," Keeu whimpered, looking up at the display the two toms were making and licking her lips hungrily. "Thanks for turning back," she purred hotly, moving her leg to rub against Jake's erection.

"I enjoy it more with you," he moaned as Rock pressed into his ass, opening him up in a single, smooth motion. "Oh yeah," he panted, his cock hard and heavy between his legs as he kissed and fondled the bound shekat under him.

"I'm glad," she rumbled hotly, kissing him back, pressing up into his touch as Rock started to thrust. "Mmm ... though maybe some time we should see about giving Rock two fems to play with," she winked.

"Happy with my tom, thanks," Rock smirked, shifting so he was rubbing against Jake's prostate.

"Me too," Jake shuddered at the jolt of pleasure, rubbing his cock and balls against her raised shin. "Never get tired of this."

"Then we'll give you plenty of chances to prove it," Keeu purred, gasping as the tip of Jake's claws grazed the hood of her clit and pressed up into the touch. "Damn that was good...."

She focused on Jake's face as he grunted and bared his teeth with the first muscle-tightening spasm of his orgasm.

She leaned up, kissing him as he came, spraying her leg with his seed as she plundered his mouth until Rock roared and filled the cinnamon-tom's ass.

"Good?" She purred as he recovered.

"Oh yeah," Jake rumbled, kissing her again. "What do you think about completing a Jake sandwich?"

"Sounds good; want to untie my hands?" She grinned up at him, then groaned as somebody knocked on the door. "If that's one of the kits, it can wait until morning," she muttered.

"Now, now, you know the rules," Jake chuckled and kissed her with a low moan as Rock pulled out of him. He slipped from the bed as Rock lay on his side next to Keeu to watch the door when Jake opened it.

"Seriously, it had better be something important," the teenager grumbled as Jake opened the door to reveal a Caracal on the other side.

"Erie?" Rock asked, leaning up on one elbow.

"I'm sorry to interrupt you," the Caracal blushed deeply. "Mistress Mika had said that I could spend the night with you, if you wished, and ... I didn't know you were already busy."

"It's hard not to be with the two of them," Jake grinned at him. "Come in. I think we can have some fun."

"Thank you," the Caracal tom grinned, perking up and slipping in. "Greetings, Rock, Keeu," he smiled, bowing politely to them both. "I hope you don't mind?"

"You're always fun," Rock grinned at him. "I don't mind another tom in the mix."

"I didn't think you would," he giggled, stripping down quickly. "Lady Keeu?"

"As long as I don't end up spending the whole night paying attention to you guys without getting some attention paid to me," she purred. "I don't think I'm willing to go against tradition that much," she teased.

"Oh, you'll get plenty of attention," Rock promised with a teasing grin. "I need something to do while Jake works Erie over."

"And just what do you have in mind?" Keeu asked, blushing deeply.

"Whatever it is, I'm sure it'll be incredible," Erie purred, slipping down to his knees and turning towards Jake. "What do you want from me, Master?"

"You're enjoyment," he grinned. "Go stand to be bound," he motioned to a spot in the middle of the room where there was a rig to tie him to the ceiling by the wrists.

"Finding out if you get as turned on watching Jake work someone over as I do," Rock purred deeply, running a hand along her slender body. "I'm sure you know that Eshik and Marka are about more than S&M."

"I do," Keeu nodded. "Just... let's go slow on that end of things?" She asked him with a pleasant shiver at his touch. Eire stood gracefully, walking over to the small hook he knew was in the ceiling, raising his hands towards them. She could already see that his cock was rock-hard. "He's really turned on for Jake, isn't he?"

"Given that Jake enjoys fucking him, oh yeah. It's the only time he ever gets treated like a fem," he chuckled and kissed her neck. "I'll go slow, I promise."

"Thanks," she murmured, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Rock was her father's cousin ... academically, she knew it wasn't that big a deal if he did go farther than they normally would. But she knew that Rock's being involved with Jake was one of the reasons that both her folks had been a little leery about this. "Just a little nervous," she murmured, letting her ears help her focus on Jake and Erie's play.

"No need to be," Rock said gently as he slipped his fingers between her legs, turned on by just how slick she already was. "Relax, I'll make you moan and scream, and I'll only fill you if you beg me to."

"Nnngh ... if I do, take my ass," she murmured, turning her head to kiss him lightly. "Doing this because you want to, not just because of Them?"

"Agreed," he rumbled, fingering her clit with one claw as he fondled a breast with the other hand. "They're pushing it, but you are sexy on your own. Once we were in the same bed, it is kinda inevitable. Better to get used to each other now, than to find ourselves in the moment when you're in heat."

"Gods yes," she moaned, turning to kiss him lightly. "Be hard enough not getting pregnant with Jake involved."

"At least with him any kittens you have will be healthy and sane," he rumbled as he slid two fingers into her sex and rubbed her clit with the heel of his hand.

"Ooh... yours would be too," she admitted, kissing him again and grinding her sex up against his hand. "One of the gifts to Their Champion that doesn't come up too much."

"Just wait until the current lot are mostly grown," he chuckled, finger-fucking her body until she began to tremble. "You'll be full of his kittens and he's be a she full of mine."

"Just... be glad... ngh... that our heats won't synch up!" She teased, whimpering as her body started to convulse around his fingers. "Fuck, Rock... so close...."

"Hold off," Jake called out to Rock as he sank into Eire's ass. "Want to see her come with you deep in her."

"Gods you're evil, you know that?!?" Keeu protested, writhing under Rock's skilled fingers, trying to find some way to make him give her the little bit of extra stimulation she needed to get off.

"I have my kinks too," he grinned back as he clamped his jaws around Eire's scruff and fucked him deep and hard, ruthlessly pounding into his near-virgin ass with his claws dug deep into the Caracal's hips.

"Nnngh... just one or two, huh?" Keeu groaned. She tried to roll over to offer Rock her ass. "Fuck me?" She asked him shyly.

"Anytime you're hungry for it," he rumbled and circled her anus with a finger slick with her juices. "You are beautiful, horny or not," Rock whispered in her ear as he grabbed her hips and pressed into her with a long, smooth motion. "I am so glad the flirting stage is done."

"Oh... and I'm glad I like this more than Mom does," she moaned, squeezing down around his cock, raising her tail between them. "Mmm ... what you wanted?" She asked, looking back over her shoulder at Jake.

It's a start," he purred lustfully, his eyes closing briefly before he roared and came hard, pouring his seed deep into Eire's bowels.

"He ever talk to you about this?" Keeu asked Rock, squeezing her ass down around him as he pulled out, relaxing as he thrust deep into her ass. "And think he'd like me between you?" She added, barely above a whisper.

"He'll like anything that involves having you very well fucked," Rock chuckled. "What do you think about having him in your pussy and me in your ass while you suck that pretty Caracal off?"

"As long as he cleans up a bit between the... mmm... between the two of us, sounds wonderful," she moaned, starting to purr as she got into the thorough fucking, her pussy burning hungrily.

"I will," Jake promised as he pulled out from his plaything. "I love the way you think," he purred to his mate and received a grin in return. "Go have her suck you off, use her the way you're used," he instructed Eire as he untied the tom's wrists.

"Yes Master," Eire grinned, moving over to the bed and climbing up, straddling her bound wrists and kissing Rock as he reached down to caress Keeu's head.

"Did my Jake leave you that hard after coming twice?" she purred up at him and tipped her face up to nuzzle his cock and balls.

"It is the most erotic thing you can do to a Traveran tom," Rock chuckled and claimed a kiss for his mate as Jake joined them and scooted under Keeu's body, spreading her legs and pulling her body down on top of him so he could sink into her throbbing sex.

She moaned deeply, and Erie shifted to slide his throbbing, barbed cock into her mouth. She relaxed her throat, taking his cock as he started to fuck her face, suckling and licking at his barbs as she worked her pussy and ass around the two cocks pistoning in and out of her body.

"Damn this is good," Jake moaned at the feeling of Rock's cock sliding along his own inside her tight body. He cupped one of her breasts in a hand, his mouth around the other and his free hand reached up to rub Rock's body.

Keeu twisted her hands around, lightly clawing at Eire's thighs and ass as he fucked her face. Her tongue lavished attention on his throbbing member, and she actually let her attention to Jake and Rock slide a bit as pleasure fogged her senses and made it harder to focus on any one thing, let alone three different ones at once!

She moaned around his cock as Jake and Rock came hard inside her, thrusting and grinding against her sex and ass as they filled her with hot seed.

Eire panted, whined and leaned forward to kiss Rock hotly as he surrendered to the pleasure and emptied his balls down her eager throat.

Her body clenched down around both of them, milking their cocks as she drank down Eire's seed greedily, suckling him dry and then licking him clean as her cousin and lover emptied themselves into her tight ass and pussy.

"Mmm, that was really good," Rock rumbled and nuzzled her neck while Jake continued to fondle and lick her breasts. "Ready for more, sweetie?"

"Nnngh ... oh yeah," she nodded, licking her lips clean and nuzzling Eire's cock. "Wanna switch positions?" She asked the Caracal tom with a grin.

"Oh yes, if I am," he looked very hopefully at the toms in charge.

"Sure," Jake grinned at him. "You'll be spoiled forever after taking two in the ass."

Abi Sinian's tail swished in a mixture of excitement and agitation as she flipped through the Grimoire Apell, trying to find the name and origin of one of the mummies she had uncovered in the Seharal Complex. Even after a decade working the site, she and the largest crew she had ever seen, much less managed, had only scratched the surface of what was an incredible find.

She was sure she had seen Halikar's golden form overlooking them more than once, even when Jake wasn't around to check in on this.

Her ears twitched as she heard some sort of excitement outside. The alarms weren't going off... hopefully it wouldn't interrupt her work. She was sure she was on the way to finding what she was after... and to figuring out an indexing system for the damned book. It was not easy to track things down; organizational skills weren't necessarily a high priority for wizards, it seemed.

All that hope was dashed when the door was opened with a thud.

"You will have to leave," the priestess in front of an impressive security contingent ordered curtly.

"What's happened?" Abi asked, closing the book but keeping a thumb in her place. "Another attempt to steal it?"

"That is not your concern," the tabby said curtly. "You may contact the Head Librarian to schedule time with it if she deems you may."

The normally sedate academic's ears flattened at the tabby's tone.

"Excuse me?" She asked archly, picking up the Grimoire and holding it close. "That's never been a concern before."

Had somebody decided she was a security risk? The idea was laughable... she'd had over a decade to steal the book, and far easier circumstances to do it in, if she'd wanted to. Hell, she could have just decided to keep it to herself, instead of telling them about it.

"I have my orders," the priestess locked eyes with her. "You are to leave. Now."

"All right. Your name is?" Abi asked her crisply. "And is the Head Librarian here, or is there nobody here I can get a straight answer from, rather than being treated like some sort of unwelcome intruder after thirty years of support and having brought you this relic myself fifteen years ago?"

"She is in her office," the priestess said with clear annoyance. "I am Preserver Dalia. Do I need to have the guards remove you?"

"No," Abi said curtly, before she decided to give in to a nasty impulse. She took the Grimoire in her hands, holding it out in a clear offer to the Preserver. "I do intend to take this up with her before you're out of this building though," she warned her.

Dalia said nothing as she nodded to the two guards to take the book and placed it back on the podium until Abi had left the room.

Abi stalked out, making her way to the head office. Acolytes who saw her quickly made themselves scarce; the last time she'd been in this sort of mood was when her budget at the school had been cut and she'd had to fire her TA's. She did her best not to pound on the Head Librarian's door, but she knew her agitation was obvious

The door slid open, revealing a heavily backed office that was heavily reminiscent of her own, overloaded with scrolls, old books and half-finished translations.

"Abi," the silvering Lioness looked up in surprise at her clear anger. "What happened?"

"The Preserver just threw me out without any explanation besides 'I'm following orders,'" Abi said bluntly. "When I asked for an explanation, I was told that if I didn't leave like a good little girl, I'd be removed by the guards. Now, given that everybody knew I was working with the Grimoire today, just like I have been for the last several days, like I have several times before, I'd like to know why I apparently don't rate any more consideration than a layperson who wandered into the restricted shelves."

The Head Librarian raised an eyebrow behind her glasses and closed the book she had been reading to pay her full attention to Abi.

"Orders to move the book to The Island Library came in," she explained. "Dalia is new to her post, it is quite a promotion for her, but between the extra responsibilities of a much larger Library and the book's move, she is not doing her best socially. You have my apologies for her behavior. I doubt she knows who you are yet."

"Well, she's got the 'you aren't supposed to be here because I don't want you here' vibe down pat," Abi grumbled. "Who made this decision, and why wasn't I told about it? I'd think I'm entitled to a little warning at least; I can't imagine how anybody would consider me a security risk after this long."

"It came from the Head Librarian of the Island," Calista said. "I was only told yesterday, with strict orders not to speak of it until the move was underway. It is unusual, but with the hazards of this city, I do understand the desire to have such a powerful artifact in a safer location. You should be able to read it whenever you wish. Izaris-mir is reasonable."

"And have the plans been set up in such a way that I can't be involved in the move?" Abi asked her. "I'd feel better, personally, if I had some involvement. I don't know anybody involved in this, so far, and you understand the power of the Grimoire as well as anybody."

"I yes, and I do understand," she nodded slightly, her body language apologetic. "I am sure you understand rank and authority, Abi. It is not my place to question the orders of a higher-ranking priestess."

"I know," she sighed. "I'll have to see about contacting her... and try not to throttle her over the phone," she muttered. "I assume everybody involved has passed full security, and is a known ally of the Temple?"

"Yes," she nodded seriously. "This was arranged at the highest level. If you wish, we can go speak to her now."

"I do, thank you," Abi nodded. "After you?"

Calista nodded and danced her fingers over a crystal pyramid on her desk. There was a pause of several long moments before a projection of a shewolf, her tri-colored fur and long hair nearly silver and blue with age, appeared.

"Hello Calista," the shewolf greeted her. "What is wrong?"

"What I warned you of," Calista cracked a small smirk. "Dr. Sinnian is quite unhappy."

"Primarily because I wasn't warned, contacted, or consulted before this was all put into place," Abi said. "I can sympathize with wanting to move the book, but it would have been quite preferable to have more warning than 'you're not supposed to be here, leave or we'll remove you.'"

"My orders were to keep the move very quiet, not be rude to one of our most helpful outsiders and seekers of truth," The shewolf said, looking towards Abi. "You will be welcome to read the Grimoire whenever you wish. Simply go to whatever Library you are nearest to and speak to the Head Librarian. You will be allowed to use our doors."

"Thank you, Izaris-mir," she said, inclining her head. "I hope that you hadn't considered me a security risk?"

"No," Izaris-mir shook her head. "You are always welcome in our Libraries. Would you care to wait here until it arrives to continue your work?"

"Certainly," Abi nodded. "I think I'm making progress on developing an indexing system for the Grimoire on top of the progress it's helping me with at the Complex, so I'd rather not lose any more time than I have to."

"I did not think the Grimoire Apell could be indexed," Calista said with a bit of surprise showing as she stood and activated a magical gate in the archway of clear wall behind her desk shimmered into a portal.

"When it was created, it basically couldn't," Abi agreed. "Even for modern individuals it would be difficult. Index might even be a little strong," she admitted, following Calista through the portal and stepping out into Izaris-mir's crystalline office that shimmered in the full rainbow light could produce. "However, it helps greatly to narrow down where you would look for something. It lists people alphabetically, but not by our alphabet... it's something like an encyclopedia arranged by topic, rather than letters. You just have to figure out the original alphabet, and the book quickly becomes easier to decipher."

"The magical dialect of a language that likely has not been used for a thousand generations or more must be difficult to decipher," Izaris-mir said. "Welcome to Izaris' Great Temple Island, Dr. Abi Sinnian."

"Thank you," she nodded. "And to put it mildly. I suspect the language hasn't seen significant usage by mortals since the dawn of civilization ... it's very primitive, very primal. Each letter has a distinct meaning, and each word describes a concept to exacting detail. I'm sure that's why it's used for True Names in the form given. It's why an index of sorts would only be possible today; you would need a good grasp on history, and thousands of samples, to even begin nailing it all down. Since most wizards and priests are barred from even touching it, it means that you need a perfect layman who can pick up on the similarities between subjects across various times and cultures."

"In other words, only someone like you would have any chance of starting the translation," the shewolf nodded. "How is your research in Seharal Complex going?"

"I wouldn't have put it quite that directly, but true," Abi chuckled. "It's going quite well. We've been discovering records of rulers we never suspected before. I've been putting off requests from Halikar's Priesthood in Tambron to visit for an honorary position. I don't want to take the chance that would screw up my ability to use the Grimoire; it's been invaluable so far."

"As I understand it, as long as you do not have any actual oath for favors from a god or powers that make you more than mortal, it should not," Calista said as they all took seats and relaxed. "It should not affect it, but it is a risk."

"Would you care for refreshments or a snack?" Izaris-mir asked them as she began to pour a glass of deep red wine for herself.

"A glass of wine would be nice," Abi admitted. "Help me wind my nerves down a bit. My apologies for my manners earlier, but I wasn't exactly at my best."

"Apology accepted," Izaris-mir nodded and poured one for her, and a spiked lemonade for Calista. "Would you indulge two Head Librarians with tales of your recent exploits?"

"Certainly," Abi nodded, sipping the wine as she noted in the back of her mind that it was her favorite brand and type. "Where would you like me to start?"

"How about with your latest research?" Calista asked. "You've been at the Grimoire for days now."

"Beyond the indexing that I am working on, I've been trying to look up who several mummies are that have been uncovered in the Seharal Complex," she smiled behind her glass. "It has been incredible. A decade into the excavation and it is quite clear that I could be at this my entire life and still have plenty left for my successor. I've already discovered an entire dynasty that was lost, though I haven't placed it in the timeline exactly yet." I'm quite sure I have seen Halikar's Avatar, if not Halikar Himself, several times. He stands there and watches, or flies over, giving us light during storms. He even drove a sandstorm away once."

"Well, at least he seems to be happy with your work," Izaris-mir smiled. "As is our Mistress," she added. "Do you know if any of them are related to Halikar yet?"

"Many seem to be, though it is quite distant after the First Dynasty," Abi nodded. "I have managed to confirm what the Asherians wrote about their succession. While it did follow the maternal bloodline within a dynasty, and occasionally between them, what made a Pharaoh a Pharaoh after Halikar's death and ascension to godhood was Halikar's direct choice of him as His Champion and High Priest. The Queen-Mother was the Champion and High Priestess of Halikar's first wife, Eloewin. Most High Priests were Champions of their respective gods."

"Only Champions? So Godhood was reserved for the elite pharaohs?" Calista guessed, leaning forward curiously.

"And other Champions, at least normally," Abi nodded. "They had a very different concept of what happened when the body died than most cultures of any time I'm aware of.

"Champions merged with their god, increasing the god's power but loosing themselves in the ultimate sacrifice in their world, but everyone else lived in a land of the dead that was a mimic of the real world, only without much of the suffering. They didn't seem to believe that people came back, or joined the universal energy to be born as a new person.

"I have to admit, it's been difficult even for me to understand much of their thinking, and I have to to understand much of their writings and designs. They spent their entire mortal lives preparing to pay for the preservation of their dead bodies so they would live forever.

"At least I think that's what is going on. There is a definite connection between the destruction of the body, or removing a name from history, and the person no longer existing in a very permanent way that they were truly terrified of. I have found one reference to a trial where the lesser penalty was a slow, tortured death and eternal curse. The leaders of the conspiracy were burned alive, reduced to ash that was scattered on the roads. The ringleader's names weren't recorded, and this seemed to be a court document. It detailed every tiny thing."

"Definitely an alien concept on Aristal," Izaris-mir mused. "I wonder if that Wave Runner fellow ran into it anywhere else... he might be able to help make some sense of it."

"He might," Abi nodded thoughtfully. "He has probably seen stranger in his travels."

"Would you like us to try locating him? He usually stays in reasonably close contact, and you could certainly help him with some of the historical elements," Calista offered.

"Yes, that would be appreciated," Abi nodded. "Help with a project like this is going to be very welcome. Jake has been wonderful for hints, background and opening political doors in Balkita, Beticris, and Halikar's priesthood, but he has too many duties to spend as much time as we'd both like helping out."

"We'll see to it," Izaris-mir nodded. "He should be able to work with the Grimoire as well," she mused. "He may be able to recognize the original language, if you're right about its power."

"He would?" Abi cocked her head at the shewolf as she tried to work out why an alien would know.

"If you're right, and the Grimoire is based on, for lack of a better phrase, the language of creation itself, it would seem possible that it's a universal language," she explained. "It may be that the way the book can be read isn't because of an enchantment, but instead because of an inherent power of the language."

"So ... there's ... oh, wow," Abi murmured, her chocolate brown eyes going wide behind her glasses as it sank in just what Izaris-mir was suggesting. "The language of the gods."

"That is one of the theories behind True Names," she nodded.

"You can see why we're so interested in your work on the index," Calista chuckled. "A translation between Katian and the divine? Most interesting, particularly to us."

"Yes, though the translations so far are limited at best," Abi admitted. "Our language is ill-suited to what the Grimoire is written in. It is not all that different from when we first try to understand a hieroglyphic language. Fascinating, but we will never have the full complexity of it in translation."

"We understand you can't work miracles, dear," Izaris-mir chuckled. "If you could translate like that, I'd be banking on your canonization."

Abi couldn't help but laugh at that. "If I could translate like that, I'd live in fear that someone would decide I'm too valuable to let die when I get too old. I know it's the 'cool' thing these days, but the idea of living in a robot body just freaks me out."

"And you'd hate getting grit in your gears on a dig," she snickered. "Don't worry, we understand the limitations of a mortal lifetime, and of having other interests in that life."

"Of which I'm thankful, though I'm forever cursing not having enough time to get what I need done, much less what I want to do," Abi admitted, glancing at the clock she could see.

"And we'll try to get you back to work as soon as we can," Izaris-mir promised. "Why don't you tell us more about what you've found? I haven't been able to follow your papers too carefully, but it's already got most of the archaeology community in a furor."

"That does tend to happen when you uncover the biggest find in archaeological history," she grinned, her face and body animating in a way that rarely happened. "Even if it really is only the second biggest find. That I have a god making personal appearances isn't hurting publicity at all. It's absolutely incredible. We've already excavated fourteen tombs, found three dozen more, and it's enough to know that not just pharaohs are buried in the Seharal Complex. We've uncovered several other champion-high priests, lesser queens and an assortment of royal officials that seemed to have made a good impression during their lives.

"The most fascinating tomb is that of an artist, however," Abi's tail flicked in excitement. "Her tomb says she was born a commoner and rose to prominence from her skill in creating lifelike statues. Her name was Articia."

"What in particular makes her tomb so fascinating?" Calista asked her curiously. "Samples of her work in her tomb?"

"Trace the etymology of the word artist in modern Katian," Abi grinned at her. "We knew it came from Balkita after the Asherian Empire took over, but not where it came from in their language. It just seemed to appear one day in their writings. Now we know why. It was the name of the one who redefined artist for them."

"Ah - linguistically fascinating," she nodded. "It does suggest her work was impressive; are there any surviving examples you know of?"

"Her tomb, the tombs of her time and for several generations after her, do have examples," Abi nodded. "This is not publicized news," she cautioned them. "While I've translated enough to be sure of what I just said, we have not reached her burial chamber yet and the contents of the tomb are not going to be public news for at least a couple years. From the look of things, a good example of her early work is in the MegaKat City Ancient Balkitan Museum. The statue of Halikar that has been used by nearly every temple as the model for it's own is her work."

"Ah... well then, if you can prove that it's hers, the Museum should be quite fond of you for answering the question of where that piece came from," she smiled. "Especially if you can supply new pieces to go with it."

"I am quite sure I can," Abi purred. "Her name-cartouche is on it, but until her tomb was found, we didn't know it was the name of a person. It looked more like an indication of quality, or possibly a carver's title. It is one of the great mysteries about it. There are several other statues with the same cartouche, but they have been dated across two thousand years. From that, no one dared say they might be the work of one person, or at least one mortal. Once this comes out and faces peer review, those statues will all have to be redated to before her death. Between that and having the names, bodies, treasuries and real-time histories of the bulk of previously unrecorded Balkitan history, it will be a very interesting time to be alive for the scholars and enthusiasts of ancient Balkita."

"How were they dated? Is it really likely that they were all that far off?" Izaris-mir asked carefully.

"Most by what they are with or where they are," Abi said. "The finds in the Seharal Complex extend Balkitan history by a fair amount already. I have dates for Middle Kingdom Pharaohs that predate what we had believed were before Hailkar Himself. The Asherians clearly shortened Balkitan history by a significant amount when they wrote it down. While I can't say for sure, I expect it was political; a combination of the Asherians not wanting a civilization that much older than theirs and the Balkitans not wanting to tell their secrets to the invaders. It has been a common acceptance that is why we lost so much of Balkita's knowledge, especially with the destruction of much of their learned class. The Temple of Halikar in Tambron has been an incredible insight into what happened in that time from the Balkitan perspective that wasn't overwritten by the Asherians."

"How have they taken to your quite literally digging up their past?" Calista asked her easily.

"There was some nervousness at first," Abi admitted. "They have been treated very badly by archaeologists, and those calling themselves archaeologists, but Jake's been a real asset in smoothing things out. As Halikar's Champion, his word carries a lot of weight that I won't abuse their trust and his willingness to put his honor as Halikar's Champion on the line to vouch for me pretty much enabled the deal. When Halikar began to watch and protect us when the dig began, they began to all but fall over themselves to be helpful. For once the limiting factor isn't the workforce. The Balkitan government has supplied help from thousands for the hard labor to experts in every field they can to supplying us with everything we need and a lot of what we wish for. They're keeping it relatively quiet on the international scene, but it's a huge national pride discovery that I'm treating with enough respect they think it's due."

"That's good," she smiled. "I hope you've managed to get your funding from a source you can trust for this? I know that several digs in Balkita have had problems with that; the person who writes the checks isn't as academic as the leader of the dig."

"It's hard to be more trustworthy on that count than a combination of the Temple of Halikar and the Balkitan government," she chuckled softly. "Jake's also chipped in a non too small amount, and on his or Rock's nudging the Temple of Bastet and several others have made no-string donations at various points. It's really amazing the kind of funds going into this, and not having a person behind them."

"But I have the feeling you like it," Izaris-mir grinned. "We would be willing to help as well, of course; if you ever find yourself needing experts for second opinions, we do have several at our disposal."

"I will keep that in mind," Abi promised with a look that said they'd be hearing from her as often as she had something. "So far I've been relying on a great deal on Priest Jeu Su from the Tambron Temple of Halikar. He's a historian from the one group that seems to have never lost touch with the old ways of Balkita. He's really quite fascinating, and he's ecstatic to be working on the project."

"I've met him," Calista grinned. "I'll bet he's like a kit in a candy store there. One of the better translators you could ask for as well."

"I know," Abi nodded with a fond smile. "He's wonderful company, a brilliant mind and as dedicated to learning and preserving history as anyone I've met. He doesn't translate the hieroglyphics and writings so much as reads them. It is truly amazing to listen to him work. He also knows so much about them and the culture that he adds a context to things that I've never had on other digs. He really does know what he's talking about."

"Mmm ... I'll bet you're a blast to listen to when you're alone," Calista grinned. "Knowing him - and you - your pillow talk probably sounds more like a university lecture."

"Most," she admitted with a blush. "Though sometimes the topics would be interesting to eavesdroppers. I remember one where we got off on a tangent about sexual aids in the time of Articia. One of the objects in her front treasure room was exquisitely carved in crystal, mother of pearl and precious metals. I thought it was a decorative scene of seal life. He pointed out it was actually a dildo, and given it's location in the tomb and room, most likely her favorite one in life. She actually used something of that beauty and craftsmanship in her daily life," she added with a bit of awe.

"Given her skill, she probably made her own of everything she could afford to," Izaris-mir offered. "Most artists appreciate beauty beyond the creation of it; I can't think of any better way for a top artist to surround themselves with it than to make their own."

"It is still amazing," Abi nodded in understanding and agreement. "I'm not used to thinking of anything so beautiful as an item you use, and it seems her world was full of them."

"Beauty and utility have always been at their best when combined," Calista smiled. "It's almost a pity that they'll probably be viewed as nothing more than museum pieces these days... no offense."

"None taken," Abi chuckled. "Feel free to suggest to someone that making a version for use might find a market. It won't be Articia's quality, but her vision of the possibilities can still go to good use. I know I'd appreciate a vibrator that would be put on display like that no matter who sees it."

"So, who else have you found?" Izaris-mir asked her curiously. "Anybody known to the public yet, or all new figures?"

"The latest two are going to make a huge splash when it goes public," Abi grinned. "Harki'ra the fourth and fifth," she purred. "From the look of their tombs so far, the belief that they founded the Middle Kingdom as we know it is true. "Harki'ra the fourth was a definite warrior, and his grandson, Harki'ra the fifth, is displayed as much more of a diplomat and defender.

"The morning I left workers had begun to uncover a new tomb, and from the look of the first room it may be the biggest discovery ever. You are aware that Halikar is thought to always choose tomkats as His Champion?"

"Of course," she nodded. "You've found an exception?"

"It may be," she nodded, nearly vibrating in excitement. "It's not a statement I'll make in pubic for a couple more years of study at least, but we uncovered a tomb with a female name attached to the title of Pharaoh. It's possible she died a regent to a pharaoh that was too young to rule, or it was a tom with an unusual name, but initial indications make it look like we've uncovered something truly unusual almost any way it turns out."

"Have you got a mage who can help you to confirm it?" Calista asked, her ears perking up with equal interest.

"Well, yes, but it takes a lot of the fun out of it," Abi tried not to be insulting. "I always confirm by mage or Izaris, if not both, before I make that kind of statement public, but it's a lot more enjoyable to go through the discovery process without knowing the ending for sure."

"I understand," she nodded. "Most of us don't immediately reference the Great Library either."

"The Grimoire has arrived," Izaris-mir said as she stood with a regal grace.

"Good," Abi nodded, standing to follow her. "Would you mind if I inspected it when they move it off? I could wait as well, but I'd like to be sure nothing happened during transit."

"You are welcome to continue your research as soon as it reaches the secure room that was built for it," Izaris-mir said as she led the way to the small landing strip where the secure transport container Abi had seen in MegaKat City was being unloaded.

"Thank you," Abi nodded, watching a small contingent of guards carry the container behind the Preserver. She fell in the small precession with Izaris-mir and Calista. While she had her eyes open, taking in everything on the path to where the dangerous items were kept, she really couldn't keep her mind off getting her hands on the Grimoire again. What really stood out for her were how few casual visitors were there. In MegaKat City, the Library was open to the public and the public made use of it. Here, while it was still probably open to the public, there was no general public living on the island. It was just the staff, ordained and not.

"How often do you get visitors here?" she asked Izaris-mir quietly as they walked through the vast corridors, making their way to the heart of the island, buried deep in the mountain in the middle of it.

"Every day," she said easily. "It is just rare for them to not be academics of some kind. I suspect it is rather like the research library at the Museum of Natural History as opposed to a city library. Both are available to those who wish to use them, but the more hoops that are involved the fewer try."

"Understood," she nodded. "It's uncommon for people to get access as quickly as I will then, I take it?"

"That are not in the service of Izaris, yes," Calista nodded. "Though it is also rare for one not in Her service to have given as much to us as you have."

"I'm still honored," Abi nodded. "Thank you both for the chance."

"You are welcome, Dr. Sinnian," Izaris-mir said, opening the magically and physical ID locks on the secure room that would house the Grimoire Apell.

"Have you had to deal with attacks by Omegas very often here, in the past?" Abi asked them. "We've already had several in the city."

"I know," Izaris-mir said as the Grimoire Apell was placed on a spun crystal pedestal by the guards. "There have been a few, but Izaris takes it quite personally when Her mortal home is invaded. Would you mind if we stay while you investigate? Perhaps you can explain about this indexing idea a little more."

"Certainly," Abi nodded. "Let me just try and find where I'd been working," she said, walking over and opening the book once the guards had left. She looked through it for a moment, and her tail fluffed out.

"Abi?" Calista stepped closer, careful not to touch the book or look at its contents.

"This isn't the Grimoire," she said flatly. "A very good copy, but anybody who knew how it should look wouldn't be fooled."

"The real one was taken from the room," Calista turned to Izaris-mir, her small, round ears flat at the Lioness and shewolf gauged the situation and each other even as Izaris-mir sent a quick whisper spell to have all involved in the transportation of the Grimoire Apell to be held.

"It would also be possible that it was somehow substituted on the trip," Abi added quietly, closing the book. "Some time between when I stalked out and now is all we can really tell."

"We will know if anyone still with the transport when it arrived is involved shortly," Izaris-mir twisted on her heel and stalked out. "They have all been detained, as well as the transport itself."

Calista motioned for Abi to follow them. "The number of people who could have created such a forgery can be counted on one hand. Those that do not fully understand the limitations of who can read it make for an even shorter list."

"I can think of three, myself," Izaris-mir growled. "One who might actually have the gall and power to try and use it, two more than would do almost anything to keep it out of our long-term possession."

"There's a worse possibility that has to be considered," Abi said quietly. "Alhazred was clearly researching a way to bypass the Grimoire's wards when he finally faded away. It's possible that somebody else has completed his research."

"Which would make Dark Kat the most likely candidate," Izaris-mir said, her tail lashing behind her. "He couldn't have infiltrated our guards."

"He is a powerful champion," Abi countered. "The most powerful seen since The Twelve according to many who have faced him. He may well have an easier way around the wards as well," she suggested uneasily. "I know he has magic that can read minds. If he has someone who can read the Grimoire, he wouldn't need to read it himself. Either way, I do agree he's most likely to have it."

"Which makes this a greater disaster than if Jenz' priests had found it," Calista murmured. "We should bring the Enforcers in on this."

"We should bring Jake in on this," Abi added firmly. "He has more experience with Dark Kat than anyone I know of, and he has the network to call on."

"It's hardly necessary yet," Izaris-mir pointed out irritably. "The Enforcers will be helpful for securing the MegaKat City Library, but we don't need to harass other Champions just yet."

Abi started to object, but shut her mouth and resolved to call Jake herself. He was scheduled for an extended stay at the dig site in a couple weeks anyway. It would be much easier to make it a favor to her, than to get the various hierarchies involved.

Jake felt something familiar in the back of his mind... and, as he came around to feel it, he was struck by the fact that he knew this was a dream before anything else.

Blackness surrounded him, his bed was empty, and all he was aware of was the inky void that seemed to press against him. The dark presence within that void, like some vast beast slumbering beneath the surface of the ocean, waiting to breach the surface and consume him. The impression grew even stronger when the bed began to slowly undulate on whatever surface it was resting on, like it was bobbing up and down in waves.

"Oh great," Jake muttered to himself, focusing as much as he could on the fact that this was a lucid dream and he should be able to control it.

He tried to wake up... but he didn't have that much control, apparently. Instead, he created a shoreline, making his way towards the island that was rising up from the blackness. As he approached, he saw that it was covered in a dense jungle surrounding high mountains.

He could feel the Demon nearby... but it didn't feel like it usually did. The Demon was here, but ... he wasn't paying attention.

It was like he was in the nightmare by virtue of long-established patterns and proximity than it actually reaching out to him. He'd have to find out where they were right now once he could wake up. Ameris was probably already monitoring his heightened heart rate to pin down the time with.

The bed floated up to the shore, riding up onto the land. He couldn't help but wonder if the Demon was going to take notice of him any time soon. He climbed off the bed, wincing at the hard, sharp rocks along the shore as they ground at his feet, not quite cutting him yet.

Of course he was naked.

He focused on exerted a bit more outright will on the land, smoothing it over into a pleasant tropical island with gently warm sand bordered on one side with lush fruit bearing trees and the other by gently lapping crystal blue waters.

It wasn't long before the surrounding conditions seemed to struggle to reassert themselves. The forest darkened, the skies turning stormy and the waters darkening... but he had a small area where his own desires remained dominant.

Better than in most dreams the Demon sent him.

A long-winged gray and white seabird flew about overhead.

"Kul! Kul!" It shrieked. After a moment more, something long, dark and slimy lashed out of the waters and speared the bird, dragging it beneath the waters even as it gave out one last weak, strangled cry before disappearing into the hunter's gullet.

"Well, except for the utter lack of anything to do, I guess it's not too bad," Jake murmured to himself as he sat on the warm sand and focused inward, creating elaborate sand creations. It wasn't long before he began to resort to seeing just how many substances he could create with the sand and air around him, forming them into a range of things from modern mechanical artwork to the wispy swirls of colored glass and crystal chimes that his feminine side seemed to have a taste for.

This was getting particularly dull, really. Despite all the times he'd wished the Demon would just leave him along, now he almost wished it would give him something to do.

Or at least let him wake up. What was going on? Was it just trying to drive him crazy with boredom?

A wave rose up and broke on the shore, smashing one of the glass baubles he'd created. The shards stayed on the beach as the water washed down... and they started to move, forming into a pattern he couldn't recognize despite his extensive knowledge, cryptography training and general inability to not puzzle things out.

He continued to focus on the patters; sure they were saying something in some language. It was just a matter of working out what language, or what code ... or memorizing this to research when he woke up. This was all just far too weird to not be important.

He settled for memorizing it ... but, to his frustration, the pattern wasn't complete. Some parts of it remained shattered, or half-formed, clearly pieces that hadn't been finished. It would make the research much harder after he was up.

It was definitely out to frustrate him to death. He muttered to himself again and reached out to his link with Halikar, trying to call on the wings of the sun-hawk. It should either get him out, or piss off the Demon enough to pay attention to him.

Before the wings could form, or the Demon react, he was jarred into the waking world by a shrill scream from Ghunaya's quarters on the jet.

"The Hell?" Rock blinked as he woke up and recognized the sound, Keeu already up and running. With her off to check on the kit, he focused on why Jake wasn't responding yet. "Jake?" he shook his mate's shoulder. As worried as he was about Ghunaya, he couldn't help but let a breath of relief escape when Jake roused and struggled to orient himself.

"Demonmare," Jake mumbled as he got out of bed with Rock and they pulled on decorative bathrobes to follow Keeu to the room Ghunaya shared on the jet with Kaycee, Kensa, Fumiko and Kaylinn.

The kits were sitting up, pressed together as Keeu shook Ghunaya's shoulders lightly, trying to wake her up.

"I can't snap her out of it," she told Jake, getting out of his way as he hurried into the fairly crowded compartment. The other kittens and stewardess stayed by the door or crawled onto the beds nearest it.

"Ghunaya!" Jake's voice was sharp, commanding; the kind that could sometimes wake him up. "It's just a dream, honey," he continued more softly.

He grabbed her shoulders, and it was almost like he'd grounded her. She twisted around, grabbing onto him with a sob, clinging tightly to Jake and curling her slender fingers in his cinnamon fur.

"It hurt, Mama," she whimpered softly against his chest as he held her.

"Should I have the AI look for a place to touch down?" Rock asked quietly from the door.

"I think we'll be okay," Jake murmured as he rubbed Ghunaya's back, trying to soothe her. "Just mark the location when the dreams started for us. Ghunaya, what was the dream about?"

"Can we talk about it alone?" She asked him hopefully.

"You can use my quarters, if you'd like," the stewardess offered quietly.

"Our room," Rock countered, shaking his head. "It'll be more comfortable. Everyone else, back to bed," he turned to shuffle everyone to where they belonged as Jake picked his slender, cinnamon tiger marked daughter and carried her to the master bedroom of the jet.

"We'll wait outside," Keeu offered, closing the door for Jake and Ghunaya as the kitten shook.

"It was a monster," she murmured softly, pressing into Jake's body as he sat on the bed and held her. "Big one."

"Try to focus, honey," he crooned gently, trying to sooth her. "Where was it? What was it like?"

"In the water," she explained. "I-I was on the water... like I was on a raft or something, but it was the bed."

"I know," he hugged her tightly. "I was there too. I didn't see him though."

"I didn't see you," she said, hugging him back. "It reached up from under the water and pulled me down... and then it showed me what it wanted to do. It was so big... but sometimes, it was like Keeu's size, just taller. It was in the city, and it was breaking everything, and then it came to our place and...." She shuddered at what she'd seen.

"Remember what we were taught when you were first identified as a precog?" Jake said gently, stroking her face. "These nightmares are for a reason. If we can figure them out, we can change them."

"I know," she murmured. "It's just... he was so big, and I don't know where he comes from. Just heard people chanting something ... what was it again?" She scrunched up her face, trying to remember.

"Relax your mind, Ghunaya," Jake murmured, moving his hands to help her relax. "Don't focus, just start talking. Let it flow."

"I... I can't remember everything," she admitted. "Can't understand it. Something about... I remember 'fox.' Part of a name. But most of the rest... it wasn't a language I know... maybe Keeu'd recognize it, if she heard some?"

"I would expect she could at least figure it out," he nodded and stood to get Keeu. "I might recognize it as well."

"I'll try to figure out how to say it," Ghunaya nodded as Jake went out for his second mate.

"How is she?" Keeu asked as he stepped out. "Precog dream?"

"Yes, and I'm fairly sure it's linked to mine," he nodded. "She heard chanting, and is hoping one of us might be able to understand it."

"Right... just a moment." Keeu closed her eyes, focusing for the few moments it took her to reach the linguistics section of the Great Library in her head. "How bad does it sound?"

"If she hadn't grown up in MKC, I'd say it looks like an Omega," his expression turned grim. "Given she grew up in my house, it's likely to be worse than anything the city has faced."

"Should I try and see directly? Izaris might know," Keeu said quietly.

Jake cocked his head slightly. "Isn't that still beyond your ability?"

"Officially, yes, but I could try. It wouldn't be dangerous for Ghunaya," she promised. "If I screwed up the spell, I'd be the only one taking a chance."

"It should be able to wait until we land," Jake shook his head and opened the door. "I know there are several large temples in Imitia."

"All right," she nodded, walking in and sitting down next to Ghunaya. "You okay, 'Naya?" She asked gently, petting her hair lightly.

"Getting there," the slender girl nodded. "It helps that it's over."

"Good," she murmured, kissing her forehead gently. "Jake said you wanted me to hear something, that I might be able to recognize it when you couldn't?"

"Yeah. It was a chanting," she nodded uneasily as she focused on the sounds, trying to recreate them as best she could.

"Fin-gluey muggle-wuh-naf cull-fox Leng wuh-gah-nagal fuh-tane," she said, stumbling over the sounds as often as not.

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Kulfaux Leng wgah'nagl fhtagn?" Keeu asked carefully after a few minutes to consult the Library.

"Yeah, I think so," she nodded. "What's it mean?"

"In his house at Leng, the dead Demon waits, dreaming," Keeu murmured. "Could you see the people chanting, or just hear them?"

"I could only hear them," Ghunaya admitted.

"Keeu, I think there's a context to Kulfaux that goes beyond Demon," Jake frowned, trying to place it. It was too familiar to him, given he didn't recognize the language. "Can you find out where Leng is?"

"You're right, there is," Keeu nodded. "It's the name of a specific demon, but I can't get anything more than 'the dead demon' from the Great Library. It's possible that it's just more than I can find... it's much the same with Leng. A mythical pleasure-city of an ancient line of emperors, but no location... it was supposed to be the heart of Nightmare's empire in life, I believe," she offered. "And when we reach Imitia, expect a lot of attention from the church... I'm hitting all sorts of references to things in the Restricted Section of the Great Library. With my rank, even coming near those references will throw up red flags."

"Relax, Ghunaya," Jake sat down next to her and hugged her. "We'll take care of as much of this as we can without having them question you, okay?"

"Okay," she nodded slightly. "I can't tell them anything more than I told you guys," she offered. "It's just... I don't know what it all means, just that it's gonna get bad."

"Not if we can help it," Jake kissed her forehead. "Do you feel up to returning to your bunk, or would you prefer to stay with us?"

"Can I stay in here tonight?" She asked hopefully. "Then if it happens again, I don't wake everybody else up."

"All right," Jake nodded and hugged her supportively. "Keeu, why don't you see if Rock needs and help before we all try to get some rest?"

"Sure thing," she nodded, giving Ghunaya a hug of her own before heading out to check on Rock and the others.

Wave Runner relaxed in the cockpit of the Currant, enjoying a last hour in his natural form in an aquatic environment before he was going to spend several weeks, if not much longer, in what Dr. Sinnian politely described as one of the hottest and driest places on Aristal.

He was seriously considering one of the Theus for this trip. That body was used to deserts. Unfortunately, he'd have to stick to the local forms for a while. Somewhat to his surprise, the one he'd gotten from Jake was actually better suited than the Anubian Jackal, though not by much. The feline loved the sun far more than the canine, though it was not really any better adapted.

"Approaching destination," the computer announced. With a sigh, Wave Runner started the drains.

"The things I do for a chance to learn about this place," he muttered quietly to himself. When he thought about it, he wasn't really as irritated as he felt just now. It was knowing that he was heading into such an uncomfortable place ... that was putting him on edge. He'd have to get his mood straightened out before arriving ... no fair inflicting it on everybody else.

He'd met Dr. Sinnian before, and been impressed with her general knowledge and curiosity, and her willingness to share it. For all the secrets that some folks on Aristal kept, and the savagery involved in crossing some lines, most people and institutions were surprisingly free with knowledge as long as he asked politely. It was going to be a pleasure working with Dr. Sinnian on what was frequently described as the biggest archeological find of a generation loaded with them.

A glance out the front showed that Dr. Sinnian and several others were waiting by the short airstrip just outside the valley with three rugged-looking jeeps.

"That doesn't look fun," he murmured as Current set down.

"The reports indicate it is approximately an hour by local standards to the dig headquarters at the other side of the mouth of the valley," Current reported.

"Wonderful," he sighed as the water finished draining and he touched the Myradi, changing into the slender cinnamon on caramel tabby tom with bright gold eyes. "Well, we'll get you to the camp as soon as we can, boy. Just take it easy on anybody who tries getting on-board, 'kay? They mean well."

"I will do my best to be polite," Currant assured him before the hatch opened to the dry, hot air outside.

"Thank you for coming, Wave Runner," Dr. Sinnian greeted him with a warm smile as she stepped up to shake his hand at the base of the ramp.

"Thank you for having me here, Dr. Sinnian," he smiled back, taking her hand and shaking it. "I understand you had some difficulty convincing them that I was worth the risk... I hope I prove you right."

"I am quite sure you will," she said before turning to make introductions with the various dignitaries and officials involved in overseeing the project.

Wave Runner listened carefully, nodding and responding when he was supposed to, but otherwise keeping quiet until they were in the back of the jeep and driving back towards the dig.

"I understand you're looking for an off-world perspective?" He asked her quietly.

"In a way," she nodded. "More of the perspective of someone who might understand the culture represented here better than anyone from Aristal. As much as we know about Ancient Balkita, I'm discovering that most of what we thought we know is wrong, and it's probably not the Asherian's fault, at least not entirely. It's so different it's hard for even me to wrap my brain around it."

"I understand," he nodded. "You may find some of my data files interesting; I've got them with me, so we can get a start. From what I read about Balkita, it had quite a bit in common with Ancient Egypt from Earth. We have quite a few records about that, though not all of them accurate."

"Thank you," she nodded. "You've encountered so many ideas that don't seem to have found their way here you'll probably have an easier time understanding some of the quirks of their culture. Things we know, but still don't understand."

"What in particular is giving you trouble?" He asked her easily, turning his mind to the wide variety of cultures he had encountered or read about.

"The hardest part is what happened after death, particularly to their Champions. Recent finds, and Jake, have made us aware that all the gods of Ancient Balkita began their life as mortals. While strange, it is not unprecedented for a mortal to ascend like that. It seems that not only did they believe that the spirit lived the same life they had here, only better, but Champions joined with their god, yet still had to be remembered as themselves or their power would be lost."

"Was Balkita a particularly insular nation early on?" Wave Runner asked her, enjoying the wind through his fur.

"Yes, largely by the nature of the land and technology of the time," she nodded. "It was the stone age when Halikar lived, and the desert kept most travel to along the river."

"So Halikar post-dates the latest Godswar?" He asked her curiously.

"By at least five thousand years, possibly by as much as thirteen thousand years," she nodded. "He is one of the youngest of the gods, though you wouldn't know it by anything but by dating his origins. He's gone though more changes than almost any other deity we have records of."

"I suspect because of the fact that he does post-date the Godswar," Wave Runner offered. "The records of the others would have been destroyed, most likely, wouldn't they?"

"Not in Izaris' Great Library," she shook her head. "Enough gods are open about their origins and changes, to their followers or to Her, that we do have a reasonable idea for the majority. He also went through the change in a very short period of time, less than three hundred years. I'll grant that His was the best documented, likely the most violent, but it is not the only one."

"He had to change once his land had been conquered, or perish," he guessed. "How much of the change did he choose, compared to those who assimilated his faith?" He asked her, curious just how much influence the worshipers had on their deities here.

"According to the records and Jake's retelling of what Halikar has said to him, it ..." she paused, having to work to really say it. Even outside her primary patrons, it was difficult to think of that much pain in a god that still protected. "What I believe is the most accurate telling I have is an account that Calix and Eryx gave to Izaris that Jake's accounting from Halikar Himself matches well with.

"After his mate and the rest of the Balkitan pantheon were killed, he became too depressed to care about anything. While he did not care if he lived, what was left of the Balkitan priesthood would not allow him to perish. Neither did the Asherians. The Asherian army respected his ferocity in protecting his own, even against impossible odds and after the battle had been lost, that they began to worship him under that aspect. Where he had been the head of a pantheon, the giver of culture and law, the emblem of the sun and what kept the universe in order, now he was seen as a warrior who would fight against any odds and do whatever it took to protect what was his.

"The Asherian army saw Him as the exemplification of what they were; they protected their land by conquering all that was around them. Is not an inaccurate description of how he unified Balkita long before the Asherian capitol of Asher was even a farm.

"When Halikar roused himself from his grief enough to realize that his name not only had not been lost, but was more widely know and revered than before under a different aspect of sorts. It took the efforts of many of the deities, but he reluctantly accepted his new place.

"According to Jake, while he still longs for his people and kingdom back, especially his wife Eloewin, after four thousand years, he is beginning to accept his new role with more relish than reluctance. While it is not something I can prove, what I have heard some in the play say makes me think that watching Jake fight, then grow to accept, his role, has helped Halikar accept his own."

"Do you know if his current relationship with Bastet was one he accepted himself, or one that came up in legend first?" Wave Runner asked her carefully, knowing that this question could become quite touchy.

"I don't know, but I think he was lonely, and she was a familiar type who didn't reject him," Abi said quietly. "It's hard to tell with such things, but they've only been together a few generations."

"Unlikely to be something they were pushed into," he nodded. "I was just curious how much effect the beliefs of your people have on the Gods, and vice versa. The theologian's dilemma," he chuckled. "Did the gods create us in their image, or did we return the favor?"

"Yes, no, both, sometimes and it depends," she chuckled. "We know that they created us, but only to undo the damage they had done in the first place. We know that some groups were manipulated by various deities and others were left alone because someone insisted on it. We can trace our evolution without them from the same family of animals that the cats came from.

"Some, the Primevals like Tamorl, Tuu and Nulaa, predate the big bang. Others, such as the Wyld Lord, Sadrula the Mistress of Storms and Celestine the Lady of the Stars, came about with their element, or with primitive life. There are those like Bastet, Fate and Kram who came about with people in general, with a specific race or concept. Then you have ones like Kendris the Lady of Justice and Izaris the Keeper of Knowledge, that came about, most likely, in response to people, though they could have triggered their ideas in people. Bastet may even be in that group, for though She was born from Tamorl, it is said by Bastet that Her birth happened because we wanted the pain of birth separated from other kinds of pain. Add to that the group that Halikar is in, where a mortal became a god through power and acceptance."

"And with all that, you have people who willingly study theology?" He asked her disbelievingly. "I thought reconciling and keeping track of different worlds was bad enough!"

"Oh, it is a subject of great interest," she smiled at him. "Unlike most worlds that you've told us about, all of our deities, from the weakest to the strongest, make very definitive appearances for us. For all we know we influence them, most people with an education also believe that understanding the powers that be is important as well. It is not unlike the political and social sciences."

"And probably used the same way," he chuckled. "I think I'm going to have to rate Aristal a definite place of interest for anybody looking to be thoroughly confused."

Abi was about to reply when they crested the low pass that lead into the Seharal Complex. She relaxed in the back seat of the jeep and smiled, her gaze easily going to each of the tombs, excavated, in progress and found, that was visible from their vantage point.

Wave Runner wasn't having nearly so easy a time, though he quickly spotted the ones in progress with their collection of workers moving in the organized chaos of an efficient excavation. Even knowing this was a special site, seeing how the others in the jeep reacted to the site, it really didn't look like much.

"How important was Balkita, historically?" He asked Abi quietly.

"It depends on where you are," she admitted. "Locally, they are still a powerful player. In MegaKat City, they gave us one of our more important gods. Their cities represent some of the oldest continuously inhabited locations on Aristal. They contributed unprecedented wealth, technology and thousands of years worth of knowledge and records to the Asherian, even after you account for the estimated eighty percent that was lost. They were very important to the world of their time."

"I'm sure they were," he nodded, comparing it to what he remembered about Egypt. It was all very much a parallel... particularly given the losses. "I assume the conquest was not a quiet one, when it happened; anything in particular I should or shouldn't say to the locals?" he asked, his voice very low in deference to the two in the front seat.

"Don't try to defend anything Asherian is the main one," she said. "Never suggest an autopsy or unwrapping of a mummy, or challenge their beliefs. Asking questions to get more information is fine, but do not dismiss it as impossible or primitive. Standard rules for working in other cultures."

"And since I don't know anything about the Asherians I'm not likely to defend them," he nodded. "Some places have additional taboos, and on this world I wouldn't dismiss the possibility of very real curses."

"Oh, they are very real," Abi promised him. "I never go on a dig without plenty of protection. Here, we have more than I've ever dreamed of, between government and Halikar."

"Good to know," he nodded. "If I'm ever looking in a new area, let me know if I'm going near something that's marked with wards. Afraid I don't even recognize the common ones from back home, let alone here," he admitted sheepishly.

"I will," she promised. "Your best action with that is to avoid going into areas that have not been scouted first. If you are a quick study at image recognition, I do have a book that would teach you everything to watch out for. You are much more likely to be killed by physical and direct-damage magical traps than a curse. They were absolutely brilliant at making a location deadly when they put enough energy into it."

"I'm used to those sort of traps," he nodded. "Though I'm better at it when people aren't around who'll freak if I shift. I'll try steering clear of those, though. I'm just fine with focusing on areas that have already been cleared... I've got no compelling reason to want to end up in the textbooks," he chuckled.

"If you show the guards and team leaders, the people with weapons, your forms, they won't attack you," she suggested. "If a worker freaks out, they'll run for help. This is a land heavy in magic. I can make sure you don't have any of the local demons as a form. This is a land rich with shapeshifting magic."

"That would probably be a good idea," he mused. "If nothing else, it means that if we're attacked I'll have options. Do you have problems with attacks on digs here?"

"With Halikar making personal appearances? Very little," she chuckled. "The wildlife is more dangerous than attackers."

"Then I shouldn't need to change all that much... though I will show you my forms later on." He chuckled lowly, remembering how most of the times he'd showed his various forms off to locals went. He was sure that wouldn't happen this time; this was a professional engagement, after all.

As they descended into the narrow valley carpeted in sand with sandstone walls many of the digs disappeared from sight, only to reappear when they reached the outcropping that the main camp was built on.

"Be thankful we aren't in tents anymore," Abi teased him as he took in the well-constructed modern stone and stucco buildings. "Things are ever so much more pleasant with real buildings."

"Do you have humidifiers available?" He asked her. If he could get some moisture in the air where he was staying, this wouldn't be so bad.

"Yes, though the use would be limited," she warned him politely. "We do not want to alter the environment too much. I do not expect there would be an objection if you used one in a closed bedroom while you were there."

"That would be fine," he said easily. "I can handle heat, but the dryness is what'll be irritating. If I can get the humidity up for a while, that'll make it a lot easier."

"Even though your form is well-adapted to conditions here?" she looked a bit surprised. "I would recommend your ship, once I can clear a parking spot for it, but you should be able to have a relatively humid room at night."

"Psychology," he chuckled. "Physiologically, I'm fine, but it's just like how some people prefer cooler weather... I've never really adapted all that well to arid surroundings."

"Ah," she nodded. "I do understand. For me, it's the wet cold that I don't agree with. I've spent too much time in the badlands south of MegaKat City for it."

"Which means you probably love working someplace like this," he smiled. "Hot, dry, and reliable."

"And far fewer attacking monsters," she grinned at him as they pulled to a stop in front of one of the smaller buildings at the site. "I thought you might appreciate getting settled in to your quarters before I throw you into the deep end of a major dig."

"Very much, thank you," he chuckled. "Is there anything you want me to look at right away?"

"There is a primer on Ancient Balkita, and the cultural aspects that are particularly difficult to understand," she said and hopped from the jeep. "I left it in your room."

"Excellent," he nodded, following her out. "Well then, I'll get to work on that. Thank you, Dr. Sinnian; is dinner served at a particular time here, or more catch as catch can?"

"There is always coffee, tea and stew available. We're well-known for working all hours," she chuckled as they walked to the living quarters. "The cafeteria is that building," she motioned to a single story, largely open stucco building. "It keeps the heat away from the workshops and sleeping quarters."

"Sounds reasonable to me," he nodded. "Anywhere else in particular I should know how to find? The latrines, maybe?" He chuckled.

"There is indoor pluming," Abi actually giggled before she opened the door. "Laundry is picked up once a week, though you don't have to use provided services."

"Thank you," he chuckled. "You have a very well equipped facility," he observed, stepping inside and looking around. It was stucco inside as it was out, with stone floors and while he wasn't sure how, it felt like it was open to the outside in a way that brought in quite a nice breeze. "It's quite impressive. Could you fill me in on any additional rules or reg's on the way to my quarters?" He asked her politely.

"Of course," she nodded as they walked. "The rule that will get you in the most trouble is that you never take anything from a dig site without it being fully documented first. Nothing leaves the valley with us. Most rules match up with what you should be used to. Don't steal, get a partner's consent for sex, show up where and when you should, respect the needs of those around you."

"Pretty much standard rules, huh?" He chuckled. "Funny, I don't remember ever hearing about dig sites where one of the rules had to do with getting some action," he teased lightly. "Or is that just a special for the off-worlder?"

"I was just giving a sampling of the rules you should be used to on Aristal by now as an example."

"I understand," he said easily. "It just seemed an unusual one to pick," he chuckled. "Though most worlds I've been on have had it... not all of them, but most. I tried to stay on the ones were it wasn't necessary as short a time as possible. You might be surprised how popular they are for day trips though, and not always by the people you'd expect."

"Unless it's those with a oath of celibacy, I doubt it," she said. "I've seen far too many cultures, current and extinct, to be surprised by much."

"I imagine you're right," he admitted. "It's just surprising to most people outside the tourist trade how many people go to the rape-worlds who want to be victims, rather than victimizers. Not that they're not popular for both... technically rape was declared illegal throughout most of civilized space, but worlds where consent has always been optional got around it by passing laws stating that anybody on-world gave consent through the simple act of being there. It placated the off-worlders who didn't care, hamstrung the ones who did, and the people on world who didn't like it were just thrilled to have a chance to get off, if they could earn enough for a one-way ticket to a new planet."

"I suspect the people and groups who object to the practice helped more than a few who object resettle," Abi said. "My room is that one," she motioned to the door at the end of the hall. "Yours is there," she indicated the one on the left of it. "We don't generally do locks, but one can be installed."

"Not unlike the old groups that bought slaves and turned them free," he nodded. "I don't think that'll be necessary; I don't have anything that's all that likely to stand out for theft, at least that isn't already amply protected on its own." He opened up the room and look around it; it wasn't heavily decorated, but he hadn't really expected it to be. The bed, three-drawer dresser and desk with chair were all simple and functional, but little more. "This will do nicely," he nodded easily. "Thank you."

"At least until your ship is cleared to land," she smiled knowingly at him. "Why don't you show me your forms while you unpack?"

"Certainly," he nodded. "I'll skip the local ones. But for now... well, let's get this out of the way first," he said with a shrug, quickly undressing before shifting into the Warbeast form. "Most likely to be seen in a fight," he rumbled lowly.

"I can guess why," she murmured, taking the vaguely feline giant that made a very deep part of her mind scream in primal fear. "It will get a reaction, but no more than because it's big and looks dangerous."

"A good description of the Warbeast... and most things on Thracia VI," he rumbled lowly, shifting into a much smaller form, a black, humanoid lizard with a large crest.

"Well now," she leaned back as she sat in the chair. "Is that male, female, both or neither?"

"Male," he glanced at her curiously.

"Well it looks like Nequitatae, the Lady of Night. A minor goddess; not even half the locals would recognize her," she explained.

"What about the female?" He asked, shifting into the female Theus' body. While build like the male, she had an erratic array of silver stripes on glossy black skin.

"That might go poorly," Abi couldn't help but raise an eyebrow. "That's a demon. A minor one, but fairly well known. It's said the silver are scars left in a vicious battle with his sister Nequitatae over who controlled the dusk. Nequitatae won."

"Right, steer clear of these two... a pity, really, they're both very comfortable in this sort of weather," he mused. "How about this one?" He asked, changing to his male Martian Mouse form. "Another one from a desert-world, at least towards the end.

"Actually the all black one should be fine," Abi told him. "You won't pass as anything local as a mouse-person, a few folks might think you're a mythical creature of some kind, and there is a small possibility if you wonder outside the secured area someone might mistake you as possible food. It's not likely to be too strange to the workers though."

"I'm careful about any form that could be mistaken for a god," he chuckled. "Particularly on a world where they're active... bad policy to piss them off. More importantly, I've found it's very bad policy to risk discovering that the rabid cultists are still around... it's kinda hard to explain to some of them that, no, the sea god doesn't want live sacrifices anymore, honest. Long story," he shrugged, shifting to the female Mouse form. "Pretty much the same with this one?"

"Yes," she nodded. "Though it will look more alien than the male to most. Her full muzzle and skinny tail is decidedly strange. You can always ask Jake if Halikar would mind your Nequitatae look-alike. Though I suspect any situation where it would come up would be more about survive first, explain later," she gave him a knowing smile. "Or are you looking for a form that is better-suited to the environment without looking out of place?"

"The one I came here in isn't bad for that," she chuckled. "Though I suppose I should just check on this one, in case... it is another local form, but you never know what the local prejudices might be given what she looks like to an Egyptian." She shifted into her Anubian Jackal form.

"They are the original race of Balkita," Abi said, somewhere between amused and sad. "You'll see a fair number around here, at least relative to elsewhere. They're been nearly extinct since the fall of Balkita, though they somehow manage to keep from inbreeding too severely, or it might be Halikar's influence keeping them healthy. Just about everything you see on Balkita shows felines, but it is more because they were the dominant in the population in the last thousand years. He has so far refused to say, and I'm not willing to push it, but I'm fairly sure Halikar was born an Anubian Jackal. One thing I am hoping to find proof of is when and how the racial shift happened in Balkita."

"One I should avoid then?" She asked quietly. "I got it from a priestess back in MegaKat City."

"No, just be ready to be noticed if you wear it," she shook her head. "You'll see a few of them here."

"I'll keep that in mind," she nodded, shifting to a pale-skinned, flame-haired, green eyed female human with wide hips and strong shoulders. "This one isn't local, obviously."

"Obviously, but she can probably fit in more easily than some of your others," Abi said thoughtfully. "Except for the lack of tail, she looks rather like a pale shekat. It wouldn't work close up, but she's your least likely to stand out, especially if you wear a false tail of red or peach."

"Nobody's likely to notice the distinct lack of fur?" She asked curiously.

"Not from any distance," Abi stood and stepped a little closer. "If you look at me, Miss Briggs or many solid-color shekats we don't look like we have fur from any distance. It is a little more unusual here because of the sun, but I doubt anyone would give it much more than a second glance at a few yards."

"True," he nodded. "What about this one?" He asked her, shifting into his taller, more heavily built black male. "I'm sure it won't blend as well."

"Ah, no," Abi couldn't help but glance at the large, exposed penis before catching herself. "Though that coloring in a female would do better than the pale skin. Dark chocolate and flame would make quite an attractive combination, really."

"Unfortunately, I can't really mix and match features," he chuckled, pulling on a pair of pants before shifting back to the cinnamon on caramel tabby male with gold eyes that he'd worn on arrival. "Though it looked for a moment like you appreciated parts of that one," he teased her lightly.

"I'm sure you've seen a naked tom by now," she countered with a light blush. "They're not nearly so ... blatant. Plenty of people will appreciate that aspect though, if it grows like ours do with arousal."

"It does," he chuckled. "Humans don't have sheaths... of course, my native species doesn't have an exposed shaft at all, so you might say it's a fair trade," he mused.

"How do you reproduce then?" Abi asked with open fascination for such a different idea as she sat down and watched him unpack his small tote of clothing and personal items.

"The females implant the eggs into our slit, and then we fertilize them, before hanging onto them until the fry are born," he said easily. "Current theory is that we evolved that way so that we could breed without losing most of our seed into the open water. I do have a couple other forms that might be useful, but I'd only want to use them in emergencies. One of them can fly, and I've heard it described as a gryphon if that's familiar to you, and the other is a hyperspace shadowcat... mostly useful because it can go anywhere that has corners, but I don't know too much about it yet... like if I can take passengers or not."

"Anywhere, as in it can get through a hair's width crack, as long as the other side isn't a spherical room?" she asked, trying not to become too excited before she was sure.

"Anywhere, as in it can get through a solid wall as long as the other side isn't a curve," he nodded. "The Shadowcat is native to another dimension where physics is royally different from here. I'd explain it if I understood it myself, but all I know is that the creatures there tend to behave in ways that are entirely different from what we're used to. I can use that form to 'jump' from one corner to another without actually crossing the intervening space."

"Would you look into a room that I'm not allowed to break into?" Abi asked with controlled excitement. "There is enough to know there is space beyond it, but the fiber optic snake couldn't tell us much. It's large, and at least part of it is open. There looks to be a combination of items and ruble, and we have no idea of how far it goes. If you can prove there is a significant find, or even a complex instead of a partial room, I should be able to get the permits to excavate properly."

"Wouldn't they be a little ticked off about somebody going in there who shouldn't?" He asked her cautiously.

"No one should be," she shook her head. "I'm barred from removing the blockage, but it is a safety issue, not a political one. We know there was a cave in. We don't know how extensive the damage was, when or why it happened or if there is anything worth digging out beyond it. If I know there is something important back there, I can get the funding to excavate with all the safety issues addressed. I can excavate two or even three undamaged tombs for the price of digging out one with a cave in. It's not money my backers, any of them, want used without a good chance of a return for it."

"Ah, I understand," he nodded. "I could check on it, at least after a little bit. I still have a good charge in the Myradi, so I'm not going to get stuck as a Shadowcat in there."

"As excited as I am at knowing, I've known about that cave in for six years," Abi chuckled lightly. "I can wait a while longer. How many forms do you have in there?"

"About two dozen, counting a handful of local forms," he said easily. "I did steal a couple from local monsters, so I'll avoid those."

"Not a bad idea," Abi agreed. "How many can it hold, does it do anything else?"

"When I researched in the MegaKat City Library of Izaris, this kind was indicated as having a nearly infinite capacity, and quite a few advanced abilities I haven't figured out yet," he admitted. "Sometimes it seems like it has a mind of it's own, but it's largely a one-trick gadget with a really impressive trick."

"I'd say," she nodded, relaxing in the chair. "It must be incredibly useful for blending in to a new world."

"It can be," he nodded. "Of course, the tricky part is that a lot of people would like to get their hands on one, and they bond for life with a wearer."

"Which can make your life very cheep most places," she said quietly. "How often do you have trouble trying to keep it?"

"Depends on the world," he admitted. "Here, I've had very little trouble... most people who'd want to take it and know about it are warned off by one of the Omegas I've nabbed a form from," he grinned.

"I heard about that giant bacteria battle outside the Library of Izaris," Abi grinned back. "Quite impressive. Do you have any skills that might be useful here?"

"I've gotten pretty good at spotting and disabling traps," he offered. "I'm better in a wild setting, but even in a place like this I've got the reflexes to keep up with them, especially in a feline form."

"Useful," she agreed. "What about accurately sketching what you see, or any forms that have sonar, radar, or beyond our visual spectrum into low infrared or ultraviolet?"

"Mmm... sketching I'm moderately good at, though I'm better at taking pictures. I have a good imagereader back in the Current," he offered. "As for senses, the Shadowcat can see things I can't honestly define, and the Warbeast can pick up sounds in the infrasonic range. The Martian Mice are telepathic, though I don't use those skills very often," he admitted. "They can also pick up very subtle air movements."

"If you don't mind using it, better pictures are always welcome," she purred. "Sketching is a useful skill for when you don't have a camera, or it doesn't work right for some reason. Not even out best cameras can always pick up everything the eye can, though I have no idea how it's possible with all the technologies available. Picking up air movements is very useful in tombs, as well as old minds, caves and various strange places I have a talent for ending up. How telepathic are the Mice?"

"In general, I'm not entirely sure," he admitted. "There's a lot of skill on top of the actual ability. What I can do generally involves antenna contact, and then I'm as much an open book as the person I'm trying to communicate with. Somebody who actually knows what they're doing can do a lot more, especially with antenna contact."

"Have you tried to pick up any of the skills?" she asked, utterly fascinated by the idea.

"I had very little opportunity, at least from them," he admitted. "I've worked with telepaths of other species to try and improve my personal shields in those forms, but I'm not nearly good enough to force information out of somebody."

"If you'd like to practice your skills while you are here, I know I'd be willing until the point of taking the few real secrets I know," she offered.

"If you don't think about them actively, I couldn't get them," he promised, changing into the male Mouse. "Want to sit down on the bed? More space," he said easily.

Abi nodded and moved over to the bed. "So how does it work?"

"Just relax," he told her, rubbing her back lightly to help her do so before he leaned his head closer to hers, letting his antennae droop down and press lightly against her head. "Try thinking about something you don't mind sharing."

"All right," she turned her mind to her first discovery, one so long ago and minor that it had been long forgotten to everyone, but still held a place in her heart that nothing else touched.

"A piece of pottery... it's got a little writing on the side part of it, but it's mostly worn off by now," he murmured. "You were back in ... high school?" He guessed from her age.

"Yes," she smiled. "Freshman year," she added as a rush of emotions from the moment nearly overwhelmed him for a moment. Excitement at spotting it, the thrill of handling something no one had touched for centuries or longer, even a hint of sexual arousal that suddenly exploded across his body as she reached up and innocently slid her fingers along one antenna.

"Fuck," he gasped, the sensation making his cock rock hard, his mind turning immediately to the last times he'd had those played with, with Kyale and Jeramin. He couldn't really bring himself to tell her, verbally, just how potent that was.

"Wave Runner?" Abi asked, both an apology and concern in her voice as she froze, her fingers still on the antennae. "What's wrong?"

"Very sensitive," he groaned. The images in his head started shifting, and Abi began to realize what was going on. She wasn't getting any sense that he wanted this to stop, though there was a distinct one that he thought it should, from a professional perspective. There was also a distinctly sexual undertone to it, and the way she was starting to play into the mental images she was catching glimpses of.

"I'll stop if you want," she promised softly and slid her fingers along the soft skin of the translucent red appendages the width of her finger. Only the tips of his were brown, unlike the female. "Are all Martian Mice colored like these two?"

"No," he groaned lowly, his tail beginning to wander up her leg. "Different colors and patterns, in fur and the antennae. Never got used to having them touched too much," he admitted, his balls already tightening inside his pants. "More sensitive because of it."

Without warning Abi caught his hand as he reached forward to rub himself through his pants, stopping him from getting off faster, or from anything other than her touch on one antennae. She gasped, then moaned, his eyes drifting closed for a moment when his tail slid inside her panties, the tip vibrating as his pleasure increased. As slick as her body was from the backflow of erotic images and sensations it felt incredibly good.

He leaned down, kissing her, pressing more of his antennae against her head, the images coming through more clearly. He was fantasizing about her suckling on the long, translucent lengths as she rode his cock, his tail twined around it as it slid in and out of her body, his wrists loosely tied to the headboard of the bed.

"Ohhh," Abi's moan joined his whimpering groan as their mouths locked. Her breath quickened as she felt herself push him to his back and straddle his hips. She rubbed her crotch against his, relishing the feel of the hard length trapped in his pants and the twitching tail trapped inside the lips of her sex. "I'll stop, just think it," she promised, though it was impossible for her to hide from him that she did not want to.

"You too," he moaned into her mouth. "Just think any changes you want," he whispered, sensing the Myradi pulsing. He turned a bit of his mind to it, and then felt awareness hitting his mind, an instinctive piece of knowledge about the Mice he hadn't had. He followed its directions, and moaned again as it linked their minds so every sensation flowed both ways.

"Good like this," she gasped more in his head than out of it as their physical bodies took a back seat to their minds. Her body clamped down around his cock and rubbed her hips in a way that rubbed her clit against the stiffer fur of his groin, both of them right at the edge of orgasm. "Like pain?" she asked inside the fantasy.

"Take it or leave it," he thought back, leaning his head up to kiss her in the fantasy as she pushed his hands up in the real world. Their mental bodies fucked hard, his tail sliding up deeper into her body and the tip of it vibrating against her cervix as his cock pushed the thick, furless length up along her g-spot while they mated. "Didn't plan on this happening," he told her even as his ability to think began to falter with a physical orgasm so close.

"Don't mind," Abi shuddered and cried out, her body stiffening as pleasure both physical and mental overwhelmed her.

He moaned deeply, soaking his pants with his seed as he came beneath her, their heads shifting far enough apart to break their mental connection.

"Wow," he panted, laying on the bed, his tail still twitching inside her sex. They both tried to catch their breath, their bodies spent and sated.

"Yes," she agreed, her empty sex still spasming lightly and her panties soaked through. "That could spoil a person for normal sex."

"From what the Myradi was telling me, it gets more intense from there," he murmured. "There's a sense-linking technique, apparently." He kissed her lightly. "That was incredible though... and it'd make any fantasy possible," he mused even as it sank in that she wasn't trying to get up.

"Yes it could," Abi purred softly, her body sinking down to lay on top of him as they recovered. "That tail's pretty nice too."

"I'm glad you like it," he murmured, rubbing her back. "I'm also glad you didn't mind," he smiled, nuzzling her head lightly. "I wasn't sure if you'd be ticked afterwards or not," he admitted.

"I've had much stranger things happen to me," she chuckled, enjoying the feeling of a warm, strong body under her. It had been rare since she'd broken up with Rapier, and so had really good sex. "That could really spoil a person," she repeated as she pushed herself up and shifted to get off of him. When his tail slipped from her panties, it elicited another shuddering moan before they parted company completely. "I'm surprised you don't enjoy those forms every chance you get."

"You should've seen me the first week or so after I arrived on this world," he grinned, licking his tail-tip clean when he thought she wasn't looking. "When I've got a partner who's okay with it, I tend to do just that."

"Is the female just as sensitive?" Abi asked, shifting a bit as she tried to get her underwear back in place. "And, um, I hope you don't mind pretty much everyone you meet knowing you've gotten off, and usually with who. If we get to bath once a week, it's a good week. There just isn't enough water out here for the luxury, even for me."

"It is," he nodded, stripping his pants off, his cock still half-hard. "And I understand. I just hope that nobody thinks that's the only reason I'm out here!" He chuckled, shifting into the form he'd come in. "I can always go Theus and take a sand-bath if I have to."

"Trust me, I'm well within my rights to have a pet lover around," Abi giggled, enjoying being able to tease him. "No one would think less of you if it was true. You'll prove you're worth far more than keeping the chief archaeologist in a good mood soon enough."

She looked up at some movement at the window. "Hello Halikar," she stood and bowed politely to the hawk with metallic golden feathers perched there watching them. "Did you wish my attention somewhere?"

Wave Runner quickly pulled on a clean pair of pants before looking back over at the window.

"How long has he been there?" He asked quietly, blushing beneath his fur.

"Long enough to be curious how you could enjoy yourselves so much dressed," the hawk said with an avian chuckle. "I came to see this newcomer that my Champion welcomed to my world."

"Uhm, honored," he chuckled sheepishly, bowing to Halikar. "And I believe it involved new telepathic trick I didn't know I had."

"It seems like a very enjoyable trick," the hawk said. "I also came to warn you. The battle that will make The Twelve pale in comparison is almost here. I ask you both to stay close to my champion. Victory will need you there."

"I will, Lord Halikar," Abi said without hesitation. "It has to do with the book, doesn't it?"

"Yes," he nodded gravely.

"When do we have to be where?" Wave Runner asked him, hoping a straight answer was acceptable.

"My champion should be here when it is time," Halikar said.

"That means it should go down next month," Abi told him. "At least that's when Jake is scheduled to visit."

"Yes," Halikar nodded and spread his wings to take off. "Enjoy your new skill. Time is short."

"Good to know," Wave Runner murmured. "So... who are these Twelve, and what's this book?" He asked Abi.

"Have you gotten a primer on the Contest and why Jake and Rock have the title of Champion?" she began as she motioned him to follow her.

"I have," he nodded, following her out of his room and into hers, grabbing a shirt on the way.

"The Twelve are from the last Great Contest, the one that happens every thousand years. It resulted in the Dark Ages, and the unmaking of a greater god," she said grimly. "The Champion of Darkness, who we only know as Nightmare, corrupted eleven other champions, those of his greatest opponents.

"The champions of Shando The Lawbringer, Sheliel the Goddess of War, Lyris the Goddess of Healing, Chola the God of Music, Izaris the Goddess of Knowledge, Tamorl the God of Pain, Halikar the God of Aggressive Defense, Rarzyn the Wolf God, Bastet the Mother of Katkind, Fahik the God of Skill, and Aquaris the Sea God fell to him, one by one. When the corruption was complete, they swore allegiance to the dark god who was unmade. He won the Great Contest and plunged the world into chaos and darkness from which we have only begun to crawl from with this new Great Contest on the horizon."

"Great... so somebody's looking at plunging the world back into the Dark Ages. So what does this book have to do with any of this? And just how far is this world from being able to evacuate people?"

"Given what Halikar said, I'd guess the Dark Ages would be the least of our worries," Abi said grimily, her fingers on a thick, leather-bound book that had definitely seen a lot of use over the years. "More like the early Stone Age, when there were only a few thousand people on Aristal. As for evacuation ... even if we had the technology that is at least several generations away, we wouldn't send more than a token number away. Odds are that anything that happens would affect them no differently than if they had stayed. It's the nature of the Contest and the amount of power bound up in it."

"So the people are screwed if this doesn't go right, one way or the other," he sighed. "And there's something in that book that might help with it?" He guessed.

"That's the sound of it," she nodded. "The book is the Grimoire Apell, it has the True Names to everything that has ever been on Aristal. Do know what a True Name is?"

"I know it's something to do with magic, but that's about it," he said. "Not my best department."

"If you know something or someone's True Name, even someone without any magical talent can exert a lot of influence over it," she explained. "A mage skilled in that kind of magic can remake the thing in any way they want. The Grimoire Apell was stolen last week. We're fairly sure by Dark Kat," she paused to see just how much of the implications he understood of that."

"The same guy who sent that giant bacteria into the Library a few years back, I believe," he nodded. "So given that ... remaking the world?" He guessed.

"Or just wiping it out," she shuddered. "Some of the ones he serves wouldn't necessarily find that a bad thing."

"I don't suppose anybody knows where he's likely to have the book? The shadowcat could get it back easily enough."

"Given Izaris' priestesses can't locate it, I rather doubt it's anywhere so easy to get to," she said. "He's not the kind who is easy to find."

"No, I'm sure he isn't," he nodded. "It was a thought though. I doubt he's got a room without corners to store it in."

"Probably not," she agreed and sat down at a larger, well-used desk with one of the large books. "Though there is a possibility that you won't be able to touch it because of the myradi. No one with magical or divine connection can touch it, not even gods as strong as Tamorl can handle it. Which means that Dark Kat cannot directly access the information in it."

"Which means that month is probably while he figures out a way around it," he murmured. "And I suppose that is a possibility, but for what it's worth I don't have any magical ability of my own... and I think the myradi is just hyper-advanced tech, rather than real magic."

"Then it may not zap you, though the only way to know for sure would be for you to touch it," she smiled almost teasingly at him. "It's quite a jolt, but it doesn't kill."

"Well, if we ever get a chance to find out, I'm willing to go for it," he chuckled. "You'll just have to figure out where Dark Kat has it, for the sake of science," he teased her lightly.

"Somehow, I think we'll find out soon, since reading it is my specialty of sorts. It's the only obvious reason I should stick close to Jake when the fighting starts."

"I wasn't really under the impression that he was a safe person to stick around during trouble," Wave Runner agreed. "Though it makes me wonder what I'm supposed to help do."

"If you could copy the giant bacteria's form to fight it, you can probably copy whatever other monsters are summoned to the battle," Abi pointed out. "It might also be a form like the shadowcat that Jake will need the help of to get something. He can't touch the book any more than Dark Kat."

"True," Wave Runner nodded. "I don't suppose you know if the book includes off-worlders? It might just be that I'm the only person with a 'big gun' weapon who wouldn't be in it, I suppose."

"I haven't looked," she admitted. "I seems like at least some aliens are in it, but that might be because they have settled here and consider Aristal their home now. I've never tried to look up a visitor."

"Another thing to consider, if we ever get the chance," he nodded. "I know that I'm not planning on making this world my home yet," he admitted.

"Even if you have stayed quite a while," she leaned back a bit as she relaxed. "How long does your kind live, relative to a Kat?"

"From what the Current's been able to calculate, about the same time period," he told her. "Years are different back home, but when it's all converted to standard time periods it's just about the same. Though I'm a little surprised that anybody lives long enough to die of old age around here, from what I've seen," he chuckled. "I figure I'll probably stay on Aristal for another ten years or so, if nothing changes."

"The reality is that very few do," she sighed. "Even with all the violence, heath care advances and the recovery of healing magics have extended our life expectancy to what is probably pretty close to the natural limit. I seriously doubt we'll regularly see more than two full centuries just with good health."

"Where my people can expect to see that easily, as long as we're not in a violent career," he nodded. "Medicine has gotten a lot farther for us, along with body armor and the like. If you don't mind my asking," he said as he sat down in one of her chairs, "what is it about archaeology that you enjoy?"

"The discovery," she answered easily. "I realize that most of what I find is recorded somewhere in Izaris' Library, but it is information that has been lost to us, to the mortal world, for a long time, and I love finding it."

"And you're very good at it," he smiled. "It's more a love of the past than for exploring then?"

Abi had to pause and really think about that. "I think it's mostly a love of rediscovery, of finding what has been lost."

"If anybody manages FTL travel while you're still alive, you'll have to go look up the Sertrous system," he chuckled. "The entire place is a gold mine for somebody who likes that sort of thing. Of course, from what I've seen here already, you have plenty of work to do already."

"I'm pretty sure Jake's already managed that, along with dimensional and time travel," she said thoughtfully. "I know folks who can manage it if he can't. It's not an industrial technology though."

"Well, if we make it through the next couple months, maybe it's about time some of the people from around here do a little exploring," he mused. "I'm surprised nobody has yet, honestly, especially since I think he mentioned it when we met, now that I think about it... doesn't even have to go through hyperspace."

"I don't know," she mused quietly, more than a little curious why the idea unsettled her so much. "It just doesn't seem ... safe ... to leave Aristal. Maybe after so long with the contest, it's unsettling to not have the chance to influence it, even in a small way. Maybe the gods stuck that in our heads so we wouldn't wonder too far from home, or it doesn't sound good to be away from them and their protection."

"And for somebody who built such a career on exploring the past of your world, I can't imagine the idea of going away from that feels very good," he said understandingly. "The first few gens of exploration are tricky with things like that. Of course, it'll also get a lot more attention from the neighbors, so to speak."

"Good or bad attention?" she looked at him, honestly not sure what she thought about the idea of colonizing other worlds like Sci-fi movies proposed.

"Like most everything in the universe, both," he chuckled. "Aristal has records regarding its run in with aliens going poorly. On the one hand, barring the world or keeping it closed off will mean that 90% of the aliens you deal with are the criminal ones. But on the other hand, opening it up can have serious results, particularly given the Omegas around here."

"And the contest," Abi added. "I've gathered that gods don't play much direct role in most of the political decisions out there, but it does here. It's been recorded quite often, and in modern times, that various gods have made personal appearances to have their say on policies that matter enough to them. I wouldn't be surprised if the eternal difficulties MASA seems to have isn't natural bad luck or poor management."

"I don't know that I would be either," he nodded. "I can say that the Contest likely wouldn't have much of an influence on the outside, but it might be something that your gods wouldn't want being spread much. The bigger issue would be the Omegas though. The worlds with a history of having them are kinda touchy about more of them getting access to open space."

"Maybe it's just me, but that doesn't bother me much," she admitted. "It's the idea of leaving myself that's unsettling. We've dealt with space-based Omegas before, and they've all lost."

"I don't mean the Omegas coming here," he chuckled. "I mean worried about Omegas leaving here. It's one of the major issues any time a world that has them gets FTL-tech."

She cocked her head at him and leaned back to think about that. "I guess. Most of the bad ones are locked into staying here, because they're Champions. The rest ... I have a hard time believing that's make that much of an impact out there."

"On some worlds," he chuckled. "That Turmoil lady might be able to do some serious damage, especially if she found the right place. It's a moot point for the moment though. It's just a concern if you do join the larger community. Most worlds don't have the defenses that you've developed against them, so they worry about that sort of thing."

"They should spend less time worrying and more time getting ready," Abi snorted. "We sure as hell weren't ready when they first appeared half a century ago. Any place with a half competent military and government can handle them. Though I'll admit those can be hard to come by on occasion."

"Especially the governments," he chuckled. "Sadly, I think there's something to be said for the anarchists, or at least there would be if you could count on people to be decent to each other."

"If we could, governments are likely to have ever formed," she shook her head with a sigh. "We wouldn't need them, or laws for that matter. What is the government like on your homeworld?"

"Traditional, or modern?" He chuckled. "Traditionally, we had a very informal government, very localized. Communities formed between females who lived in the same area, for defense, trade, and keeping the gene pool spread out. Modern, it's not that different on the local level, but Aquus has a council made up of the most powerful matriarchs of each Reef and Island for dealing with the outside. The closest we ever came to having a formal government, and that was mostly because the Exodus proved that they couldn't just hide out under water and hope the rest of the cosmos went away."

"What happened with the Exodus?" she asked, openly curious.

"About a quarter of the female population of Aquus decided they liked the odds they had in the rest of the galaxy, and the chance to gain glory and honor," he explained. "So they left. With the cream of the crop taking off to have adventures elsewhere, there was a major upheaval in the 'common ranks' of most Reefs. They decided that open relations with the other races was the best way to make sure we actually got some of them back eventually."

Abi blinked. "That could decimate a population's ability to continue."

"That was a major concern," he nodded. "Though the vast majority didn't leave forever," he reassured her. "They came back after a few years, long enough to start establishing an Aquusian reputation for good mercs and explorers outside."

"Which keeps demand high for those who are outside," she nodded. "Are male explorers rare?"

"That have been at it as long as I have, yes," he nodded. "Most of us retire when our wives return to Aquus to raise a clutch, then stay home with the fry. I found that I enjoyed seeing the universe more than raising children," he chuckled. "So when they grew up, we went back into space."

"You don't explore with her?" she looked at him with a bit of surprise. "What does she do?"

"Last I heard, she was working with a salvage team out of Delta Drift," he said easily. "We did it together for a while, but we drifted apart eventually. It ended amicably, but splitting up was the best thing for both of us. She wanted to settle down more, I still enjoyed traveling and taking advantage of the Myradi. That was about thirty years back, your time."

"Has she taken a new mate?" Abi asked curiously. "Do you think you might?"

"Last I heard, she hadn't, but if she hits a good haul in the salvage business she'll be heading back home to settle down with a few new boyfriends, I'm sure," he smiled. "It's one of the big reasons for leaving the planet; if you get into the right line of work, you can make a big score and retire before you're in your second century."

"Do you think you will go back to find a new girlfriend eventually?"

"Maybe," he shrugged slightly. "For now, I'm having enough fun working to want to retire," he chuckled. "And most Aquusian women would be a little weirded out by a male partner who's been as successful as I have been, to be honest. Maybe I'll come across somebody while I'm up and about," he chuckled.

"I'm sure there are plenty who won't be put off if you aren't picky about species," Abi smiled at him. "Do you know what you'd like in a mate?"

"At this point in time? Smart, has some spunk... willing to deal with a certain amount of oddity," he chuckled. "How about you?" He asked her curiously. "You have anybody back in MKC waiting for you to finish up out here?"

"Not really," she shook her head. "I raised my kits when I was relatively young and in a stable job. I've had a couple long-term lovers, a few short-term ones, but no one that really worked out in my life. I'm not sure I ever will return to the city, to be honest. There are a dozen lifetimes worth of work here, and I'm appreciated for my skills and talent. What I'm looking for ... it varies a bit. Sometimes I hope I find someone to work with, someone who's as interested in what I'm doing as I am, and has the academic standing to go with it. Other times, I just want someone who's tolerant of my obsession with the past and good in bed."

"Depending on how much you've been able to play around lately?" He guessed with a low chuckle.

"That, and how good the last lover I had was," she grinned at him with a wink. "A really good one will make me care a lot less about professional qualifications."

"So, for accidental partners, how do I rate?" He asked her with a slight smirk.

"You wouldn't need any credentials to get a second date," she blushed slightly.

"Good to know," he smiled. "I did enjoy it... and playing that out in reality instead of just in our heads could be fun some time," he winked.

"It could," her purr deepened. "I have to admit that I haven't had that intense a time in years. Would you mind providing some medical information on your alien male forms?"

"Not at all," he chuckled. "I've already got most of their data, and on the fems, at the temples to Izaris, and I've got copies on a disk I keep with me in case of emergency," he said easily. "It's in my bag."

"How many are compatible with a Kat?" she asked, leaning back in her chair with something clearly in mind.

"Genetically viable? We think it's just the Aquian, and maybe humans, but that's only because humans are viable with an astounding number of species," he explained. "That said, other humans on Aristal haven't had kids, despite always being fertile and having ample opportunity, so that's questionable at best."

"Mmm, well, my next heat is due to start any day. Care to experiment a bit with just how intense that Mouse can be with the room full of pheromones and insanely horny partner?"

"Hoo boy," he chuckled. "You're looking to throw me in at the deep end, aren't you? Sure, though I reserve the right to play around with a couple others too, during the week," he winked. "I think you'd appreciate a few of the Theus' traits... like being able to lick their eye-ridges."

Abi shivered, a low whimper escaping her throat as the thought sent a bolt of pleasure thought her. "I don't think you'll find me objecting. For reference, I do enjoy anal, oral and being dominated too. What that Mouse wanted to do is very hot too."

"You think you might like playing with the Warbeast some time?" He asked her curiously. "Or the Shadowcat? Not sure how far your interest in being dommed goes."

"I'm not much into being hurt, unlike some folks I know you've been with, but I really do like big guys," she blushed a bit more. "My last long-term boyfriend was an Alsatian Kantin, and that size was definitely a pig part of the attraction. I'd definitely be game to play a bit."

"I'm not much into pain either," he reassured her. "Care to explore how well you like my various forms? Good to know these sort of things before you're not in any condition to think straight," he chuckled. "Or would you rather get dinner first?"

"I can't say I'm that hungry, and it is an excellent way to work up an appetite," she purred and stood to walk over to him. "Just how much practice have you had with these forms?" she asked as she ran her fingers through the thick cinnamon fur of his chest.

"Enough to know the ins and outs of most of them... and the parts that kats seem to particularly enjoy," he purred, kissing her lightly. "You prefer males to fems?" He asked, wrapping his arms around her.

"Generally," she nodded, nuzzling his neck and cheek. "Not as strongly as Jake, but given a choice...."

"Not a problem," he purred back, kissing her and pushing her back onto the bed. "We'll have to be a little careful I don't drain its charge, or I'll be stuck in whatever form for the next day," he warned her, before activating the Myradi and returning to his Mouse form from before.

"Do any of the races mate in a way that isn't like mine?" she asked as her hands worked down, under his belt to work his pants down. She didn't even try to get them off, only far enough down to give her hands full access to the chocolate-furred balls and sheath. "For such a different creature, he is very similar."

"You haven't seen the green blood," he chuckled, kissing her and slipping his tail up to rub her crotch as he worked on getting her top off. "But what sort of 'different' are you looking for?"

"Idle curiosity," she moaned, pressing into his touch as her fingers worked on his groin. "All those races ... do they all mate like I do?"

"It's pretty much just the Aquusian that's different ... though the Bacteria Monster is different, I guess," he mused, lick-kissing her neck lightly as his tail pulled her panties down and off. "The gryphon can mate in the air, though I don't think they usually do, and I'm not honestly sure about the Creepling or Hyperspace Shadowcat."

Abi whimpered at the hot, dry air that caressed her still-soaking sex and spread her legs under his broad form, wanting to be taken again by the incredible pleasure the chocolate-furred Mouse offered. She drew one hand out from between them to reach up and slid her fingers along an antennae.

"Oh...." He kicked off his pants, kissing her hungrily. "I'll take that as 'shut up and fuck me,'" he grinned, sinking his throbbing cock deep into her sex, sticky with cooling seed, his fur still matted from it as it rubbed against her clit.

"Yes!" she cried out sharply, her body squeezing down around him as she wrapped her legs around his as best she could with her knee-length skirt still on. "Oh, yes," she moaned more softly, both her hands moving up to stroke his antennae until he was a quivering, thrusting mindless mating machine laying on top of her. Only then did she raise her hands to the head of her bed and arched her back upwards in absolute submission to his power.

He grabbed her wrists, holding them above her head with a low, lusty growl as he pounded into her sex, his tail whipping up and around to squeeze her breasts as he fucked her, taking her body hard until she screamed and came, the pleasure of her mind and body washing over his poorly shielded mind and pushing him over the edge with her.

He groaned lowly, pumping his seed into her hot, wet body as he claimed her mouth in a hungry, possessive kiss.

"Gonna try something new," he murmured as they both started to unwind from their first orgasm together. "Open up a bit more?" He asked her.

Abi nodded and did her rest to relax her mind and welcome him in, knowing it would be worth it.

He kissed her, linking their minds... and then Abi almost came again, eyes going wide as she felt his cock inside of her... from his perspective!

"Fuck that's intense," he gasped, starting to thrust again, more slowly than before as he struggled not to come instantly or black out from the overload.

"Just wait," Abi whimpered as she arched her hips up to press her clit against his groin and squeezed down around him, trying to capture his smooth cock and it's mushroom head. "Gods this feels good," she panted, her body taunt against his.

"Incredible," she whispered, tugging her wrists free from his hands to stroke his antennae, hungry to know just what that felt like. "Let it go," she cried out, only just able to hold her own mind together with the rush of indescribable pleasure that had no corollary in her world.

Her hands stroking his antennae felt almost as good as her pussy rippling around his cock. It was only a handful of strokes before he howled and came hard, filling her sex again as they both felt his orgasm, and then hers as the pleasure spiraled out of control, his balls coming again right on the heel of his second climax.

Instinct and reflex took them both through the end of it as conscious awareness of the act, and the world, blacked out for them both.

"Do we have siblings here too?" Kaylinn asked as Ameris came in for a VTOL landing just outside the main gates of the recently re-christened High Temple of The Lord of Ancient Balkita.

"Yes," Jake nodded easily. "I sired several litters by request here."

"Do you know who they all are?" Garnet asked curiously, looking around. It was more comfortable here, in a lot of ways... both genders that clearly had rank given the elder Snow Leopards with black fur and golden rosettes that were leading the procession to greet them. It was another mostly homogeneous population split between Ocelot and Jungle Cats, but it was a bit more diverse and didn't seem to care that much about what you looked like too much.

"I've met them all," Jake nodded and stood as the jet settled. "Most are a bit older than Mika's pair, with two younger litters in the temple."

"This is where you stopped that rebellion, right?" Ghunaya asked as they formed up to disembark. "Are the two Snow Leopards the ones who ran it back then?"

"Yes to both," he nodded breathed in the moist, hot jungle air as Ameris opened the door. "They were held prisoner for it, but never publicly removed from office."

"Why would they be held prisoner?" Willow asked, frowning.

"By the guys who were behind it," Keeu explained briefly. "Shh, now." She added, before following Rock and Jake down, bowing to the assembled priests, who returned the gesture.

"Welcome back, Champion," the male Snow Leopard smiled. "It's been some time."

"Too long, Sheng," Jake grinned and clasped hands tightly with the venerable High Priests. "It is good to see you both still enjoy good healthy."

"Halikar seems to will that we see His revival through," Korrunn Djia smiled, the aged Leopardess taking Rock's hand and shaking it lightly. "And the reconciliation between your Temples and ours," she added with a respectful bow of her head.

"Long overdue, Priestess," Rock agreed with a smile. "Though we are all glad to see it."

"Bastet possibly more than anyone," Jake added with a slight smile for his mate. "I see those I've sired have done well," he added with a look over at the seven mixed-breed teens and four more a bit younger than those he was raising.

"Not out of any effort on their part to stay out of trouble," Sheng chuckled. "Especially the younger ones."

"We take after our sire, much to our mothers' dismays," the eldest chuckled.

"I would expect no less, Heliek," Jake grinned at his son by a peasant girl barely old enough to know desire. "How have your magical studies progressed?"

"What I've been told since I came still holds true," he rolled his eyes in annoyance, though he didn't hide his pride in the accomplishments very well. "I've already mastered most of the sun-spells, and I can hold the Sun Hawk for days, even while I sleep."

"That is good," Jake's eyes went a bit wide. "Why don't we have a little sparing match with our wings while I'm here?"

"You're on!" Heliek cheered, only to school his expression at a scolding look from Korrunn Sheng. "I would be honored, Champion," he said with a bow, his tail giving away how much he was looking forward to this. "Will Warrior Kyale be joining us?" he sounded hopeful.

"Not that I'm aware of," Jake chuckled.

"Though it's entirely possible; we've had far more visitors from outside Tambron lately, many of them friends of yours," Sheng chuckled. "Miss Sinnian and one of her helpers hope to visit soon; it seems he wants to see the archives here, and compare them to Seharal's."

"It has brought a lot of positive attention to the old ways," Jake purred as they entered the temple grounds. "Halikar was bordering on happy the last time I saw him. I wouldn't be surprised to see him push very hard to reestablish his Champion as the head of Balkita, or maybe Tambron, in the next few generations. Things will never be as they were, but I can see his plans already for having some of his world back. I think he's actually looking forward to the future a bit."

"Always a pleasant thing," Sheng smiled. "To have one's God be happy is to have a much easier life as a priest. I suspect that Balkita will be more accepting of such a transition though, particularly given our resistance to some of the government's desires."

"Either way, his good mood makes my life easier too," Jake said. "Bastet's let up a lot too, now that I have kittens all over the world. Has Abi brought up anything contradictory between the records here and at Seharal?"

"Not contradictory, though some that has left us having to reconsider our interpretations slightly," he said easily. "Less contradictory than a different message."

"It will be interesting to see what comes of digging up Hakarshi Valley," Jake said as he look in the condition of an ancient temple that had seen a rather sudden improvement of status and funds. "While she hasn't said she knows where it is, I know she does, or will when she decides to think about it."

"She'll find it soon enough," Sheng chuckled. "After dealing with a few other issues though, I suspect. While you are here, Champion, we will have to speak with you about the Contest, and some activity we have seen coming. It has been quiet for too long."

"I know," Jake said grimly. "Especially Dark Kat. He's got something big and really bad coming. I'd be grateful to have even a hint of what."

"Halikar has given us word and warning regarding it," Sheng said evenly. "And we have seen more, though it is more clouded than the future typically is. All I know for sure is that you may find yourself working alongside Eternal Dawn."

That raised an eyebrow. "I though he'd been executed with the other rebels."

"He made his case for his actions being less than treason," Sheng explained simply. "He was exiled instead, barred from entering a temple of Halikar or accepting aid from His followers. The others did not make such a case, though clearly we allowed Mylaya to live long enough to give birth," he nodded towards the two half-Ocelots.

"That will be interesting," Jake couldn't help but muse. "Is there any sense that this is a bigger event than the average Great Contest?"

"Yes," Djia nodded gravely. "What has been seen could be interpreted in many ways. The worst possibility is that the Contest may not suffice to protect Aristal."

"Who ... what has the kind of power to ignore the divine law?" Keeu asked, her eyes wide at the very idea.

"That's why Dark Kat wanted the damned book," Rock murmured, his fur standing on end as he realized the implications. "The Grimoire."

"What about this 'Grimoire'?" Sheng asked, turning towards the two Champions.

"The Grimoire Apell... a book of True Names," Keeu explained briefly. "It exists outside of divine law, and contains the True Name of everything that has ever been, even if it was Unmade."

"Dark Kat couldn't use it though," Rock pointed out with a frown. "How could he bypass that?"

"If he isn't a mage in his own right, but only through divine power... shit," Keeu whispered. "I think I know what he's got planned."

"Explain," Jake's tone was unusually sharp as he focused on things that went far beyond him.

"It's not something that could work without modern medicine, but it explains what Hazred was trying to do too," Keeu explained quickly, picking up pace as the pieces fell into place and she hurried to the central temple to illustrate her point. "Think about it - none of us could use the Grimoire, why? Because we're all, to one extent or another servants of the Gods. Hazred couldn't use the Grimoire. Why? Because he was a mage who had made pacts with very powerful entities for power. But, what part of us prevents us from using the Grimoire?"

"Our connection to the gods," Sheng frowned. "We know that already."

"Our souls prevent us from using it," Keeu corrected him. "We've made pacts with the gods at a soul-level. If our bodies were destroyed... Balkitan afterlife excepted," she added, reminding herself who she was working with as she explained, "our souls would go on to join our patrons and meet our rewards. If we were to return in spirit, we still couldn't touch the Grimoire. But, if we were to strip our souls out of our bodies...."

"Then our bodies could use the Grimoire... if they wouldn't die before they had the chance," Djia murmured.

"Exactly. Normally, the only ways to separate the soul from the body is to approach death, to induce an out-of-body experience. But there are two exceptions. One of them would be a lich, ripping his soul out of his body and putting it into his phylactery."

"Hazred's plan," Rock frowned. "But it didn't work for him," he pointed out.

"Which is probably what drove him mad," Keeu nodded. "The problem with that approach is that he could take his soul from his body, but it maintained the connection, even if it was more tenuous. He hadn't fully removed it - if he did, he'd have died for good. The other exception would be the Champion of the Lord of Bones. Through his Patron's gifts, he could kill himself, fully sever his soul from his body - but maintain control of it for a brief time. The Gift of True Death Delayed. Without modern medicine, this gift has only been useful for the purposes of exacting revenge. It was originally a cheap way of keeping the Lord of Bones from losing his all his influence after a Champion has fallen, if he can kill his killer before it's over. But, with it, the Champion could have himself killed by another Champion, sever his soul... and then have himself restored to life artificially after he's used the Grimoire. And we know that Dark Kat not only has the Lord of Bones as one of his many patrons, but that he has at least one other Champion on his side."

"So he's planning to have Arba kill him in a way that doesn't do much damage to his body, use the Grimoire, and be revived?" Jake struggled to wrap his mind around his soul leaving his body in the permanent way, and not having it kill him for good. "Would he still be a Champion when he came back?"

Keeu took a moment, closing her eyes and contacting the Great Library.

"There's actually no known case of it happening before, meaning that it would be up to the Lords of Order if Lamashtu challenged it. But if Dark Kat were still alive ... he should be, unless She challenged and They ruled against his patrons. And while the second part is likely enough, I really doubt that She would challenge. It would be like... well, like Bastet trying to lodge a legal challenge to take Halikar's Champion out of the Contest, despite Dark Kat still being in play."

"I think I know how regular folks feel like when I talk tech around them," Jake muttered with a shake of his head. "That is one seriously warped plan. What are the odds it'll actually work?"

"How likely is Dark Kat to know a way to kill himself that he could be resurrected from up to five minutes later?" Keeu asked with a shrug. "There's no way to be sure. Too many variables involved ... and, of course, all of this requires the guys who created the Grimoire not considering the possibility that somebody might have a magical way of doing the same thing. I just can't think of any that wouldn't void the plan because of a lingering soul-connection. Dark Kat would have to induce brain death, and then reverse it. I just wouldn't put it past him to be able to."

"Or to not care," Rock murmured. "Or to think he could do it even if he couldn't. He is psychotic, after all... if he's gone all the way to nihilism instead of just megalomania, he might not care about surviving any longer than it takes to make sure the world's going to burn."

Jake couldn't help but sigh. "You know, I'd think this was good news, except I know that nut-case well enough to know anything worth risking his life like that is going to be far worse than him for the rest of us. Do we have any hints on where this is going to happen?"

"Let's face it, we're talking about giving Dark Kat five minutes to do whatever he wants to the world," Keeu sighed. "It's going to be potentially very bad. As for where... I'm not sure. It could just be beyond my rank, but I don't get that feeling, honestly."

"We have been trying to find out as well," Djia pointed out. "We can tell that it will affect MegaKat City, but we cannot tell where it will start either."

"Maybe it has something to do with the dreams?" Ghunaya suggested quietly.

"Quite possibly," Jake nodded, a thoughtful look on his face. "Ameris, what were the coordinates when Ghunaya and I began to react to the nightmare?"

"Coordinates 06º 55' North, 79º 52' East," she responded almost immediately. "Just north east of Tusandrin."

"That would be within the Great Mountains," Sheng frowned. "There are no settlements there, not above the lowest reaches of the slopes."

"Sounds like a perfect place for a hidden fortress," Jake grumbled. "We'll have to make a few fly-by's before heading to Seharal."

"I'll see if there's anything in the Library, with the understanding that it's an emergency," Keeu murmured. "But from what I can gather... it sounds like there's something up there that even Jenz doesn't know about. When I tried looking into it that morning, there was quite a bit of frustration and confusion."

"That's as much confirmation as I'll ever need that something big and nasty is there," Jake said grimly. "The list of folks that could pull that off is beyond short. If it's not Dark Krud, it's something just as bad."

"You'll be cutting your visit short then?" Djia asked him. "It will be understood if you do."

"I don't think we'll need to," Jake shook his head. "Rock and I can take Ameris out after hours tonight. We can make the round trip in a few hours."

"Very well," she nodded. "We won't change our plans then. Please, let me show you all to your quarters," she offered.

"Thank you," Jake nodded. "I'd rather not raise any red flags if I don't have to. Surprise could be a real advantage if we can manage it, no matter what is up there."

"If you do find something, Champion, please come back and get help before you go to deal with the situation," Sheng asked him seriously, leading the way up along with his wife. "You realize what you will be dealing with if you do. Facing the dragon in its den is rarely wise without backup."

"If we find something, we'll be calling in for a lot of backup," Rock promised. "I have no intention of letting him fight Dark Kat, or worse, on his own."

"Especially since they both have kits to worry about," Keeu agreed. "Who we don't want to scare any more than they already are," she added pointedly, glancing back at the very, very quiet entourage.

"Right," Jake said with an apology in his voice for the eleven kits. "The fight won't be tonight."

"Okay," Willow nodded, speaking for the others. "Be careful when it is?"

"Of course we will," Rock promised, turning to give her a gentle hug. "Come on, let's go see our rooms and get settled in. It's about time we got to relax a bit."

"If I didn't know you as well as I do, I'd think you were completely paranoid," Sheira, the Champion of Sheliel, shook her head as the Ameris approached the mountains north east of Tusandrin and the raging storms that had stopped the investigation two days before.

"Same here, but Jake wouldn't have had nightmares about the Demon here if there wasn't something going in," Rock offered from the co-pilot's seat. "Especially not with Ghunaya having them too."

"These mountains have never really been explored," Mika said, coming out of her trance in the Great Library. "Not around here, at any rate."

"I'd say they have been," Kymeil, the Champion of Storms countered as she focused her will on the storms that were already buffeting Ameris. "These storms are anything but natural. The magic is old and reinforced like nothing I've ever felt."

"Can you tell what it's from?" Mika asked. "The entire place is a blank spot on the map in the Library. Even digging through all the records of any explorer who's been in the region, they always stopped before getting around here. The only ones who even came close were the ones who never made it back," she said quietly.

"Magic," Kymeil looked at her a bit helplessly. "Old, powerful magic that's been strengthened over the centuries."

"I'd been hoping to know whose magic, but I understand," Mika nodded. "Do you think you'll be able to manipulate it? It may be magic, but it's still a storm," she pointed out as they came through for a closer pass.

"I can," she nodded firmly and focused further. Everyone on board could feel the wind settle and the clouds thinned, though not nearly to the extent that Kymeil was trying to force them to. "Get as close as you dare. The area around the jet is what I can effect the most."

"She's going in," Rock nodded. "A little late to bring up, but if we can find this place, what're we going to do about it?" He asked as Ameris came in closer to the storm, and Kymeil exerted her full force on the centuries-old tempest.

"We land, if we can," Jake told him. "We need to find out what's there, and why it's hiding so bloody well."

"Mika, is there any historical record about this?" Rock asked her. "Not the area specifically, but anything that was supposed to be in a hidden city in this area?" He suggested as the clouds cleared further, giving them glimpses of black basalt buildings.

"It's been suggested that this is a likely location of Kadath, the Plateau Leng," she said, grabbing her chair arms as the jet rocked.

Rock drew in a sharp breath, his eyes widening. "Shit, does this date back that far?" he whispered.

"What?" Jake flashed a look at his mate before he had to focus completely on assisting Ameris in keeping them in the air.

"Those buildings... they're similar to the Great Tower. This place could date back to the last Godswar... maybe even earlier, or at least have a similar history," Rock explained.

"Legend said that Nightmare ruled from Leng for a time," Mika offered. "But for now, I think we need to think about getting out of here!" She told Jake seriously, before the clouds started to form up again, the winds getting stronger, a lightning bolt snapping out between the clouds and the wing, frying one of Ameris' three engines.

"Krud!" Rock snarled and grabbed the controls to try and steady their course away from the black basalt towers so Jake and Ameris could work on keeping them airborne.

"Strap in!" Jake yelled back. "Impact is likely."

"I'm doing my best!" Kymeil swore, struggling to clear enough of the storm to free them from it's grip and escape.

"Kymeil, get down," Sheira snarled, grabbing her and hauling her back into her seat, forcibly strapping her in as another of the engines was ripped off as the winds picked up with a vengeance.

"You too," Mika called out to the Lioness as the jet shuddered again.

"I know," she growled and stumbled to her seat to strap in.

"Prepare for impact," Ameris warned calmly as her remaining engine, the one inside her tail, was ripped off and they began to spin. "This will not be a controlled landing."

"I'll buffer us as much as I can," Mika yelled forward.

"Same here," Kymeil added as she shifted her efforts from subduing the winds to whipping them into a raging updraft under the fuselage, using the remnants of the wings to stabilize them a bit.

"Damnit!" Jake couldn't help his snarl as nearly all the safety features he'd painstakingly developed and installed were stripped away, leaving only the properties of the material and construction to help them survive.

"Brace yourselves, and get ready for this to hurt," Rock warned them, even as he summoned his own powers to make the impact easier on all of them. There was a tortured scream of metal as the stone punched through it and ripped into the fuselage, then a chill as the raging winds outside penetrated the pressurized cabin.

"Everybody okay?" Jake asked groggily as he struggled to push himself up from the dashboard.

"Everyone has survived," Ameris reported. "Injuries appear to be minor. The jet has received critical damage. I'm downloading myself to the memory cell."

"Good thing you don't make 'em overly attached to one body or another," Rock groaned as he wrenched his arm free from some of the twisted metal in the cockpit. "Anybody need healing?" He called back.

"I've got it," Mika assured him as she went to help Kymeil stop bleeding.

"I can heal myself," Sheira said as she struggled to her feet and assessed her surroundings. "I know what your healing means."

"Rock?" Jake's voice was shaky in a different way. "I will."

Rock turned to look at him; he'd sounded fine at first, but now....

The tabby swore under his breath as he saw the shape Jake was in; the control stick had been rammed up and in in the crash, and was now dripping with Jake's blood from where it came out of his abdomen.

"Hang on, Jake, I'll have you out in a minute," he promised, prying himself free and crossing over to his mate, carefully pulling him free and quickly putting a hand over the wound.

"Do it," Jake relaxed his muscles and put his mind into the place where he wouldn't feel anything.

Rock nodded, closing his eyes and focusing. He felt the flesh regrowing, the blood boiling as the wound sealed up, the damaged parts inside of Jake restoring themselves.

"You need to have a word with Ameris about what constitutes a serious injury," he muttered.

"With the damage the jet took, it's more like saying anything before she knows her sensors are in order," Jake said as he opened his eyes and took a deep breath of the bitingly cold air. "Mika ... can you sense if they saw us?"

"I believe they did, but I can't sense any sort of intent towards us... they probably assume that we crashed and burned. It'd be true enough if we weren't who we are," she pointed out.

"Thanks you for small miracles," Jake let out a small breath. "Okay, let's get what's left of the survival gear out and get going. The sooner we're out of the storm zone the better off we'll be. Under the seats and in the overhead bins."

"From here I ought to be able to control it better," Kymeil offered, pulling out a survival kit. "We'll have to stay close together though. I could try pulling in a tropical pattern, but I couldn't guarantee the effects."

"How about just stilling the winds as much as possible?" Sheira suggested as the supplies were spread out between them. "If you can keep it relatively calm the walk won't be that bad."

"We don't want to draw any more attention from whoever lives up there than we have to," Jake added, passing out specialized winter clothing. "Mika, can you alert anyone to where we are?"

"Already have," she nodded. "The Temple of Izaris knows where we are, and that we're hoping for rescue. Only risk is if they've got somebody from the Temple inside there... but if they do, they're probably not the bad guys after all, and I really need to double-check my rank."

"Mika," Jake put a hand on her shoulder as Rock walked outside with Sheira and Kymeil. "Thank you for coming. Keeu wouldn't have fared nearly as well though this."

"She would have died, and not had the abilities to get you even as much as I was," Mika said with quiet certainly, pulling on the heavy coat. "Does our equipment include distress beacons? If it does, I'll need to make sure my people don't come after me up here."

"They do, but they aren't on at the moment. I don't want whoever shot us down to be looking for us," he said as they entered the biting cold. "Would they really pick them up this far away?"

"Traveris directly? No," Mika chuckled grimly. "Her agents, who might know that I was on board? Quite possibly. Remember, former Intelligence officer, and they still tap my expertise whenever they can. They'll be very, very interested in my well-being if they find out."

"Probably about MKC's reaction for me," he nodded, taking a moment to orient himself to MegaKat City, compare it to the world map in his head and picked the way to head towards the lowlands of Tusandrin. "The five of us are not exactly low-profile."

"No, that much is true," she nodded, quieting to save her breath for the hike they were facing.

Two days of slogging threw the heavy snow with few rations and minimal gear had drained the group, some suffering more than others. Somewhat to everyone surprise, Kymeil, with no survival training to speak of outside of her upbringing in the Outback of Kaleesin, was doing the best. She grinned at them over it and pointed out that she rode hurricanes for fun and her Gifts included a tolerance for any stormy weather.

It was Mika, desert born, bred and trained, who couldn't stop shivering without magic to hold off the cold and was kept between the warm bodies of Jake and Rock at night.

Now it was nearly dawn after their second night on the mountain and wind and snow howled around the force-field dome protected campsite, reducing the danger to those inside, but it was still bitterly cold inside the small all-weather tent. It was good quality, but not designed for arctic conditions. Still, between the shield and five people huddled together for warmth and a bit of magic to help the technology made sleeping possible, and frostbite not a worry.

Sheira was the first to tense in the pre-dawn light, Jake only a moment afterwards and soon joined by Rock.

"Champion is coming," the proud Lioness growled lowly, a sound little different than the wind.

"Agreed," Jake helped shake Mika and Kymeil awake as Sheira crawled from the tent and summoned her weapons and armor.

"Can you tell who it is?" Jake whispered to Mika. He was fairly sure it was Lord Khan of Tusandrin, but he didn't trust his skill enough to call their guard down on it.

"Khan," Mika nodded slightly. "His mate and a few guards as well. Weapons are unnecessary," she called out to Sheira as she and Jake joined the others outside.

All five could feel the other Champion extending his senses to track their signatures. Mika sent a tendril out, trying to make it easier for him while Rock and Jake broke down their simple camp.

"Let's go meet him," Rock said and headed towards the other Champion coming for them. He held up the flare pistol he'd pulled out of his kit while they broke camp, firing it up into the air to make sure they had the attention of Khan's group.

The flash of a magical flair came from the direction of the other Champion and the group fell silent as they slogged their way towards their rescuers.

"Champions!" Shier Khan roared to them as the two groups came in sight of each other. "Do any need aid?"

"We are healthy," Sheira roared back, as her voice could carry the furthest.

"We'll clear the path!" He replied, raising a hand. The storm started to abate, between his power and Kymeil's, the path melting down to the barren rock beneath.

"I think I could kiss him," Mika muttered under her breath, just loud enough to be heard.

"I understand he can make you melt if he kisses you back," Jake winked at her. "He is the true definition of a mortal god after all."

"It'd never happen," she snorted. "Definitely not my type, I'm just glad it's not freezing so badly right now."

"He is mine though," Jake purred, still teasing as the two groups joined up. "Thank you for rescuing us, Lord Khan," Jake bowed deeply to the powerful Tiger. "It is good to see you looking healthy, Com-Ulysses," he stumbled on the title, but didn't miss the small smile that crossed the gray tom's face.

"Yes," Ulysses nodded to him. "How is Felina doing?"

"Very well," Jake smiled at him warmly. "I don't have as much to do with the Enforcers as I used to, but she has grown into the post very well."

"Good to hear," he smiled. "What led you to crashing out here?"

"Ghunaya and I both had a nightmare when we passed by on the way to Tambron, so Rock and I came by for another check. When the power that flyby found a magical storm that even Ameris couldn't make it through, I gathered everyone here to see if we could get all the way in. It turned out that even the Champion of Storms couldn't stop them enough to keep us in the air."

"Ghunaya's one of our kits," Rock added. "She's a fairly strong precog."

"Understood," Ulysses nodded as the guard moved around the entire group and they headed downhill to where the vehicles were parked. "You weren't able to find anything then?"

"A few things, but little of use," Jake said. "The storm-magic is old and has been reinforced for generations. There is a building complex, likely a fortress, build of basalt and part of the mountain. It seems to be as old as Tamorl's Tower; it predates the last godwar."

"Kadath," Khan growled as he approached and heard what Jake had to say. "Just as well you didn't go in there then; we should be out of the mountains as soon as we can, if it's around here."

Mika closed her eyes briefly, trusting her feet to find the path. "Yes, it is likely Kadath, though I can not be sure. The records are so barren it is sure to be one of a handful of places, and we know it's not Tamorl's Tower."

"What do you know about Kadeth?" Jake asked both of them politely.

"We know very little about Kadath," Khan admitted. "However, our legends say that it was home to the children of the Primordials, perhaps even to one of Them itself, before the Godswars and the destruction that followed. Black basalt is their trademark, you might say."

"Having seen the Tower, I can believe it," Rock nodded. "The entire place is made out of the stuff."

"It is said that Kadath was located on the Plateau of Leng, hidden deep within the mountains," Khan continued. "Depending on the legends you believe, it was either a place of nightmares, or heaven on Aristal. I'm inclined to believe it was both, depending on who you were, and how mad you'd been driven in the search for it."

Jake and Rock exchanged glances, a look that soon extended to the rest of the hunting party.

"Speak up," Ulysses ordered gruffly, knowing Jake's expression too well.

"We're fairly sure of two other things, with no proof of either," the lean tom began warily, not really wanting to set off too large a chain reaction. "That the current resident is Dark Kat, and that he's about to bring a major demon, or possibly even a god, to run amok on Aristal."

"I'd nuke the place, but that cockroach would probably live through it anyways," Khan growled lowly. "Unfortunately, Kadath and the Plateau of Leng would not be part of Tusandrin; I couldn't control the storm to let you through."

"He would," Mika nodded. "It does not count as a direct strike by another Champion. He also has the Grimoire Apell."

"This just gets better and better," Khan groaned. "Is there anything else I should know about this, now that we've covered that one of my greatest enemies lives next door to me, I can't reach him, he's planning to end the world, and he probably has the means to do it?"

"I have a plan to get in if I have the time to work on the tools," Jake offered. "I have most of it worked out in my head, and I know I can shanghai Kensu Chim to help out. He may respect Dark Kat for his technical creations, but he does think the guy is dangerously crazy."

"You have the resources of Tusandrin, if they'll help you," Khan told him seriously. "What's your plan?"

"I have access to several spacecraft that don't always travel in this dimension. While it is meant for long-distance travel between the stars, I've almost worked out how to use it for short distances. If I can get it to work, we can drop a strike force right in the middle of that fortress we saw. I have the coordinates in my head, and in Ameris memory core."

"And the risks, if it doesn't work?" Khan asked him as everybody started to pile into the vehicles waiting for them.

"Worst case? We come back to this dimension inside the mountain," he said simply. "It's dicey at best when you try to adapt a transport method meant to cover hundreds of light years to work in a few miles."

"We'll have to try and get our resident expert in to see if there's a way to avoid that," Rock mused. "Really, really suck to have everybody who could help if we don't succeed get turned into part of the landscape trying to keep us from having to fight later."

"Agreed," Jake nodded. "How well shielded is your palace from prying eyes as skilled as Dark Kat?"

"I am Tusandrin," Khan reminded him with a deep rumble. "No such magic will ever cross my boarder."

Andrea's ship touched down in the desert outside the Karalanol encampment. The human Seer adjusted her holo-projector to conceal her species, and prepared to leave the ship, pausing briefly to blot up the blood that she knew would be the most unsettling aspect of her appearance before she opened the door and stepped out to meet the welcoming committee.

"Greetings, Seer Andrea," a strongly built orange, red, white, black, brown calico longfur with tabby stripes said politely, inclining her head to their guest. "It is good to see you again."

"Yes, it is Chieftess Ees-ta-vina Mitsel-eman," Andrea bowed politely in return. "You have come far since you flew with Champion Clawson in the Enforcers. I see that the universe has treated you and your family well."

"Very well, thank you," she nodded. "And your duties to Tamorl? They go well, I hope?"

"Yes, and I regret I am here because of them. May I speak to Walks-in-the-Past?"

"His wife will be grateful if somebody does," the Chieftess chuckled lowly. "I will show you the way; he may not wish to see you without my command." She motioned for Andrea to follow her to a tent with pale blue smoke curling up from the hole in the top. "He's been fasting for days," she said quietly once they were away from the main group and she didn't have to conform to the formal way of speech as much anymore. "Eretha's worried about him, and I am too, to be fair."

"This goes beyond the typical vision quest, then?" Andrea asked, though she already knew what he was after.

"For a warrior? Yes," she nodded. "If he were a shaman, I wouldn't worry much yet, but... I know he doesn't have those abilities anymore. Not even enough to make the effects less onerous." She paused outside the tent, scratching at the flap politely.

"He still isn't answering, Chieftess," Eretha said with a frown, stepping out of her family's tent next to it. "Greetings, Seer," she added, bowing her head respectfully to the newcomer.

"Walks-in-the-Past ... Zach, you have a guest," the Chieftess called in. "You will see her," she said firmly.

"I may be able to help you," Andrea added. "Ich kann Ihnen helfen, die Wahl zu treffen. Ich kann Ihnen helfen, die Magie zu finden."

Ees-ta-vina and Eretha both looked back at her, a mix of curiosity and suspicion in their eyes.

"If he wanted you to know what he is considering, he would have told you," Andrea said apologetically. "I believe I know what he is planning, but I cannot tell you if he would not."

"Very well," Eretha frowned. "But whatever he chooses... I have a right to know."

"I will tell him as much," Andrea promised, as Zach opened up the flap, looking more than a little surprised to hear the words he had.

"How do you know old Katsylyan?" He asked, looking positively haggard. Andrea laughed despite the tabby's appearance.

"An anthropologist to the last," she chuckled. "May I come in?"

"Yes," Zach nodded after a moment. "I'm sorry Chieftess, Eretha... I would like to have this conversation in private. Eretha? Do you have the supplies you need?" He asked her.

"Except for a missing husband to share them with," she told him pointedly. "How much longer will you be?"

"Not long, I hope," he sighed. "I promise, I'll explain everything as soon as I can."

"She will not like it," Andrea told him in Katsylyan as the tent flap between the two areas was closed.

"I know she won't," Zach admitted, speaking the gruff, guttural language as well as he could. "But I don't have much choice. If this comes to pass ... is it true, Seer? Will He walk on Aristal? I wouldn't believe it normally ... without my magic, I cannot be sure it wasn't just a nightmare. But if it is true, then I can't just let it happen unchallenged."

"It is a likely future," she acknowledged. "How do you plan to help?"

"I can only think of two ways," Zach sighed. "I can try 'renting' my powers back from the Wyld Lord for the battle, and then try to back Jake and the others up ... but that approach won't be too helpful. My powers weren't worth much to begin with. The other option would be trying to go back on the deal entirely. Accept Lierok back into myself, with a few more negotiated controls. Accept the fact that doing it will probably mean my soul when I'm through, and possibly being stuck with Lierok for the rest of my life. Neither option is all that good."

"You could also assist Dr. Sinnian with the Grimoire Apell when it is recovered," she reminded him. "You know more about events than almost anyone alive."

"It's possible," he admitted. "But she's been working with it much longer ... I suspect she'll be able to do that herself. Besides, it's more important that somebody helps to hold Him back if she does get the Grimoire. If there's anybody who can fight somebody like that ... it's Lierok, especially if I really let him cut loose."

"Lierok, or the Wyld Lord," she agreed. "Neither takes part in the current Contest in the normal manner, which gives them a certain amount of freedom ... which is what I might suggest to you now," she admitted. "Before you go about this in a way which could give you far less control than you will need."

"What would you suggest?" he asked, his tiredness showing.

"First, rest, comfort you wife and prepare not to return," she said seriously. "You have the time you will need. Remember that the Wyld Lord has a stake in Aristal and may be willing to loan his Beta to you if you approach him the right way. It will give him an advantage in the generations to come if the battle goes well."

"And from there... it's a lot like the last time I contacted Him, isn't it?"

"Like as not," she nodded. "But this time, you are more experienced, more savvy to the rules of the spirit world. You will have to be rested and alert to be able to take advantage of that. You will also need to rekindle your magical abilities to be able to contact him. That I can help you with when the time comes. The most important thing, when you bargain with Him, will be to bind Lierok to face a particular foe, not just all your enemies. Fortunately, I suspect that you won't have to put further restrictions on how he faces the enemy. Be sure to play up what the Wyld Lord has to gain. And do not accept any bargain that would make you His Champion. We'll have Champions enough in this battle, and becoming a Champion would limit what the Wyld Lord and Lierok can do for you."

"And limit what I can do in the battle," he nodded seriously. "Where should I join you when I am ready to strike the bargain?"

Andrea thought for a moment. "The High Temple of Tamorl in the Veldt," she decided. "I can think of a safer place, but you would not be welcome there. Besides, I'm not entirely sure the Wyld Lord would be as strong there as he is in Veldt. I would be able to take you there, if you would like," she offered.

"Thank you," he inclined his head. "Will you stay until I am ready?"

"As long as it's only a few days," she nodded. "However, I believe your wife would prefer if you spent that time outside this particular tent," she chuckled.

"Definitely," he managed a small grin. "Especially with the blood you're dripping. She'd be furious about her good bedfurs being ruined like that."

"All our gifts have their prices," Andrea chuckled. "Let me help you with mine," she added seriously. "May I have your hand?" She asked, holding hers out for it.

Whether it was the critically low blood sugar from days of fasting, the lack of sleep over that time, trust in her or that Jake spoke well of her, he gave her his hand without hesitating and watched her with a calm fascination for a brand of power that was not native to his world.

"Thank you," she nodded, focusing for a moment. She worked her magic, going into the wiry tom's blood and stabilizing the levels of nutrients in it, restoring his energy and health to him. "Are you feeling better?" She asked him when she released his hand.

"Much," he said with a bit of surprise, examining his hand as if he expected to see a magical signal still there. "Thank you. Can you really do anything with blood?"

"For all intents and purposes," she nodded. "Though I'll admit, I haven't ever had the chance to try manipulating the blood of a God ... it will be a fascinating experience," she mused.

"So you intend to be there when we fight," Zach sounded a bit relieved. "I hope you can hurt him as badly as you can hurt a mortal."

"So do I, Zach. So do I," she nodded. "If I cannot, perhaps I can at least help heal the fallen ... or give him one of Earth's nightmares to face. A Blood Golem can be a very effective foe, though that was against more-or-less conventional weaponry. I'd much prefer to not have the resources to create one, if possible."

"The blood of the fallen," he guessed as he stood. "Thank you, Seer Andrea," he said as he offered her a hand up. "I'm not sure I would have found any answers on my own at the rate I was going."

"Judging by your condition, not that you'd have trusted after Eretha dragged you out of here and had you healed," she agreed with a chuckle, squeezing his hand. "I must say, I've always preferred my vision quests to be guided."

"I'm not supposed to be having visions anymore, unless something is very, very wrong," Zach pointed out with a chuckle. "Thank you though. I will come to you when I am ready to go."

Callie still felt more than a little shell-shocked as she sat between Mark and Vanessa, watching as the podium and stage were set up for Manx's press conference. The most awkward part of it was just how little she'd had to do with this ... Manx had insisted on taking almost neurotic levels of control over every aspect. Watching the fat tom bustle around, micro-managing everything was ... well, it was more than a little surreal.

If he'd just done a little more of this over the years, maybe he wouldn't have been resigning his office now.

"Are you okay?" Mark asked her quietly, squeezing her hand lightly.

"Yes," she nodded fractionally. "It's too surreal. How this story could have broken, gotten around given his backers."

"Miss Gora probably has an inside source," Mark murmured. "Thank the gods our noses were clean. It's going to be a mess cleaning up what they're leaving behind."

"Not much more of a mess than running things already were," she pointed out quietly.

"Mom, are you going to be the Mayor now?" Daren asked quietly.

"I will," she nodded. "And your Dad's going to be the Deputy Mayor," she added with a smile.

"Fortunately, he won't have to pick up right where you left off," Vanessa chuckled. "You realize that the next election is going to be Hell, right?"

"Already planning for it," Mark smiled grimly. "After all, that was my job before this one."

"Shu," Callie hushed her family. "Looks like he's going to start."

Mayor Manx took his position behind the podium. He didn't look it, but Callie'd known him long enough to know he hadn't been sleeping or eating properly the last few days. She almost hated herself for it, but she felt sorry for him. Once upon a time, he had meant well. It had just gone horribly, horribly wrong, years before she'd even had her job. Now, Manx was showing every one of his years as he waited for the crowd to quiet down.

"People of MegaKat City," he started, holding onto the podium with a grip that showed how tightly wound he was. "Years ago, I stood here, and took an oath to serve this city, to help it grow and keep it safe. For years, I did that to the best of my ability. But as you all know now ... I went wrong. What I've done ... and not done ... is nobody's fault but mine, and I admit it." The tip of his tail was lashing back and forth furiously, burning off the energy he was tightly controlling everywhere else in his body. "I'm not alone in forgetting my duty to MegaKat City and her people. Many of my colleagues have had their own failings exposed, and you're right to be furious about what you have discovered. I didn't even know everything that has been brought out recently. I assure you, that the allegations that have been made will not go unanswered, no matter who they've been made against. It just ... it won't be under me," he said, his voice breaking slightly. "I am stepping down from my office as Mayor."

Callie saw him wince as a group of citizens who'd gathered behind the press corps applauded and cheered. The Enforcers shushed them, letting Manx continue.

"Later today, I will resign my office, and Deputy Mayor Briggs will take my place. I have the utmost confidence in her abilities."

"You should, she's been doing your job for what, fifty years now?" A heckler piped up from the back.

"Who will be the new Deputy Mayor?" Anne Gora asked, though the question was clearly directed towards Callie more than Manx.

She stood and walked to the podium to answer. "My aid, Mark Guila, will take over my position."

"When will the special election take place?" someone else in the press corps demanded as Manx gratefully stepped back and let her take center stage.

"It is currently planned to be in six months," she said, earning some grumbling. "Those who are impatient, who has actually known a Mayor other than Manx, or a City Council with more than two members different from what is was yesterday? Finding enough people, and the safeguards to avoid easy manipulation of the results, takes time."

There was a bit more grumbling, but it turned from irritation to worry soon enough.

"There's also the fact that whoever is running will need a chance to campaign, to make sure the people actually know about them, so that the special election is more valid than throwing darts at the ballot," she pointed out. "This isn't going to be easy for anybody."

"How will the efforts to select a new Council and Mayor affect the investigation and prosecution of those who've been exposed?" Another of the reporters demanded. "Is this going to be swept under the rug after the election's over?"

"I can speak to that," Felina offered, standing and stepping forward. "The Enforcers are handling the investigation, not the Mayor's office. As you know, we don't care about elections. Now that we know why these cases have been buried in the bureaucracy, we intent to see them through; they've received my second-highest priority, ahead of everything except Omega defense."

It created another uneasy fervor before things settled down.

"Who on the City Council won't be under indictment?" a reported demanded.

"No one," Callie said grimly. "Some for more serious crimes than others, but they'll all be on the list."

"A full list of the indictments will be made available through the Enforcer Public Relations Office," Felina told them.

"How did you avoid indictments?" a reporter asked of both Callie and Felina.

"We weren't involved in any wrongdoing," Felina said bluntly.

"As you know, Commander Feral only took her position after most of the activity that was exposed," Callie added, trying to smooth over the gruff response. "Similarly, the previous Commander Feral wasn't indicted either - it seems honesty runs in the family. Further, I was never involved in any of the dealings that have come to light, or even aware that they were taking place, unlike many on the Council. The people involved appear to have taken some pains to keep me uninvolved after I derailed their plans once or twice."

It wasn't what they wanted to hear, or what they thought, but it was enough to silence the contention that the shekats were involved and just better hidden than the others they had taken over from.

"Are there any more questions before you need to go to our PR departments?" Callie asked politely, noting that Manx was well and truly gone.

"Is there any truth to the rumors that you were involved in the leak that led to all of this starting, Miss Briggs?" One of the tabloid reporters asked, her voice grating as she raised her hand for Callie's attention.

"No," she said firmly. "I liked being the Deputy Mayor who got work done."

"Kat's Eye News has refused to divulge their source under the Whistle Blower Protection Act," Felina added. "I would love to know who gave them the information."

"What would happen to the whistle-blower if he or she was identified?" The same reporter asked, eyes on Callie for anything that could be used for a headline.

"Officially, nothing, unless they asked for protection," she said. "While they committed no crime, they could be in a great deal of danger from those they exposed, which is why the WBPA was established. If you have any further questions, please direct them through Michelle Karith," she said, indicating the perky young brown-furred Kat who'd been working with Mark, and now had his position as press agent and head of PR.

As Michelle came up to the podium, Mark and Vanessa started guiding the kits to follow Callie and Felina off.

"You realize that, when these hit court, you're probably going to end up testifying," Felina said quietly to Callie. "It could get awkward, especially after you win the special election."

"I know," she nodded grimly. "I'm not looking forward to it, or the cleanup that this mess is going to take. I'm still trying not to think about what it's going to take to recover voter confidence in democracy. It's going to be politically ugly for years."

"It's going to take cleaning up the democracy," Mark pointed out quietly. "And keeping the Steele's and their ilk out of it."

"Well, Alderman Steele won't be a problem," Felina said with quiet certainty. "He won't weasel his way out of this by pinning it on his son."

"Or anyone else, I expect," Callie shuddered internally, but she kept her outside calm, knowing she was stilling being watched. She was sure the Ghosts would ensure that the worst offenders never made it to trial. It was times like this that she was desperately grateful for the plausible deniability that existed between the Ghosts, the Enforcer Commander and the Mayor's office. There were things she just didn't want to know. "Your budget will be the first thing I review when I have the official authority to change it."

"With all due respect, Miss Briggs, I'd rather that either a third party review it, or that it wait for the typical annual review," Felina said seriously. "I know you mean well, but you heard them. They're already half-convinced that you and I arranged this to take control. If the Enforcer budget blatantly goes up suddenly because of your coming into power... it won't look good."

"We'll still help out where we can," Mark offered quietly. "We can find some ways to get around that sort of scrutiny. Maybe get the union to demand a market adjustment for pay?"

"Given we know the Enforcer budget was compromised, it wouldn't be unreasonable to call in a third party to look it over and make recommendations for that negotiation," Callie added, her mind going into political mode quickly enough. "We all know a major funding increase would result in any unbiased review. It's something that would be good to have happen with all the major budgets, just to help make things look above board. There are groups that even the general public seems to view as uncorrupted."

"Then let them at the budget and don't fight them much," Felina nodded. "As long as you know the public's right. That'll be the best way to keep this looking like what it is - justice, not a takeover."

"That's what I keep telling myself," Callie signed before they parted to their separate vehicles.

"Let me drive," Mark touched her arm gently. "You're under enough stress."

She paused, then nodded. "Thanks," she said with a kiss.

"So, Anne, some of us are talking about going out for drinks after this," Tabby Montrose said, pulling a stick of gum out of her pocket and popping it into her mouth. "Care to come, play the hero-of-the-hour card?" The tabby grinned, silencing her grating voice as she chewed.

"You'll have real reporters there too," Bill Ortega teased, stepping out of the crowd. "Since I couldn't get a word in edgewise here, maybe you could answer a couple for me, since people can actually see me on top of a barstool," he joked good-naturedly.

"It's not your height, it's your soft voice that's the problem," Anne teased him with a grin. "Sure. It's going to be an interesting year in politics to report on."

"One for the books," he grinned as they all turned to head to one of the nearby bars. "Speaking of which, you could get one out of all this."

"Not until the fallout has settled and they're sure there aren't even better twists coming," she chuckled. "I'm still putting a draft together for the 'while it happened' feel. Today has been a long time in the making already."

"I'll bet - these sort of things don't just land in your lap," he chuckled.

"Not unless you're getting your intel the fast way," Tabby smirked. "Wouldn't say 'fun' with the lot you've got. Besides, most people know you well enough that you can't do that." They walked into the bar, taking stools up front. "Your usual?"

"Sure," Anne nodded and relaxed on a bar stool with the rest of the press corps around, making the bar seem much more like an after-hours press room than what it was. Everyone who was anyone in the media was there, and to some extent or another, they were all looking at her.

The bartender mixed her martini, and then made the rounds of the others who'd already emptied their glasses, before Tabby asked her the question everybody had.

"So, who's your source? It's far enough into things that nobody's gonna scoop you, and you know none of us'd turn him over."

"Sorry, I gave my word I wouldn't tell anyone," she shook her head. "I didn't even get to see a face until the final handoff of evidence."

"So what'd you call him that long?" She asked. "You had to have some sort of name for him, right? Not a real name, just a name we can use besides 'an unnamed source,' that doesn't play well when it's not your source."

"El Zorro," she chuckled. "Just like the movie hero. His choice."

"Does he live up to the name?" Bill asked with a smirk. "Or does he just have delusions of grandeur?"

"Oh, I'd say he lives up to it, as much as I've gotten to check out," Anne chuckled. "He is definitely the handsome charmer."

"So, did he get his Senorita?" Tabby snickered, sipping her drink.

"Oh, he did, but it's not me," she smiled secretively behind her glass. "He has quite a lovely senorita back home."

"Ah, so it's somebody you know," Bill grinned.

"Well, at least we've got something we can call him now," Tabby shrugged. "So, you have any more dirt on anyone?"

"Seriously, those files have dirt on damn near everyone," Anne said with a deep sigh. "Everything we knew was going on but couldn't prove. It's probably all in there somewhere, and I keep getting more faster than I can absorb it some weeks. Any specific targets?"

"Oh, just wondering if there's anything particularly juicy in there that'd look good on my front page. People get pissed off about the financial crap they're pulling," Tabby admitted, "but my paper prefers their headlines a bit more salacious."

"Mmm, what's in it for me?" Anne purred softly and leaned forward. "I do have a few tidbits that are being largely ignored with all the resignations and such."

"I thought you would," Tabby purred, leaning forward herself. "Payment in kind, next time I dig up a story my paper won't really care for? Y'know it happens."

"That I do," Anne offered her hand to seal the deal. "I have some photos that will make quite a splash, and are related to all the fun the 'real news' is reporting. It seems a few folks weren't as discreet with the interns as they should have been, and it's in full color and perfect focus."

"Oooh, that's always fun," she grinned. "Don't suppose it's anything that'd nail the new acting Mayor or Commander? Don't have anything against 'em, but it is a little fishy that they're the only two honest people in the government, isn't it?"

"Not the only ones, but the only high-ranking ones," Anne corrected. "Yes, it's a little suspicious, and no, it's nothing with their of them. Though if you want pictures of Miss Briggs in a compromising position, it's not hard, as long as you don't mind it's with one of her mates," she snickered. "As for Felina ... I don't think she have sex to be honest."

"Oh, she has it, she just follows the rules when she does," Tabby snickered. "You have to know what clubs to frequent to catch her at it, that's all. Unfortunately, I rather enjoy those clubs, so I'd rather not get myself booted out for taking pics," she sighed. "Ah well - an honest government. MegaKat City putting yet more distance between itself and Sayden Bay," she smirked.

"I just hope the rumblings I'm hearing from much of the middle and upper classes I have contacts with pass soon," Anne murmured. "There is a lot of talk I hear about 'voting' the democracy out and putting a Champion in charge, like most of the more peaceful nations."

"Oh, yeah, that's a great idea... until you remember the Champions aren't immortal," Bill rolled his eyes. "Like Tusandrin and Traveris aren't good enough examples of how it can go bad?"

"And this is an example of how our system can," she reminded him. "I'm not saying they're right, but I do understand the appeal of the change right now. Especially given who some of our resident Champions are at the moment."

"I know, I know ... but just because our resident Champions right now are pretty good doesn't mean they always will be," Bill rolled his eyes. "What if we end up with the next Dark Kat next time around? Sure, the system we've got now doesn't always work, but right now we're proving how it corrects itself!"

"You're preaching to the choir, pup," Anne grinned at the Chihuahua older than she was. "I happen to like our current system, guaranteed corruption and all."

"Eh, at least we've got six months before the next election ... and we probably won't have Champions on the ballot," he chuckled. "Knowing what I do about the ones who would be half-decent leaders, they wouldn't want to."

"I don't know," Anne admitted. "Rock Furlong probably would, if he thought Miss Briggs wasn't going to win. I doubt he's run against her though. And I know his mate wouldn't."

"So there goes that plan," Tabby chuckled.

"Thankfully they're the only two Champions who can legally run," Tabby added. "So who got caught with their pants down?" she winked at Anne, eager to hear the juicy bits that were about to make her paper.

"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Rock," Kousuke said, bowing his head respectfully to the tall, buff tom that had managed what had long been thought impossible in building a solid alliance between Halikar and Tamorl. "I didn't have the opportunity when your mate and I first encountered each other."

"Probably for the best, given what I did hear about when you met Jake," Rock chuckled and offered his hand to the sleek black tom that rightfully set off every warning flag his head had about a dangerous opponent. "This is going to be quite an interesting expedition."

"Quite," he chuckled lowly, shaking Rock's hand. "I should let you know, I was offered a commission against you. I declined, of course, as per my agreement with Jake, but Dark Kat is concerned about the two of you."

"I think I'll take that as a good thing," Rock decided as they walked into the palace from the short airstrip on the grounds. "He doesn't seem to be concerned by many."

"No, he isn't, but right now... he's doing something very important. I don't know what, but he didn't bother to argue when I turned him down... didn't even bother to threaten me," he chuckled lowly. "Who else is here?"

"Jake, of course, and the group that was with us when we first attempted to reach Kadath, though we didn't know it was Kadath at the time." Rock said. "The Champions of Izaris, Sadrula and Sheliel and our AI jet Ameris. Kensu Chim and our family arrived shortly after Lord Khan rescued us from the mountain. We're expecting the Champions of Fahik, Jenz, Lyris and Taecin to arrive, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a few High Priests, archmages, Master Psionics, metas and aliens, though we haven't explicitly most of invited them."

"You invited Fahik's Champion?" He asked with a frown. "Wish I'd known that before... ah well. We've bigger issues than rivalries to deal with now."

"You should be able to avoid Illia almost completely," Rock assured him. "She's not in the strike force, and not interested in seeing you. She's coming to help Jake and Chim with the jet."

"Good," he nodded. "She's a lovely person, but intensely irritating to work with some days."

"The 'skill vs. magic' argument?" Rock chuckled. "Jake and Chim either don't care, or manage to not mention it. Or they get Ameris to argue with her."

"Arguing with a computer ... one more thing I never thought I'd ever see anyone actually doing," he chuckled. "And yes, that argument. I don't like being called a cheater for having a gift that others don't."

"No one does, but it's a common enough one against those who do have gifts," Rock agreed. "Who else have you had contact with, good or bad?"

"Of who's going to be here, I did try to kill Mika and Sheira in the past," Kousuke admitted. "Mika was a distinct mistake, and she knows she has nothing to fear from me now."

"And you don't from her?" he asked, just to be sure. She'd taught him new respect for what Knowledge could mean more than once.

"No," Kousuke reassured him. "Not unless she wants to avenge one of the very few escapes from her harem, but I don't think she's that worried about it."

"I doubt it," he agreed. "What will you need to prepare?"

"Little that I believe you have access to ... I have heard that you recovered a Godblade recently?"

"Yes," Rock nodded uneasily. "And didn't destroy it, despite my better judgment."

"It's good that you didn't. Our challenge will be to slay a God, if we don't stop Dark Kat in time. The blade may make that possible. Konuse does not create them, but he has more than a little use for them. I would like to see it, at least, before we go. If I could borrow it, that would be preferable, but if you are leaving it here for protection, I can give whoever wields it an edge they wouldn't have normally."

"That'll be Jake's final call, but you'll probably get it," he shrugged. "If we're honest about this, if we fail, there isn't going to be a second chance for anyone else."

"Not necessarily," Mika said, stepping out of Khan's library with a heavy book in her hands. "There are some prophecies and legends about this that imply we aren't the last line of defense in this case."

"Unfortunately, most of the people who wrote them were likely mad as hatters," Abi added, following her out. "One man's prophet is another's lunatic, you know."

"But not in the Great Library," Mika countered evenly. "Lies and half-truths are labeled clearly, just like the fiction."

"True, but even there, prophecies aren't always reliable," Abi pointed out.

"The upshot?" Rock asked wearily.

"The upshot of it," Mika explained, "is that according to some of these prophecies, the Unmade's return will be beyond the power of the Gods and Their chosen to stop, or to defeat. That the Forth Godswar cannot by stopped by divine power, but rather by mortal strength."

"It's why I'm going along with the strike force," Abi said bluntly.

Rock opened his mouth to object, only to recall what Jake said of her, and he sighed. "Does Jake know your plans?"

"He knows I'm coming along; Wave Runner's promised to keep a close eye on me," Abi explained. "And besides - you need somebody who can read the Grimoire," she pointed out.

"If we find it," Rock nodded.

"And someone who can carry it," Abi added.

"So is anyone else coming along I don't know about yet?" Rock asked with as sigh.

"A number of mages, psis, metas ... allies of Jake's and ours who want to be part of the final battle," Mika said. "But you've met most of them."

"Most of whom likely won't survive," Andrea said quietly as she walked in, Zach at her side. "In answer to your question, Rock, the two of us. Nobody else, I believe."

"Seer Andrea," Rock bowed his head in greeting. "Do you have any information for us?"

"That Kulfaux will be reborn. That I will be there at your side... and that He will not be the only God on the battlefield."

"She's exaggerating, honestly," Zach blushed deeply, his ears flat. "Hi, Rock. It's been a while."

"Quite a while," Rock agreed. "What does she mean?"

"With Andrea's help, and a couple decades more common sense, I was able to make another deal with the Wyld Lord. When the time comes, he and Lierok will help against Kulfaux; I'll be channeling the Wyld Lord, and Lierok and the pack will be taking advantage of the fact that he's only a demigod, not a god. You'll have a dozen super-charged werewolves on your side, at least for a few minutes before my body burns out."

"This will kill you?" Rock frowned, not sure how well Jake would be taking that news, or how much he liked it himself, no matter what the advantage was.

"Probably not, but I don't expect to live through this unless the fight's over before they leave," Zach admitted. "It's not going to kill me, but they're both going to be using my energy to manifest themselves."

"Which means that Zach is probably going to be comatose for some time afterwards," Andrea admitted. "But a handful of minutes with Lierok and the Wyld Lord on the battlefield, unconstrained by the limitations of the Contest, may be enough to turn the tide of the battle."

"Especially if I can get close enough to poison Kulfaux first," Kousuke murmured. "Seer Andrea, is what I've heard of your powers true?"

"If you mean, 'am I a Blood Witch,' yes," she nodded.

"Then we have much to discuss," the assassin said respectfully, bowing to her. "Please, join me; I would speak strategy with you before we go."

"How's Jake doing? And Chance?" Zach asked Rock quietly as the two left to talk shop.

"Jake's not so happy that our kits are so young when this happened, and neither an I to be honest. Another five years would have made a world of difference in who could go, and how well they could do without us. Same for Khan's litter with Feral. Quite a few have a lot of potential that could really help. For Chance, I think he'll be glad that we didn't call on him when all this comes out. He'd feel obliged to help, and he wouldn't have a chance of surviving it."

"But he wouldn't let it stop him for an instant," Zach nodded. "Midnight'd be a worse mess than Eretha is right now," he chuckled slightly. "She was a wreck," he murmured.

"I bet," Rock said sympathetically. "At least Midnight is likely to have Chance around, instead of loosing them both. Eretha only has you."

"At least she's gotten used to the idea of losing a husband," Zach sighed. "Fortunately, we've got friends and she has kin who'll help take care of her, and the kits of course... shit, I never told you guys," he smiled. "We did finally have kits again, and they're doing fine now. Two the age of your litter, and our youngest son is proving to have some serious magical potential."

"That's great," Rock thumped his shoulder. "Come on, I'm sure Jake would skin me if I didn't bring you by, even if he is completely lost in tech-land."

"I'd hate to have to catch up for the last time on the way to it being the last time," Zach agreed with a half-smile. "Sure, let's go," he nodded, following Rock back towards the lab.

Arba licked her lips nervously as she saw the preparations being made. A crash cart had been wheeled in, some of Dark Kat's most loyal servants testing it and the ventilator. The Grimoire Apell lay on a pedestal, one of the Creeplings paging through it, the only servants here whose connection to the divine was tenuous enough that they could work with it. Dark Kat himself waited nearby, not reading, not looking at the book until they were ready.

"Are you sure about this plan?" She asked him quietly. "If it doesn't work ... if the Judges intervene, then you could die permanently."

"It is worth the risk," he said simply. "Lamashtu is most unlikely to stop my revival."

"I know, but Halikar and the others... never mind," she sighed, shaking her head. "I just hope you're right that this will work, especially with rushing the last parts of this."

"We can not afford to have the alliance in Khan's palace reach us before He is free," Dhiren reminded her. "They do have enough power gathered to stop us already, and more coming."

"I know," she murmured, kissing his cheek. "Once He's free, how are we going to get Him out of here?"

"He'll do that Himself," he chuckled. "All we'll have to do is sit back and watch."

"I suppose," she nodded. "Will there be any physical changes, or just Kul's soul being fully awakened?"

"Once He awakens fully, He will control what form He takes," Dhiren said. "He is likely to remain as Kul was born much of the time, but it is up to Him."

"I just wanted to know if we'd have to run before he manifested, to avoid the roof," she chuckled weakly. "How long before you're ready?"

"We are just waiting for His name to be found," he told her.

As if on cue, the creeplings started chattering excitedly.

"I think it's time," Arba murmured. "I'm... more than a little scared, right now," she admitted.

"There is nothing to be afraid of," Dhiren cupped her face. "Everything is in perfect order. You know what to do."

"I know," she murmured, kissing him tenderly. "If this doesn't work, I'm sorry," she whispered as he lay down on the crash cart and closed his eyes, focusing inward to allow her to kill him. She drew a deep breath and shifted her hands, pressing her fingers against the big veins and arteries in his thick throat to cut off the bloodflow to his brain. The pulse under her grip was strong, pushing against her fingers as his heartbeat quickened.

Under any other conditions, she could never keep the stranglehold, much less use her full bodyweight to increase the pressure as much as she had to. It was unsettling, killing like this. Even after he was unconscious, her arms were aching before she finally felt him die.

She released him as his eyes snapped open, cold and mechanical. She moved out of his way as he rushed over to the pedestal, taking the Grimoire in his hands, laughing with delight as touched it and wasn't repelled. He began to read as the servants prepared the crash cart to revive him, and Arba backed away warily, looking between her mate and their son as he began to speak the words to the Spell of Recreation, words never before spoken on Aristal.

Power coalesced in the room, gathering into a maelstrom far beyond what protected Kadath. It focused on Kul, the power of a True Name battling a rite performed by Primordials to extinguish it. It was still in contention when Dhiren collapsed and the healers rushed in to take over.

They worked frantically, and Arba stepped towards her son as the energy storm settled down.

"Kul... Kulfaux?" she asked him cautiously. "Do you recognize me?" she asked the teen.

The familiar face regarded her, His eyes wild with the rush of power of His awakening.

"Yes, Arba, I know you," He laughed giddily. "I remember everything."

"What are You going to do?" She asked him, her ears going flat in submission to the god-made-flesh as Night Raven slipped in through the entrance.

"Level a few opponents," he purred, opening an arm for Night Raven to rush to him and snuggle against his side, happy to be wrapped in his tentacles.

"No celebratory romp first?" Night Raven giggled as shi nuzzled his cheek, and Arba took a moment to try and take stock of raising the two kits, and just what she might have done to put herself on Kulfaux's shit list, if anything.

It was all a question of just how vindictive he really was, in the end.

"Kulfaux probably wants to get started on his way to MegaKat City," she pointed out, backing towards the door as she heard Dark Kat's vitals returning to normal.

"I think I'll start with the small army gathering below," Kulfaux rumbled. "Or a celebratory romp with my mate," he grinned at Night Raven.

"I know which one I prefer," she purred, licking his nose affectionately. "They'll be a while ... they don't know you're here yet, and they're not ready for you even if they did ... they'll never be ready for you," she breathed, kissing him deeply. "And I've always wondered what it would be like to be with a God."

"You will know then," he grinned, ripping hir dress off and pressing his fingers between hir legs to feel hir up as his clothing disappeared.

"We'll leave you be," Arba said, slipping out of the room as Dark Kat started to come around. Before he could follow her, she turned to hurry off.

She had seen the truth in Kulfaux's eyes. If she was lucky, she would live through this only to become a slave to her own child. She'd been a fool to hope that she could control him at all ... Dhiren had been a fool to think that he could.

But then ... she remembered the conversation they'd had years before. He'd said then that he didn't plan on controlling Kulfaux. He didn't plan on living through this.

Lamashtu was a harsh goddess, twisted and vile by most civilized standards, and her Champion was little different. But there was one other thing both were.

They were both mothers.

Arba realized, now, that she'd let her motherly affection for Kul, and her love for Dhiren, blind her to the truth of their shared madness.

Now, she had to behave as Lamashtu demanded. She had to protect her children.

Even if it meant killing two to protect the rest.

"Izaris!" Halikar's hawk-form cawed in a panic as he nearly crashed into the great bookshelves in his rush to reach the Goddess of Knowledge. "He's back! How?"

"Please, Halikar, my library is in chaos enough as it is," the Vixen complained, catching the books that fell with his passage and returning them to their places. "I told you and Bastet both that this was coming, that Dark Kat had found a way. And to think, none of us considered that it might happen in all these centuries, while a junior Priest of mine came up with it in a matter of minutes."

"Okay," he shifted to his biped form and struggled to look dignified. "Okay, so how do we stop him?"

"We pray," she joked weakly. "Our Champions will be doing this ... we're going to have to have the Lords of Order weigh in on whether or not a God killing a Champion counts," she mused. "I'd be inclined to argue against it, myself... the Gods aren't supposed to be directly involved in the Contest, even if they're summoned by a Champion. It would be no more fair than if Sadrula struck down Dark Kat with a lightning bolt and claimed it was a valid kill."

Halikar could tell that she was panicking as badly as he was, inside. She was just masking it better, hiding it behind an obsessive concern for organizing the Library and discussing minutiae that occupied her mind. It made him wonder where Fahik was through all of this, with his mate panicking, his daughter probably thoroughly freaked out too.

"Any precedent to allow me to go down there and fight him?" he demanded, struggling for a way to get involved. He couldn't help but yearn to go down in glory, protecting the world as he had tried, and failed, to protect his kingdom.

"Only if you want to be Unmade for doing so," she told him, deadly serious. "The world cannot afford to lose you, Halikar... the only way you can confront him directly will be if he threatens your body in Tambron. Then it would be a plain matter of defending yourself against another God's direct assault."

"Then what are we supposed to do?" Konuse scowled as he stepped out of the shadows. "Let our Champions fight and die trying to commit deicide?"

"I'd just like to say that I had nothing to do with this plan," the Lord of Bones piped up as he peeked around the entrance. "I had no clue Kulfaux was the Demon, or that he was planning on trying something like this ... do you really think I'd take a job like this for him after the last time?"

"I did not know either," Jenz added, her long black tail swishing unhappily. "This goes beyond anything I would keep."

"It goes beyond anything you could keep," Shando said evenly as she joined them with Sheliel, Vuf and Thordunn. "Some secrets are not allowed under the rule of law."

"Agreed," Izaris nodded. "Don't worry, Sister, I don't blame you for this. Once again, Kulfaux has learned from the past. He kept the greatest secret in the history of Aristal by telling everybody part of it. Though this time, I think he owes his Champion far more than he did before; he wanted to come back, but he couldn't have predicted the release of the Grimoire."

"I did," Nulaa shrugged. "He could have. All the signs were there if you know what to look for."

"He couldn't have predicted it during this contest," Izaris corrected herself, rolling her eyes. "Nulaa, this is not the time for 'I told you so's, okay? We need a plan to deal with this - before Kulfaux lays waste to half the world and conquers the other half - that's better than 'sit back and hope our Champions survive.' Can we get the Lords of Order to weigh in prior to his rampage? He's... otherwise occupied, at the moment. Fortunately, he's in a teenage body."

"He was summoned," Shando said with a death-knell to plans for direct interference. "While we all know this is what he wanted, by law he did not have a choice in his arrival, and little in his basic course of action. The only way one of us could join the battle would be for a mortal to summon us."

"YEARGH!" The Lord of Bones wailed from his half-hidden location. "Give that back, you flea-bitten mu-" He was silenced before the Wyld Lord came in, gnawing on a femur, Lierok following behind his Alpha, toying with the Lord of Bones' lower jaw, examining it, pulling a canine out and using it to pick his own teeth.

The two Wolves looked around, the Wyld Lord curling up and gnawing on his find with a self-satisfied, smug aura around him.

"Which is why we'll be on the field of battle for the rest of you ... maybe," he said after a long moment, the only sound the cracking of his teeth on divine bone.

"You are no more immune to the rules than I am," Halikar snapped at him, his feathered ruffled at the idea of anyone getting to fight other than him.

"I am," Lierok countered. "I was born mortal, and haven't been a God in several Great Contests."

"And I have been summoned," the Wyld Lord added, cracking the femur and licking at the marrow within as the Lord of Bones crawled in and glared at them both, flipping them off until Lierok shot him a lethal glare in response that said he was lucky he only lost a jawbone.

"Then why are you here?" Izaris asked warily.

"Because my price has not yet been paid," he said with a canine shrug. "That's why it's a 'maybe' yet. The one who summoned my Beta summoned me again, with the help of a mortal witch. He had an intriguing proposition for me. He actually wanted to bind me to him, the way he had been bound to Lierok before. Of course, he had a rather better idea of how to restrict me this time. Only to fight foes he chose. Only to fight when he chose. I had to limit my presence on the material plane to the time that he, and my foes unleashed power, could sustain me. Of course, I couldn't just snarl at him and leave; he'd summoned me, and I had to bargain in good faith." His tail was wagging rapidly, and the smugness in his tone hadn't let off a bit as he savored his stolen treat.

"And what price did you demand from him?" Shando asked, raising an eyebrow. "You realize, of course, that this particular summoning isn't as binding as Kulfaux's. You were not compelled to accept."

"No, but I was compelled to name a price," he countered. "At least that is my interpretation of your law. And then my law compels me to accept if my price is met."

"And?" Halikar demanded, growing impatient with the ancient Father of the Wilds, who predated nearly everything on Aristal but the Primordials, certainly his own birth.

"And so I named a price he couldn't possibly meet. I wanted my position amongst the rest of you returned - to be considered a full God, and no longer a senile grandfather. I wanted equal status with Rarzyn, until the next Great Contest. I wanted the recognition I would deserve for taking this chance. Kulfaux could kill me, quite permanently, after all. And I would lose precious little if he were victorious... indeed, I would likely gain much. After all, when Chaos reigns, the Wilds spread."

"And so, since he couldn't possibly meet your price, you're here to point out that you can't do anything either," Halikar snapped. "But unlike us, you don't care, so you can gloat instead."

"Hardly," the Wyld Lord chuckled. "You see, Tamorl's Seer, the Witch, was with him. She pointed out that by the Laws of Summoning on all worlds she has seen... it doesn't matter if he meets the price. What matters is that somebody meets the price for him." He looked at the gathered gods with glittering golden eyes. The implied ultimatum was clear.

He would help them ... but only if they gave him what he wanted, contest or no contest.

"It ... is legal," Shando murmured after a few moments to consider it. "By my understanding of the Rules. It would be a compulsion, just as Kulfaux's summoning was. And we would hardly be breaking the rules to agree that we would be rightfully grateful for any aid, in these circumstances...."

"I want the word of Rarzyn and Tenoic as well," the Wyld Lord pointed out quickly as Law had agreed to the foundation of the bargain.

"You have mine and I've sent for Tenoic and the Mothers," Rarzyn spoke up from where he was leaning back against a table edge. "If Kulfaux is defeated, you will be my equal until the next Great Contest and I will instruct all of my priests to treat you and yours as such."

"Very well," he nodded. "With the Pack that has been gathered, we will defeat him. This is how such things should be handled anyways. It will be good to hunt again."

"Mayor Briggs, Deputy Mayor - we need to talk," Felina said, walking into Callie's office with barely a knock at the door to let them know she was coming in.

"Commander," Mark nodded politely as he turned towards her. "I take it this is something critical?"

"Very. I'd have called ahead, but I just found out and I didn't want to risk word getting out and a panic starting. I hope I didn't interrupt anything?"

"Only the budget revisions," Callie smiled wearily. "And I don't mind those being interrupted."

"Good. You both might want to take a seat," Felina warned them. "This could be very small, or very, very big, and very bad."

"What did you find?" Callie focused her full attention on her contemporary in both age and command.

"Jake Clawson contacted us earlier with a message," Felina explained. "It seems that Dark Kat's latest plot has worked out. He's summoning a God to Aristal, and it sounds like he plans to just turn him loose to destroy anything he wants. Right now, Jake and his Champion allies are preparing to try and stop them, but if they fail, MegaKat City's going to be one of the first targets."

Callie closed her eyes, giving a silent prayer to Tuu, the God of Stasis, to hold things in their status quo.

"Is there anything we can do to prepare?" Mark asked, most of the color draining from his sharp features.

"There are options," Felina said, pulling a file out of her jacket and putting it on the desk. "Our analysts have come up with five possible approaches, but they've all got their weak points. The first is to treat this like any other Omega attack - we fight back. We take the Champions still in the city, the Metas and Psis and Wizards, and we put every resource we've got against this thing when it comes. We've fought gods before and won," she pointed out.

But even the most cursory review of the analysis said that the casualties of a fight like that would be astronomical. Dozens of omega-class allies, thousands of Enforcers, and civilian casualties conservatively measured at a hundred times the losses of fighting forces. More than the last god they'd fought... but this one was much larger than the 'god' of an extinct volcano.

"I really hope that's not the best choice," Mark murmured.

"Like I said," Felina pointed out, "they've all got their weak points. The second option, and my preferred one, is to go to Pumadyne. It turns out that they have an experimental device they call an ATP bomb - Anti-Thaumaturgical Pulse. Hypothetically, it would neutralize all magic within a thousand miles of the detonation point, including the god Dark Kat's turning loose. Unfortunately, it's never been tested on a weapons-grade scale. They know they can neutralize magic, but they don't know the potential side effects, the damage it might do to people in the detonation zone, the level of magic it can actually neutralize, or how long it would take for magic to return to normal. According to the researchers, it might not even make a dent on an actual god, and the side effects could range from a neutralization of all priests, mages, and psi's in the area to the equivalent of setting off a neutron bomb."

"And that's the preferred option?" Mark asked incredulously.

"It's the option that has better than a one in a million chance of working well for us," Felina frowned. "According to Pumadyne, the odds of any serious side effects on non-magic users are minimal, as in less than one in a billion. You haven't worked with these people as long as I have," she pointed out. "Pumadyne weapons researchers regularly point out that the worst possible outcome is the destruction of the city - they don't want somebody to say they never warned us it was possible if he does happen. However, all their studies say it shouldn't happen. The only way it would happen, with this, is if life itself actually required magic to function. I don't know about you, but I've seen enough people in null-magic zones without keeling over that I'm willing to bet it doesn't."

"So we'd be down from trying to evacuate tens of millions to maybe a hundred thousand, most of whom are already organized and mobile and well aware of the situation, I'm sure," Callie tried to look at the good side. As bad as it was, she had to admit that it was at least possible to evacuate the magical folks. "Okay. It's bad, but it's plausible with a day's notice. What are the others?"

"A full-scale evacuation, but I think we all know that's just not feasible," Felina said, giving the third option and dismissing it almost as quickly. "We don't have anywhere to put everybody, for one thing. The fourth option is similar, but more feasible. It's possible, hypothetically, that we could magically evacuate the entire city from Aristal. According to Bastet's priesthood, it might be possible to evacuate the populace, and city, to a shared dimension between Bastet's realm and the realm of Queen Sulma."

"And the Kantin who aren't Hyenas?" Mark asked pointedly.

"Would be brought along as well, of course," Felina reassured him quickly. "We'd have to negotiate with their mother goddesses after the fact, and it's a very difficult spell, but it would be possible. The mother goddesses can defend their Children indirectly if their priests ask them to."

"So... what's the downside to that?" Callie asked, considering it. It had to be expense, maybe time investment, the difficulty of performing the spell on such a magnitude. She couldn't think of anything else, and they could overcome those difficulties.

"They're reasonably sure they can remove MegaKat City from Aristal. They're not entirely sure they can put it back," Felina said bluntly. "Or what the consequences would be of introducing several million mortals to the divine realms."

"Worse-case scenario on that is that all the mortals who are not tied closely to a god could well become spirits, sooner or later," Callie shuddered. "Have you contacted anyone else about options? A threat of this magnitude can override a lot of politics when the generals do the talking, and there isn't a kingdom out there that doesn't have as much to lose as we do."

"We've been making contacts, and unfortunately they're going more for the fifth option," Felina said grimly. "The temples, apparently, are preparing their own doomsday option - they're looking for loopholes in the laws of the Contest that will let them compel their own deities to come down and confront Dark Kat's."

"If there is one, then only the battlefield is likely to lose much," Mark said. "That many gods against one won't be much of a battle."

"I wouldn't bet on that," Felina said quietly. "We don't know much about this God... apparently he was unmade in the past, completely erased, and Dark Kat has resurrected him. There's no telling what that might have done, power-wise, and there's no telling how limited the others would be either. It's possible that it would cause minimal damage if we could steer them to the Badlands, but... well, that's how the Badlands were created in the first place."

"I know," Callie sighed. "Can Pumadyne have more than one bomb ready?"

"I'm not sure," Felina admitted. "But I can look into it. What's your plan?"

"If he has magic left, hit him again," she said simply. "Weapons are better when you have more than one. We'll evacuate all things magical as best we can, including Enforcers."

"Understood; I'll contact Pumadyne and see what they can put together," Felina nodded. "We'll have to keep this under wraps, of course. It would be best if nobody knows about this who has to until it's all over."

"Agreed, though it will be exceptionally difficult given the evacuation," she pointed out.

"How long would it take to get the first bomb?" Mark asked, considering their options. "If we know where this is all happening, we might be able to bomb the location Dark Kat is at, instead of something in our territory."

"It will be worth a try," Felina nodded. "Given what I do know, it may not be possible given the defenses."

"With a thousand mile blast radius, I'd be confident that a good pilot could get it there," he pointed out.

"Fortunately, we still have the best on-call," Felina chuckled lowly. "I'll see what's available. In the meantime, you might both want to familiarize yourselves with the rest of the information in the folder before destroying it. We don't want another leak."

"There won't be," Mark said with unusual certainty.

"I'll be on my way then," she nodded, standing and saluting them both before she left to go check with Pumadyne.

"Well, I suppose we can say that you'll definitely have had your leadership abilities tested before this is all over," Mark murmured.

"More than Manx's ever were," she nodded with a shiver as Felina left. "How can you be so sure there won't be a leak from this office again?"

"I suppose this is as good a time as any," he sighed. "I know who the leak was, and how they got their information," he explained. "We were hoping to keep it from being trouble for you, since you're just adapting to the office yet ... he's a little worried about how you'll react."

"Is it someone still in the Mayor's office?" she looked at him, decidedly unhappy as well as relieved. "And just how bad is it going to look when it finally gets out?"

"It is... and that depends on how it gets out," he sighed. "You know how it always is - you can take anything a good way, or you can take it a bad way. The bad way would be viewing it as an attempt to get you into office. The good way - and much, much closer to the truth - would be viewing it as an attempt to make sure that the truth about the people running the city got out, and that city government didn't turn into a figurehead of the mob the way it did in Sayden Bay."

"Point taken," she focused on her mate of so many years, more than a little suspicious. After all, there were precious few Foxes in upper government, and she was sleeping with the top one. "Who is Anne's El Zorro?"

"Do you need me to tell you?" He asked her, his ears flat, tail unconsciously tucked up between his legs. "For what it's worth, Callie, I kept you out of the loop because I didn't want anybody using it against you."

"And I didn't ask questions for the same reason; plausible deniability," she sighed, decidedly unhappy. "I suppose it is for the best. Manx could never have handled this. Does Anne know who El Zorro is?"

"She does," he nodded. "She insisted on knowing who her source was, with something this big. She's also promised to protect the information though. Vanessa didn't know anything about it," he offered. "I did this myself, with a couple interns involved but not knowing the full story. If there's anybody you're going to be pissed at, it'll have to be me."

"You have no idea how pissed I am," she didn't even growl at him. "I also have far larger concerns than who got Manx deposed. You want to read the report or compile a list of evacuation contacts first?"

"Why don't I start with the evac contacts, and let you work on the report?" He suggested, intensely grateful she was going to wait until later to rip him open. Maybe by then she'd have had the chance to realize that his little 'coup' had been for all the right reasons.

"Are you all right?" Saljar asked Joasta quietly as they stalked through the jungles surrounding Khan's palace. "Do you need to rest?" He looked over at the very, very pregnant Lynx, who had refused his offers to let her ride him since they'd gotten out of the mountains. She could tell that the concern in his voice was real. "We probably won't have much chance, once we get closer," he added.

"I am all right; Lynx are a sturdy breed," she assured him with a forced smiled. "Your mother has made it easier, removing all the extras with this pregnancy. I never thought I'd be grateful for how horny those two are."

"All right," he nodded, standing some to lick her cheek lightly. "Have you thought about what she said?" He asked her, going back down to all fours as they started on their way again. "About the pups?"

"I haven't had much else to think of all week," she admitted. "Motherhood was not something I've ever wanted, but it's here now. You still want to raise them?"

"Yes," he nodded. "It's not the kits fault, how they were conceived... they deserve a chance to live, I think. I'd like to raise them with you, but I understand if you don't," he added.

"At least the ones that are yours," she nodded. "If they're healthy ... I don't think I'd mind. The others, I carried them this long, I don't think I'd kill them, but I'd give them to some temple."

"Lamashtu's would be best for them... maybe Mokra's, but Bastet's temple wouldn't take too kindly to them, considering Mother," he offered. "I'm sure that we can find a place for them from Tusandrin though."

"Or somewhere," she nodded. "Maybe your sire's homeland."

"I don't even know who my sire was," he pointed out. "Or where he came from. We'll worry about that later though ... the kits from Kul and Night Raven will be able to find some place, they should look normal enough. Well... Night Raven's, at least. Kul's ... I dunno."

"We'll see, what they look like," she murmured. "One of the warrior temples might take some in too."

"They might," he nodded, his big head an imposing sight, even though he wasn't fully grown yet. "Where do you want to go after this?"

"I don't know," Joasta admitted. "I'm not even sure we'll last long enough for it to matter. It's not like they need us alive or anything. Even if Khan's forces don't kill us, they have to win for it to matter. If your mom doesn't manage to kill him, the odds are kinda low any of us will see that god destroyed."

"She will," he said certainly. "You underestimate my mother, and my siblings. Dark Kat can't stop them all, and then Kulfaux will only have Night Raven at his side. That's going to be the hardest part... killing her. Once they manage that... if there's anything of Kul left, he won't be able to focus. We have to make them understand that."

She nodded, looking ahead to where the lights of the palace grounds brightened the sky. "We should enter through the front gate then. They don't know who we are, or were. If we act like we are on their side, we can probably get close enough to talk. I'm sure we can get one of the guards to give a message to Jake Clawson about what we offer if we can get close enough to talk. We do know a lot they will want to know, without the book."

"We do," he nodded, heaving a deep sigh. "I hope they don't shoot before they ask questions," he murmured. "If you'd let me carry you, it's less likely," he offered.

"All right," she agreed. "They are less likely to shoot a pregnant Lynx."

He stood up straight, picking her up. She was honestly grateful to have the load taken off her feet. The hike, after the laborious climb, had left them blistered and aching, even through her boots. Her swollen feet and ankles hadn't helped at all, and her back was killing her. Now, as Saljar stepped out of the forest and into open view, circling around to the front of the palace... she felt that same sense of security he'd given her, from time to time, in Kadath. Mixed in with the urgent need to deliver the book she cradled in her own arms, kept from touching Saljar by the sturdy bag that Arba had stolen it in.

They were watched from the first step, guards made uneasy by the giant canine monster carrying the pregnant Lynx towards them, but no one fired or threatened them.

"Halt!" a fully armored guard with a heavy poleax stepped forward. "State your business."

"My mate and I have information for the Champions and Lord Khan; tell Jake Clawson that we have the Grimoire for them," Saljar told the guard firmly, the adolescent towering over the seasoned Tiger.

"Who are you?" the guard demanded, though he did not indicate refusal of the request.

"Saljar; this is Joasta. Please, we've had a very long trip from the mountains; can we at least go somewhere to rest while you give the message to the Champions?" The hulking Hyena's eyes betrayed his own exhaustion after the trip. He was holding up better than the Lynx, but they both needed rest ... and the Lynx probably needed a midwife badly.

The captain of the guard hesitated, then nodded. "That building is an inn," he motioned to a fairly nice two-story building far finer than either traveler was accustomed to just down the road. "Sainin and Keniri will remain with you and see that you have a meal while I speak to Lord Khan."

"Thank you," he said gratefully, setting Joasta down, where the two Tigers sent along with them helped her walk along with the huge creature, unlike anything they'd seen, to the inn.

"Will you require a midwife?" Sainin asked before they reached the inn.

"Not yet," she assured them. "The ... pups ... are very large, but still months from birth."

"A healer would be wise though ... or Clawson's attention," Saljar added. "Mother removed Lamashtu's blessing, but there are ... very many unusual conditions involved."

"Lamashtu?" Sainin and Keniri looked at each other before one opened the inn's door for the group to enter, lead by the other.

"Girl, bring food and drink. The big one is hungry."

"The big...." She looked up at Saljar, her jaw dropping. "Y-yes sirs!" She yelped, hurrying back to the kitchen to get whatever she could find.

"Will I get that reaction everywhere I go?" He asked Joasta sheepishly.

"Unless we figure out what your sire was and head to where they know what you are," she nodded and settled down gratefully on a bench seat at one of the tables near the fire. "Or at least a city that has enough variety they are used to different."

"I think Arba said he was a Kumeed, or something like that, once when we were little," he mused, curling up next to her, not thinking to sit down on the bench. "At least they believe us so far."

"We'll figure it out," she assured him with an affectionate scritch of his ears as the Panther girl brought out six large bowls of thick meaty stew. One was put before each of them, and the extra two went to Saljar.

For the first time in months, Joasta started eating without needing him to prod her to do so. Beaming inwardly, he started on his own meal, happy to see her doing so much better already.

Meanwhile, at Khan's palace, the guard who had met them hurried in to where Lord Khan and Clawson were comparing strategies.

"My Lord Khan, we have apparent defectors from Dark Kat's citadel," he said, lowering his head respectfully, drawing the full focus of everyone there.

"What are they offering for sanctuary?" he asked.

"It sounded like some manner of intelligence about the citadel, and something they called the 'Grimoire.' They are in the tavern right now... it looked like they both needed food and rest, and one of them is very pregnant. The other... I've never seen a beast like that," he admitted.

"I probably have," Ulysses Feral said evenly. "The Grimoire, that's what Dark Kat stole, isn't it?"

"Most likely," Khan nodded and stood. "Gather all the Champions. We will meet with these two."

"Yes, my Lord," the guard nodded before hurrying off to gather the others.

"An isolated event, or a sign that Dark Kat's control over his forces is breaking?" Ulysses mused. "Let's hope for the latter; it will make the battle much easier."

"We will know more after we speak with them. If they do have the Grimoire Apell, we will have a major advantage in the coming battle," Khan rumbled softly as they walked to the throne room, quickly joined by the other Champions, scholars and warriors involved in the campaign.

"Is someone really bringing us the Grimoire Apell?" Abi Sinnian asked with tightly controlled hope.

"We'll know when you see it," Mika chuckled. "It will be interesting to see who turned on him."

"Jake, can you tell anything about the pregnant one?" Rock asked quietly as he joined them. "It might help us figure out what's going on."

"A great deal by inference," he nodded. "Mostly I can tell about the kits, and a bit on the mother's condition."

"What shape are they in?" Ulysses asked quietly. "If she was with Dark Kat... they may have been touched by that she-demon he sleeps with."

"I have to be in quite close proximity," Jake shook his head at his former Commander. "Once she's here I'll check."

"Very well," Ulysses nodded, taking his seat next to Khan, waiting with little patience for their new guests' arrival.

Fortunately, it was only a few minutes before Saljar and Joasta arrived, the gravid Lynx walking slightly ahead of the huge Hyaenodon.

"Jake ... is it just me, or does he look like Ku'mid?" Rock blinked, seeing the resemblance between the teenager and his much older sire.

"Kantin, what is your heritage?" Jake called out before the newcomers could even bow to the rank gathered in the room.

"My mother is Arba, Champion of Lamashtu, Champion," Saljar responded. "I do not know my sire, or blood, for certain. I believe he was a Kumeed, but I do not know what this means; it is what I heard from my mother years ago."

"Ku'mid, a Hyaenodon," Jake told him. "He was my wingmate for years."

"That ... you're ShatterCoil's kid?" Ulysses asked in shock.

"Run a paternity test to be sure, but yes," Jake told him. "He's one of ours."

"My litter-sister was your kit, I believe," Saljar told Jake quietly. "She's still alive, unfortunately. My brother died years ago... if I am your friend's pup, it would be best not to tell him about Crusher?" He asked, seeming sincerely unsure if he should mention it or not.

"If you remember him, it would be best to tell about him," Jake said gently. "I'm not entirely sure if he will accept you. Not all cultures accept young outside of a pairbond, and I'm honestly not sure about Ku'mid."

"It is largely up to the female or females of the pack," Mika supplied. "Given you are all but an adult, Seratilista is unlikely to object too much. She won't be expected to raise another bitch's pup."

"His mother was Lamashtu's Champion," Joasta pointed out. "His sister and half-brother treated him like an animal for most of his life. I didn't even know until a few months ago."

"She still is Lamashtu's Champion," Jake said after a moment to focus. "We will work out your situation when we know how much of the world is left. You said you had a the Grimoire Apell."

"We do," Joasta nodded, stepping forward and holding up the bag she was carrying. "Arba recovered it from Dark Kat's treasure vault and sent us here with it," she explained as she handed it to Ulysses after a moment's thought. "Champion," she asked respectfully, looking to Jake, "can you tell me if Lamashtu's 'blessing' really was taken from the kits and pups inside me?"

"I can tell," he stood and stepped up to her. Though it wasn't technically necessary to touch her swollen belly, it did made both sides feel a little more sure of what he learned. "Yes, they are healthy and free of Lamashtu's blessing. You will not be able to give birth normally. Two of them are far too large for you to birth already."

"I expected it," she nodded. "A c-section would suffice, or magical aid? We want to keep some of them, at least," she said, reassuring Saljar, who still looked nervous at the news.

"A c-section should suffice, though I strongly recommend you put yourself under the care of one of the Midwives of Bastet, Lyris, Mokra or Ayria, as you prefer. I would not be surprised if you need magical aid at some point."

"I'll keep it in mind," she nodded. "Thank you, Champion. It's been a worry for us both, especially with the trip."

"I can imagine," he nodded and returned to his place next to Rock."

"This is the real Grimoire Apell," Abi pronounced in the quietness that followed.

"Very well," Shier Khan stood. "Do both of you know Kadath well?"

"Yes, sir," Joasta nodded. "I was a harem guard before Kul and Night Raven turned on me and made me a pet. I know the fortress and those in it well."

"Good," he nodded. "Then both of you come to the war room. We will create maps and personnel files for the assault."

"Lord, we must make haste," Saljar said respectfully as the group began to stand. "Dhiren, Dark Kat, has already awakened Kul."

"We know," Khan nodded grimly, leading the way to the war room. "We hope to leave in the next few days at the latest."

"Who's Dhiren?" Jake asked, wanting to be very sure before he linked the names in his head.

"Dhiren Natiwishia is Dark Kat's real identity," Saljar explained. "Among others. And Kul is my half-brother, Kulfaux's body. Kulfaux has already been awakened, and from what Mother said, it's just hormones between him and his attack."

"After we get more pressing details sorted out, if you'd give any other names you'd know, it would be appreciated," Jake said before Ulysses could demand it.

"Who is he taking his hormones out on?" Rock asked.

"Night Raven, Jake's kit," Saljar explained. "They've been lovers since he was capable. Might be others involved, but shi gets possessive unless shi's playing too."

"One of the few saving graces about having either of them take a shine to you," Joasta shuddered. "They're both freaks, Kul especially."

"Describe him," Khan instructed as two guards opened the heavy double doors to the palace war room and it's magic-heavy war-planning equipment.

"I wish I couldn't," Joasta shuddered. "He's ugly as sin, long and lanky... he's got black fur on his face, gray-green on the rest of him, except for the tentacles coming out of his gut. There's a third eye on his hip too."

"At least he's distinctive," Jake looked on the bright side.

"And if you're not careful about the eye, or the tentacles, you'll regret it," Saljar said seriously. "Even before he was awakened, they had a nasty bite, and that eye could fix you. I don't know what they'd do now."

"You can probably add magic blasts and elasticity to the tentacles," Sheira commented. "Maybe a poison or acidic bite."

"I think we get the idea, Sheria," Rock told the warrior Lioness.

"What about Night Raven?" Jake asked, curious what Lamashtu had done to his blood despite how queasy it made him feel.

"She looks perfectly normal, except for being a herm. She's fucked up in the head, not the body," Joasta shuddered.

"She used to play Kul against Crusher and me," Saljar said. "Black-furred, sadistic enough to make Dark Kat proud. She'd always bite or scratch one of us, then have Kul come rescue her when we fought back. She learned to hold off on that after Kul killed Crusher; that's about when they started treating me like a pet."

"How did you become mates?" Mika asked softly as she came up to the two refugees while the others settled around the command table.

"I pissed off Night Raven and Kul by disapproving of their relationship. Didn't say anything, didn't even think about it consciously, but apparently I made a face watching them screw in the gardens," Joasta muttered. "They drugged me, put me into an artificial heat."

"They gave her to me after playing with her themselves, and before giving her to the barracks," Saljar admitted quietly. "I tried to protect her as much as I could, which didn't really make Night Raven any happier with me after a while."

"Your mother approves, apparently," she smiled softly at Saljar, encouraging him to speak.

"I think, right now, Mother approves of anything that keeps me from having to be there when the fight starts," he admitted. "I don't think she really liked, personally, what was happening with Night Raven and Kul, but Lamashtu's laws favor strength, not being nice, and being sneaky is just another way of being strong."

"She was willing to remove Lamashtu's gift on the kits I carry for grandkits by him," Joasta added. "She knew I'd never let them live once I was out here and had a choice if she didn't. I don't think she's expecting many of her children to survive, so many of them are in Kadath."

"It's why she's turning on Dhiren," Saljar nodded. "Lamashtu favors strength, but too much strength with too much temper kills the entire line. Kul is her most powerful child, but he'll kill the rest of them if the whim takes him."

"So she's turning on him to save as many as she can," Rock murmured. "What can you tell us about Kadath?" He asked, redirecting the conversation.

"I know the place like the back of my paw," Saljar reassured them, picking up a stylus and laying out a floor plan as they prepared for the battle to come.

"Jake? Are you ready for this?" Rock asked him quietly as they all loaded onto the new body Ameris had been given. "After all the damage the Demon's done you ... facing him head-on...."

"I have to," the lean tom said simply, his mind largely closed off from his emotions, holding everything in check until it was time to unleash the fire driven by protective rage. "That pain is going to be an advantage, so will the fallen. Halikar and Bastet are both at their strongest when those they care about are in grave danger."

"All right," Rock nodded. "I suppose I shouldn't complain... I'll be able to use it too. Seer Andrea and I spent the last few nights running over combat gifts I haven't used before, and the more pain people are going through the stronger I'll be. To judge by what I've been hearing, the strategy is probably going to be trying to keep Kulfaux pinned down, rather than killing him directly. Let Kousuke, you, and Zach handle the kill."

"It's more likely that either Kousuke, Abi or Zach that will make the kill," Jake said softly. "They are the only ones with a weapon that can do that kind of damage."

"So try not to get killed yourself, okay?" Rock told him sternly. "Keep Zach and Abi alive."

"I intend to see my kits grown," Jake assured him the best he could as they entered the storm field around Kadath. "At least this time we know what to expect."

"The hyperdrive going to work?" Rock asked him, looking into the heavy snow that howled around them.

Jake glanced at him briefly, his eyes carrying the answer he didn't dare say out loud with so much riding on it.

"The combination of magic and technology has a high probability of success," Ameris said instead.

"It'll work," Wave Runner said, poking his head into the cockpit. "How long before we warp?"

"Any second now," Jake told him. "It's all under Ameris' control. She's the only one with the reflexes we need."

"Right," Wave Runner nodded, looking back. "Everybody close your eyes! This is the worst way to be introduced to Hyperspace!" He warned them, just before Ameris flashed the final warning light and the universe was turned inside out for a brief second.

"Ug!" Zach groaned from the large, cramped passenger compartment. "That sucked."

"Hold your stomach, we're landing!" Jake called back through a huge series of explosions from Ameris' missiles just before they came in for a fast, hard VTOL landing.

"I'd been expecting more shooting when we got here," Rock observed as they touched down, and he started up from his seat.

"Mother's confusing them," Saljar rumbled lowly as he stood, crouching over so he could fit in the ship. "It won't last long."

"Any advantage is a good one," Jake said as they hit the snowbound outside. "Everybody knows the plan. Move out!"

"Follow me," Saljar told Jake, Rock and Eternal Dawn as he started to bound towards one of the basalt buildings, roaring at the guards between he and his destination. They took one look at him, and hesitated before raising their weapons. It was one hesitation too many; his massive jaws ripped the head off one of them, and Rock and Jake took out the rest before they could react.

"Dark Kat's fanatics will be like these," he warned them, spitting out the head in his mouth as they looked at the tall, thin bodies before they dissolved. "Can't guarantee anybody else except my half-siblings."

"If they shoot, we kill," Jake said simply as the four bolted forward again, their destination in mind and their purpose clear.

"Fair enough," Saljar growled lowly. "Ready to call the others if they're together?"

"Of course," Jake said as he called down a blast of fire to scorch three guards who raised their guns.

"I'll be back in a moment," Rock said lowly, breaking off as they headed past a corridor that Saljar had told them before led to the barracks. Screams resounded through the stone hallways seconds later.

Saljar turned down another side passage, rearing back and grabbing one of Dark Kat's guards, catching the back of a unit that was being forced back by their rebelling colleagues.

Assaulted from both sides, and now with a giant and powerful magic against their backs, the unit broke ranks and scattered, making them easy pray for the insurgents.

"Which way?" Jake focused Saljar away from repaying long-built up debts and towards finding Night Raven.

"This way," he said, heading the other way down the corridor once Rock had caught up with them.

"The barracks have been dealt with," he said simply.

"I always thought this battle would be harder," Eternal Dawn mused out loud as he drove a punch into a guard's skull that all but turned it inside out.

"You haven't met Night Raven," Saljar pointed out, pausing outside a large door. "Our quarters were through here."

"I've been warned about her plenty," Rock struggled to keep the adrenaline under control. "If there is any possibility to perform the Rite of Rebirth, I need to do it."

"You want me to capture her instead of kill?" Saljar whined, looking back at them incredulously before shrugging his massive shoulders and breaking through the door, splintering it around him.

"So there you are!" Night Raven scowled as he burst in. Shi raised hir hands, speaking a brief spell that animated the chains attached to the wall, sending them lashing out at Saljar and the other intruders. "Bad doggie!" Shi grinned as one of them wrapped around his thick throat, starting to strangle him.

Unlike every time before, he struggled with all his strength against the bindings, though when Eternal Dawn canceled the spell he was more than grateful for the reprieve.

"Who?" shi growled in outrage as Jake crashed into hir with a snarl.

"Hello, Sire," shi growled lowly, rolling with his tackle. Shi brought her hind feet up as they spun off the bed, extending hir claws and trying to sink them into the flesh of Jake's stomach, raking downward. Shi bit and clawed at him, stiffening as Rock struck hir with Tamorl's Lash. Shi screamed in outrage, leaping away from the toms and spinning towards them, clutching hir own wounds as hir eyes began to glow. The stone wall behind hir stretched out, forming a shell around hir that resisted even Saljar's great strength.

Then the walls of the room began closing in, rumbling and growing towards them all, sealing the door they'd come in through.

I'll take the hit if I kill hir," Jake focused completely on Halikar's side and called on the incredible heat of the sun into a focused point of the wall where Night Raven had disappeared.

"Hurry," Saljar said nervously, trying to stop the walls only to realize that there wasn't anything to stop - they were growing, not moving.

"Champion, stop the heat on my mark," Eternal Dawn told him, preparing a spell of his own. "Saljar, strike the point we weaken."

"Understood," the pair said in unison as Saljar turned to be ready to strike.

Eternal Dawn prepared his own spell, a blue aura forming around his hands.

"Now!" He told Jake, projecting the aura, and the frost of the mountaintops with it, onto the still-glowing rock, making it crack. Saljar punched through, grabbing his naked half-sister by the throat and pulling hir out through the crumbling wall with a snarl.

"Stop the walls or I'll take your head off - brother isn't here to protect you this time!"

"I'm carrying his kittens," shi squeaked through his grasp in an open appeal to the gods of the two champions present, though the walls did stop.

"I didn't hear that," Jake told hir, his claws unsheathed as he got a good look at a functional hermaphrodite through the eyes of Bastet. Despite a largely female appearance, shi did have fully functional testacies to the side of hir sheath, well-concealed by her glossy black fur but there, and small but functional cock.

If shi wasn't so twisted and evil, shi'd have been of distinct interest.

"They might care," Saljar rumbled. "I don't. Rock? Are you ready for hir?"

"Jake, can you preserve kits through her death?" Rock asked very quietly. "Eshik and Marka are not happy."

"Will they be 'helped' by it?" Jake asked, openly reluctant to help this creature he's sired but unwilling to refuse his mate outright.

"If they survive, they should receive the same effect that she does," Rock said after a moment to check.

"All right," Jake agreed. "Between Te'lon and myself, we can keep them alive."

"Then we don't care either," Rock told Saljar. "And I'm ready."

"How long is this going to take?" Eternal Dawn asked quietly.

"That depends on hir," Rock admitted. "But this should keep her until we're ready." He stepped up to hir, speaking the words to a spell and touching his palm to hir breast. Night Raven screamed as he branded hir, hir muscles locking rigidly into place.

"Days, if not longer," Jake supplied. "That's a different variant," he added as shi slumped unconscious.

"That's to keep hir under wraps while we take out her 'God,'" Rock murmured, spotting another brand against hir neck. "Let's get hir back to the jet, then join up with the others.

"If the magic fails, is the jet capable of holding hir?" Eternal Dawn asked as they turned to go back the way they came, Night Raven slung over Saljar's shoulder.

"I built that body to be able to transport Dark Kat," Jake said grimly as they broke into a run. "It should hold hir."

"He won't need to be held," Rock rumbled lowly.

"Agreed," Jake nodded as they passed through largely quiet halls, empty but for the bodies.

"Holy shit," Kymeil whispered, awestruck as she looked over one of Kadath's treasure vaults.

"Commander," one of the rebelling forces asked Sheira respectfully, "permission to take some pay before we clear out of here?"

"Granted," she nodded. "Loot away, though Dr. Sinnian has first dibs on anything she wants."

The Cougar motioned for his men to get started, and they split up through the place, grabbing whatever was most valuable and easy to carry.

"Y'know the freaky part of this?" Kymeil mused, looking over the piles of gold and gems, carelessly cast about through the centuries. "There's probably a shitload more further in, worth even more than this stuff."

"I'm sure there is," Abi nodded, looking around. "Or in a separate storeroom. I don't see any magic here to speak of. We have to try and preserve this place as best we can."

"But so many pretties!" Kymeil squealed in delight as she dared about on self-created thermals, picking up whatever caught her fancy.

"This is why I don't work with Champions who aren't academics," Abi sighed as Kymeil quickly put together a sparkling collection of jewelry. "She'd probably be lynched if she did this in one of the Seharal treasure vaults."

"Yes, but she's not here to help with an expedition," Sheira pointed out. "She is here to help us kill a god."

"I know," Abi nodded slightly. "I still wish I had a chance to bring in a team here afterwards, rather than having it looted now. There is one thing that bugs me though."

"Which is?" the regal Lioness looked at her, more than a little interested in what the scholar had to say. "They will not take anything beyond monetary treasure. Gems, coin and such. You have full authority to keep anything you find of academic value here."

"That's not what worries me," Abi said, shaking her head. "I just can't believe that Dark Kat's men are all fanatical enough that they'll stay and fight with this sort of stuff around."

"I don't expect that most will," the Lioness said simply. "We were not expecting any help in the final battle, we will not miss what is not there."

"Understood," Abi nodded, before she went flat at the sound of gunfire further in. "That's what I was talking about!" She muttered, keeping flat and safely out of the way as the Lioness strode into the firefight, her armor making the bullets fall from the air around her as all their kinetic energy was stripped from them. It took her less than an instant to assess the situation.

Go'rom's forces were fighting with those still loyal to Dark Kat.

"Still!" she roared, the order carrying the full weight of her status.

It stopped them, at least for now. Dark Kat's forces turned towards her, glaring as they stopped the fight because of her magic alone. There was something strange about them, like Sheira's command wouldn't last too much longer.

"Fire," she released her hold on her allies, but held on to their opponents as best she could. She prepared to lash out with battlefield confusion against them as soon as they broke free.

It wasn't long. Go'rom's men only had time to shoot one of them down before they broke out, scattering into the mounds of treasure. One of them brought his rifle up, firing on Sheira, only to have the powerful round drop to the ground, it's kinetic energy stripped from it a couple feet away from her by her armor.

She focused, silently guiding her troops to their enemy in the best tactical position they could have.

As they moved, one of Dark Kat's men popped out of a place she hadn't been expecting, opening fire. Go'rom snarled, turning and returning fire before he was hit, going down with a bullet in his chest even as Sheira's axe cleaved the shooter in two.

He couldn't have gotten where he was ... it wasn't possible, not without her seeing him. He must have been using magic; which meant they all could be. Wonderful.

She extended her reach, throwing her opponents into the full-blown confusion of a rout, trying to drive them towards her own.

"Didn't think they were real," Abi murmured beneath her, as Leng's defenders were cut down by Sheira's forces. "Gods, I hope this place survives the battle."

"What about them?" Sheira asked as she picked up one of the slender guards by the scruff to study his limp body before it dissolved into nothing. "Pray to Nulaa," she suggested to Abi absently. "She can make the most unlikely thing happen."

"The Kats of Leng were supposed to be creatures from another dimension... all of Leng and Kadath are," Abi amended. "They were slavers before the first Godswars , mortal creations of the Primordials who survived the Godswar extinctions by leaving Aristal for another dimension, returning after it was safe again as servants of whoever ruled here."

"Would a body or two be valuable to you?" Sheira looked down at her curiously.

"If you can figure out a way to keep them around, they might not be to me but they'd be invaluable to a biologist," Abi nodded. "Maybe Wave Runner could provide some options ... do you know where he is, right now?"

"I do, but I can simply claim them as a spoil of war," the Lioness chuckled and focused briefly, causing two of the bodies to vanish. "They are in my fortress, and being put in suspension."

"If that works, it will be wonderful," Abi nodded as she looked around again. "I suspect the others simply return to their alternate dimension after death... it's a strange case of metaphysics, when you're dealing with Leng and Kadath."

"My claim of Spoils of War are magical, a gift from Sheliel," Sheira told her. "It should override any other magics."

"Good," she nodded. "Let's gather up the troops and find Wave Runner then ... we can focus on this after we finish with Kulfaux."

"Agreed," she nodded. "Gather to me!" Sheira roared, thrusting her standard into the air.

"He's up ahead," Wave Runner rumbled lowly, stalking along in his Warbeast form, body soaked in blood. "Where are the others?"

"Khan's team is approaching Dark Kat, Sheira is with treasure, Jake is facing his daughter," Andrea answered after a moment to check on them with her Sight.

"Goddess help him," Zach murmured.

"She won't," Kulfaux called out to them from the throne he was sitting on, the teenager looking ridiculous on a seat meant for a god, but radiating the power that gave him the right to sit there. "Just as yours will not help you here. Not once I'm through with the place. I know all about the Inflictor's plot."

"To summon the other gods the way He was summoned," Andrea supplied at Wave Runner's inquiring glance. "If we fail, it will be a Godswar on Aristal again."

"Great," Wave Runner shuddered, already working out how to get close enough to do some serious damage.

"I tend to think it would be glorious," Kulfaux chuckled. "Better than this sorry excuse for a contest."

"Of course," Andrea said evenly. "The contest is a construct of law. It is everything you stand against."

"It coddles the weak," he countered. "Aristal has become more and more pathetic as the centuries have passed. The strong have dwindled, the weak thrived - this entire world has stagnated, thanks to Tamorl's precious contest. It is contrary to every natural law. It has created the tyranny of the meek, led to a world ruled over by figureheads chosen by the Gods. To destroy the Contest may mean that the world burns from time to time - but it means that Aristal will be free once it is over, ruled over by those with vision, and the power to make that vision a reality. What, in this world or any other, has not been accomplished by such people?"

"Peace without fear," Zach muttered, knowing it wasn't an answer that mattered to Kulfaux.

"That vision and the power to make it real is what created and maintained the contest all these millennia," Andrea pointed out.

"Perhaps so," Kulfaux chuckled lowly. "But Tamorl's vision and power has weakened this world. The gods choose their Champions to maintain the status quo. Any who step outside of that are trampled into the dirt. Any who voice an objection are ignored. And as above, so below. Look at the Blue Moon Killer. He could have cleansed the world of the urban tumor that is Sayden Bay - but because the other Champions felt compelled to interfere, for the sake of their gods and the Contest, what happened? Sayden Bay is more corrupt than ever, and he very nearly turned light to darkness. All thanks to the Contest. Alexander Feral was a man of vision, of strength, even without his powers as a Champion. But the Contest perverted all of that. Why do kats rule this world? Because they and theirs toe the line, kowtow to Tamorl despite the fact that they were blackmailed into this joke. And why shouldn't they? Without the Contest, they'd be the slaves they deserve to be."

"Yeah, right," Zack snorted, feeling the Wyld Lord's opinion as much as his own. "Kantin are creatures of Law, even the Wyld Lord follows the rules because it is what he is."

"No one deserves to be a slave," Wave Runner growled deeply, waiting only on a signal to shift to the Hyperspace Shadowcat and deal some serious damage to this creature.

"The Kantin follow their own rules - you of all people should know that," Kulfaux sneered at Zack, ignoring Wave Runner. "Look at what has happened to him, since the Contest. His power - that of his people - has suffered because he doesn't play the same game everybody else does. Rarzyn is weak. And if you need any more proof that the contest has bred a world of weaklings...." He smirked, standing from his throne. He was tall and lean, well muscled and grotesquely handsome in his way. He looked down at them, rotating his head to loosen the muscles of his neck and shoulders. "Come and face a God, while your so-called Champions die at the hands of my priest and consort."

It was all the invitation Wave Runner and Andrea need. He shifted to the bazaar inter-dimensional beast and slipped between two corners to attach himself with four clawed feet, four toothy paddle-ended tentacles and powerful jaws to Kulfaux's back, ripping into His flesh as much as he could.

The blood witch stepped back, into the shadows and behind the warriors. Without hesitation, she turned the full killing power of the blood against her enemy, congealing it in His veins, boiling it in His brain, and causing it to flow without restraint from His wounds.

It barely seemed to faze him at first; he spun on Wave Runner, clawing at him. Suddenly Wave Runner snarled, leaping back as the blood flowing copiously from Kulfaux's wounds turned to acid and seared his fur and flesh.

The Hyperspace Shadowcat darted threw another set of corners and began as random a hit and run strike pattern as he could manage. Dealing damage and then escaping before the acid bit him back.

As he did so, making small hits on Kulfaux time and again, the god barely seemed interested in fighting back in earnest. Then he turned as Wave Runner came out behind him, grabbing one of those long tentacles and holding it tight.

"I think you should stay right where you are," he rumbled darkly, holding up his other hand and sending the acid up along the walls, burning the corners of the room into smooth curves. Then he gripped Wave Runner's shoulder, and pulled, ripping the tentacle off of him and throwing him back against a corner of the room that offered no more solace before turning his attention on Andrea.

Wave Runner was back on him as a Thracian warbeast before he took a step, overpowering the slender teen when he slammed into Him. With one fast, powerful bite he decapitated the god.

He snarled a moment later, spitting out the head after it bit his tongue, taking a hunk out of the powerful muscle. Kulfaux's severed head laughed madly as the tentacles on his body ripped his clothes and slashed at the Warbeast, hacking into its thick flesh like a dozen grasping, hungry blades. Even when the end of one was bitten off, it would continue to wiggle and try to fight when it was spit out.

There was a fractional moment when Kulfaux's blood turned red again, and Andrea took the moment to freeze his heart with coagulated blood and caused the rest to flow out as quickly as it could from the many wounds already dealt to His body.

"Fool witch - I can live like this, do you think I really need my -" Kulfaux winced mid-taunt as Wave Runner punched through his chest... but there seemed to be something more going on. As he recovered, he fought back with renewed zeal, not bothering to taunt them.

"Dammit, how do we kill an actual god?" Zach growled lowly. "Andrea, I've got to turn them loose soon - not sure how much Runner can take."

"Don't until there is enough energy to support them," she warned him. "Go get the others. All communications have been jammed."

"Right," Zach nodded and bolted from the throne room.

"More than he thinks," Wave Runner growled lowly as the Myradi analyzed the body it had just been punched through. "Think you're the strongest creature on the field, Kulfaux?"

"Of course I am," He snarled, ripping into his attacker.

"You won't have His abilities!" Andrea warned as she got a flash of foresight.

"Damn," Wave Runner muttered, shifting to the giant bacteria instead. At least it was all but immune to physical damage.

"Father never did have much luck with that design," Kulfaux growled. His body pivoted, twisting towards the beast. The eye on its hip opened, and a yellow beam blasted out, searing a hole through it... that quickly filled in. "Though, evidently, not because of that." His body twisted, picking up his head and retrieving it before taking off into the sky and bursting through the ceiling.

"Go after him?" Wave Runner glanced at Andrea.

"Before he can escape," she nodded as he transformed into his griffon form and she climbed astride him.

Dhiren stirred fitfully as he heard an alarm blaring in the distance. He had just about managed to drag his weary, battered mind and body to full awareness when Arba laid back down next to him on the bed, wrapping her arms around him from behind.

"Kulfaux and the men have things under control," she crooned softly to him. "A team came from Tusandrin to save him the travel time."

"Who?" He demanded groggily, struggling between the desire to rest and take her word for it and his instincts to see for himself.

"Everybody we expected. But there's nothing to worry about; they can't kill Kulfaux without the Grimoire," she pointed out, nuzzling his neck with a purr. "You've been working so hard for this... it's time for you to rest."

"I should still check on it ... the Champions need to be killed," he said, clearly reluctant to get up even as he did so.

"And Kul can do that, as long as he lives," she pointed out, turning to sit up in bed, making a distractingly alluring display of her exotic body. "Without having to risk yourself. You know you're not at your full strength again yet," she pointed out. "And if you die, Kulfaux may not be able to keep flouting the rules of the Contest," she added.

He regarded her; sure she was after more kittens. She was making far too much sense and trying far too hard to keep him in bed for anything else. At the same time, she was making sense, and even as tired as he was her fine body did a number on him and his desires.

He stretched out his senses, seeking the presence of other Champions. There was some chaos, but the only Champions were near Kul or Night Raven.

"Perhaps," he murmured, kneeling on the bed to kiss her. "You'll have to do most of the work."

"I can do that," she crooned, kissing him back, reaching up to stroke his face. "Love you, dearest... you'll make a wonderful vizier to Kul when he finishes conquering Aristal. And after today, nobody will be able to stop him."

"The way it should be," he rumbled and rolled to his back, pulling her down on top of him. Her pheromones were doing their job, and he groaned as he rocked his hips against her.

She kissed him heatedly, rubbing her hips against his as she scratched his chest lightly.

"Want to try something different? Let me be in charge for a little while?" She offered with a low, sultry purr.

"You are in charge," he agreed, decidedly unwilling to go any further.

"Don't worry, I won't push my luck," she promised, kissing him and guiding his hands up to her full breasts. "Mmm ... and I'll let you pay me back later," she winked down at him, moving to stroke his cock with the lips of her sex, loving how it felt, and the shudder that passed through his huge frame.

"I know," he rumbled, rubbing her sides as he hardened fully against her sex and the slick pleasure of her juices. "How many kittens this time?"

"How many can you sire?" She grinned, not yet taking him into her sex, teasing him instead. "I'm good for at least triplets this time... mmm... little blessed kittens, to grow up as guards and lovers of your God," she crooned.

"Then I shall fill you well," he slipped his hands around her waist and shifted her so he could sink into her moist, hot depths. "Make you come hard and often."

"Mmm ... just make sure you keep up," she rumbled hotly, leaning down to kiss him as she rippled her sex around his cock. "Maybe this time Lamashtu will bless us with a full set," she purred.

"What about a litter to outstrip what that brat who follows Bastet got?" he grinned up at her and began to thrust. "Eight gifted ones in that litter."

"Beating that sounds... mmm... wonderful," she moaned, leaning up to let him see her long, lean, fertile body. "Maybe we can... ooh... find a good use for them after their parents are gone?"

"I think we can manage that," he shivered in excitement at the idea. "Gifted kits are always useful. I intend to have great fun with the litter Feral birthed as well. It is a pity Khan didn't let most of them live."

"A crime against the Goddess," Arba agreed with a whimper as his massive cock rubbed her all the right ways. "But his kits, and Jake's, will be delightful breeding stock. Strong kits for generations to come."

"I will enjoy breeding them so much," he sounded almost giddy. "Be it blessed by Lamashtu, Kulfaux or nature, there will be such fine kittens."

"Mmm ... a pity they won't be there to see," she moaned, her first orgasm rippling through her as she milked his cock.

"A little," he agreed, thrusting into her spasming body several times before he roared and filled her body with thick seed.

"Mmm ... let's just make sure we've got enough kits to reward with them," she rumbled, kissing him as she started moving, working to drive them both to another orgasm.

Suddenly he tensed the wrong way and rolled to push her off, back on the bed, with a snarl and bristled fur.

She froze, her hand going down under the edge of the bed, closing around the handle of the blade she had there.

"What's wrong?" She asked him, looking at him, then at the door as she sensed a Champion just beyond it. She knew it was Khan almost as soon as Dhiren did, and shuddered. She really didn't want it to come to this.

"A Champion got loose," he growled low as the door burst open, surrendering to the Champion of Tusandrin and allowing the great Tiger to rush Dark Kat with a roar, a heavy, spiked mace raised high and his armor gleaming in the candlelight. Right behind him was a regal, battle-hardened Firecat tabby shekat splashed with woad patterns and barring a sword and shield as well as her decorative armor.

Dark Kat ducked under Khan's initial attack, glancing about for a weapon, any weapon. There were options here - spears and swords along the walls, trinkets from prior conquests of Arba's - but nothing that he was sure he could use in his enervated state. Between the ritual to recreate Kulfaux, and the drain of mating with Arba, he was weak as a kitten.

Except in one respect. As a mage, he was drained. As a warrior, he was useless. But as a Champion, he was more powerful than any on Aristal at this moment.

He snapped off a word of power in the ancient language of Kadath, invoking the power of Kulfaux and lashing out with his Gifts. He snarled as Queen Bodicea hacked at him with her sword, twisting her weapon into an unusable hunk of metal - and then her armor around her very body, forcing the metal into sharp, ragged blades on the inside.

In the back of his mind, he had to give her grudging respect what the pain and blood loss, and the loss of her weapon, didn't seem to do so much as phase her. She simply turned her tactics from physical warfare to magical and the room exploded with Halikar's Fire, designed to burn to ash and clean the universe of His enemies.

In the same breath Khan was on him again, his form tighter and harder to dodge.

Dark Kat turned her magic around, Kulfaux's mastery of chaos turning Halikar's fire against its creator, searing her body even as he turned his attention to Khan. Her screams were sweet in his ears.

"Tusandrin's gods have no hold here, Khan," he growled lowly, ducking back and grabbing one of Arba's spears to protect himself, absently aware that she was cowering behind the far side of the bed. "I'd planned to march into your realm myself; thank you for saving me the trouble!"

"You and your master won't have the chance," the Tiger promised as his mace crashed into the spear, snapping it cleanly in half and forcing Dark Kat back against the stone wall. A bladed polearm drove into Dark Kat's side as one of Khan's honor guard took an opening, the other hanging back slightly to check on the smoldering shekat.

He snarled, grabbing the guard by the throat and crushing his windpipe in his hand, hurling him at Khan. He snatched the polearm up from the ground, channeling Kulfaux's power into it and hurling it at the Tigers. The blade began to fight on its own, turning on its former master and impaling him before switching to Khan.

The Panther-Tiger could taste blood in his mouth; the blade had hit something important. He'd have to end this soon.

Why the Hell wasn't Arba helping him? He could use her, right about now with Khan on him and that damndable shekat getting to her feet despite having all her fur burned off and her armor melted from her body.

Dhiren focused again to channel Kulfaux's power, sending a blast of pure darkness into the Tiger, knocking Khan back and down, pinning him to the ground. Bodicea charged him while he was distracted, and he spun to direct the animated polearm towards her. It flew at her, thrusting through her side and pinning her to the wall. As she coughed up blood, he turned towards Khan.

"I've been waiting a long, long time for this," he purred lowly, approaching the pinned tiger.

Then he fell to the ground, a stabbing pain in his back presaging the loss of all sensation beneath his waist. He threw himself onto his back with his hands, expecting to see Bodicea above him. His blood ran cold as he saw that it was Arba, a short, serrated knife in hand.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, before lunging at him and burying the blade in his chest, thrusting it under his sternum and sawing through heart and lung.

"Why?" he gasped out, his voice gurgling with the blood filling his lungs.

"I have to protect my children," she murmured, kissing him tenderly before thrusting in again, striking a blow that would finish the job as quickly and painlessly as possible. He grunted, his eyes rolling back before his body went limp and her blade slid out.

"That was not what I was expecting," Lord Khan said as he struggled to his feet, still dazed by the last blast he took.

Arba stepped up to him, putting her blade to his throat, looking the Tiger in the eyes as she took advantage of his surprise.

"I should kill you, for what you did to my kittens," she murmured, her hand steady, but her eyes betraying the conflict and strain she was under right now. "But I need you to kill one more of them before I can afford to even try," she rowled lowly.

Khan met eyes with her, aware they were both alone, their allies in the area dead to the last. He made a lighting-fast movement that claimed control of her wrist, forcing her to drop the blade. He had her other hand under control in the next movement.

"So tell me why I should not kill you now?" he asked evenly.

"I saved your life just now, killed my mate to do it, I'm pregnant, and I'm the mother of the monster you're trying to kill - if anybody can distract him, even control him, it's me," she pointed out, condensing all the options into one. "Besides - if I wasn't on your side through this battle, you would not be here now."

Khan nodded, satisfied enough with her answer, and knowing full well he needed every bit of help he could get, even from her.

"Where will he be?" he asked as he released her.

"In the war room... what did you do to Saljar?" She asked him, stepping away and turning to face him as she took down a simple, iron-shod staff.

"Fed him, listened to him, gave my word to care for his mate and pups as my own if he didn't return," he gave the basic rundown. "He's with another team at the moment."

"I should have known he'd come back," she sighed with a fond smile. "We should be on our way then," she decided, ignoring her nudity. "Before Lamashtu makes up her mind on whether or not I'm doing the right thing."

Jake stepped out of the Ameris after imprisoning Night Raven in the cell designed to hold Dark Kat and glanced up, as much from habit of taking in his surroundings as a desire to see what was going on. His eyes snapped onto a bit of unnatural motion.

"Ah krud," he hissed, which grabbed Rock's attention.

"I'm going after him," Jake twisted to tell his mate. "Our comms must be jammed. The battle's started."

"Jake, you're not going after him alone," Rock said, ears flat. "Take me up with you if you have to."

"I can't fly and fight with a passenger," Jake reminded him, Halikar's Fire already flicking to life around him. "Saljar, do you know where he probably was?"

"The throne room," Saljar nodded. "He wasn't in Night Raven's quarters, so that's the next best place to look. He doesn't care about the treasure vaults."

"Head for the vaults and Sheira, then get everyone to the throne room," he ordered quickly before leaping into the air and spreading his flaming wings wide. "Wave Runner, Andrea and I will bring him back there if we can."

"Jake, if you get yourself killed doing this, I swear I'll make sure you regret it when you come around," Rock sighed, taking off with Eternal Dawn after Saljar to find the others and gather the army again.

Up in the air, Jake quickly caught up with Andrea and Wave Runner. He could see already that the griffon's lungs were working hard in the rarified atmosphere up here... probably exactly the plan Kulfaux was counting on.

It wasn't a problem that he or the Blood Witch had, but they had a larger problem; how to drive Kulfaux to the throne room, where they wanted him.

"Ideas?" he asked her as he came up close. His only real idea amounted to lashing out with the full power of Halikar and Bastet, and see where it got him.

"If we can get him back down there, I can bind him from leaving while I'm alive!" She called back to him. "The hard part is catching up and taking him down - be careful, he doesn't go down easily."

"As scared as the gods are, I'm sure of it," he nodded and began to pull ahead. "I do have two potent gods to channel to drive him down, and this is Halikar's element."

"It's Sadrula's too," Kymeil added as she rode the storm winds to join them. "Let's nail that freak!"

"Fast," Wave Runner gasped out, focusing on trying to breathe and fly at this altitude. His plea was emphasized by a bolt of actinic blue light that shot down between the four of them from Kulfaux.

"Right," Jake darted forward, enveloping his target in the flame of a god, a weapon capable of hurting him even when directed by a mortal.

A howl of rage echoed down from on high, before Kulfaux turned to fly back at them, body flaming as he charged towards them, an acidic green forming around his hands.

Jake met him head on, taking in Halikar as much as he could and slammed down on Kulfaux with the full might of the sun and a protective god enraged beyond reason, his only focus on offense and driving his target into the trap.

Kulfaux grabbed him tightly, hands burning into his flesh in a way that hurt more than anything he'd felt before. It was like every nerve in his body was being eaten away from the inside out, even as Kulfaux was consumed from the outside in. The really weird part was that it wasn't arousing, at least not yet.

Jake moaned as the thought crossed his mind and triggered it. His body twisted, using his wings to force Kulfaux on the bottom as they slammed into the ground. He bounced as they hit, lifting up and crashing to the floor with his own weight, the groin of his armor soaked with his come.

"Dammit, where the Hell are they?" Rock growled lowly as they got back to the throne room. "If they got away from here, we'll have to backtrack all the way to Ameris to find him."

"Incoming," Sheira pointed to the sky, her battle-senses picking up what most could not.

"Hold your fire until they get here," Abi told the soldiers, taking cover behind the door so she could work on trying to find Kulfaux's page once she saw him.

This was the biggest problem with erasing somebody from history, she was rapidly deciding. Nobody knew anything useful to pin him down in the Grimoire. Even with the very detailed physical and mental profiles that Saljar and Joasta provided were only so useful. While there were definite guesses, no one was absolutely sure what Kulfaux was a god of anymore.

"Yes, ma'am," came the general acceptance of her order from the soldiers.

"Where did Kousuke get himself to?" Rock asked, looking around.

"Hiding, ready to strike with the blade the best way he can," Sheira told him.

"Right then," he nodded. He stretched himself out, limbering up muscles tight with tension for the battle to come. Then, as he sensed the incredible power approaching them, he tapped into the strength of his patrons, channeling every gift the three could offer him. As Khan joined the trio, Rock turned, now clad in the ceremonial armor of Eshik and Marka, from their days as mortals.

"Where's Bodicea?" He asked, sure he knew the answer inside already.

"Dead, killed by Dark Kat," he said gravely. "She fought well and valiantly. It was an honor to know her in battle."

"Then let's make sure we live to tell her people," Rock nodded grimly, before he noticed Arba. "We've got a place for prisoners back in Ameris," he said quietly, hoping Saljar wouldn't notice her yet.

"She's not a prisoner," Khan said firmly. "In this battle she is on our side."

"And she already knows Jake won't like it," Arba added, stepping forward. "Saljar, you don't have to be here," she said, trying to get her son's attention while there was time for him to flee.

"My pups will be raised well," he assured her. "I will not sit on the ship while others face him. It's not like it would be any safer," he pointed out with a bit of a sheepish grin."

"Just remember that you won't heal if he kills you, I might," she told him sternly.

"I will," he promised her, turning back towards the place they were hoping Kulfaux would be landing soon.

A moment later, Kulfaux and Jake crashed into the ground, first with the godling on the bottom, then with Jake on his back after they bounced.

"I'll keep you alive," Kulfaux promised Jake with a wicked grin, his body still burning as he spun the stunned Kat over and smashed his fist into the base of Jake's spine before standing. "After I've finished your friends."

"You won't have the chance to regret that promise," Rock growled. He raised his hand, taking the flames still around Kulfaux's body, the seared, burned flesh ... and healing him.

It wasn't even worth the effort to stop the gut-wrenching screams the incredible, mind-breaking pain of it wrenched from him as he twisted and contorted uncontrollably.

Sheira and Khan were on the contorted, scarred body even as it continued to smolder, their weapons, imbued with the power of their gods and mortal magic, carved into Kulfaux's body as it squirmed on the ground.

Andrea and Wave Runner arrived next, the griffon clawing into Kulfaux's body as Andrea spoke the words to her spell. The blood pouring onto the stones formed into chains, attaching themselves to the basalt of the building, tying Kulfaux to the place.

"Damn witch!" he snarled and changed his blood, but it was too late to break the spell. "You'll regret this," Kulfaux swore and transformed into his demon form, throwing his attackers off him like rag dolls.

He howled in agony again and looked back, searching for the source of the pain that felt of the killing kind.

"Even here, Konuse is in power," the slender coal black tomkat grinned up at him, still holding onto the ornate golden blade so full of god-magic and divine poison it was deadly.

Kulfaux barely had time to register the words before champions set on him again with weapon and magic, their numbers and powers striking the first hint of fear into him.

They really could do what they set out to. It had been a rare miscalculation; normally, no mortal could harm him without the direct intervention of a god. But since he was only here because of the direct intervention of a mortal agency....

He had to act fast.

He grabbed Konuse, hurling the assassin across the room. He hit the wall with a painful thud as Kulfaux began to grow larger, invoking his deific stature in it's full. Looking to the skies, he spoke a syllable from his True Name, invoking chaos in the oldest of languages.

"That's it," Abi whispered from where she'd taken cover... before realizing what he was doing.

"Watch out!" She shouted at the others, just before all Hell broke loose.

Kulfaux began to flash in a coruscating array of colors, even as Zach unleashed the Wyld Lord... and none too soon. As the father of all Wolves and his pack howled in delight at being freed, raw chaos itself was flowing through the room, undoing all that was ordered. Andrea screamed as visions overtook her, trapping her mind in the countless possible futures that could result from this one moment. Abi felt the Grimoire's pages turn randomly under her fingers... but was surprised to feel no other effect. Looking down, she quickly began searching for the syllable she'd heard Kulfaux say, knowing that she had to find his Name quickly, before anybody else was less lucky than she was.

"You can't be here!" Kulfaux snarled in outrage at seeing the full-blown god and dozen demigods rushing him.

"I've no choice," the Wyld Lord growled with a vicious lupine grin. "I was summoned here!" He leaped at the Xanith-sized Kat, fangs flashing as he exerted his will to keep his pack together despite the chaos being unleashed. Saljar leaped into battle with them, instinctively joining the powerful canines against his hated half-brother.

With his back turned to the Champion of Konuse, the Godblade was once more drawn and driven deep into divine flesh. Kulfaux's attention was divided further when Jake's, funneling every scrap of Halikar's power he was allowed to have, dove into the melee with flame-wings spread, slashing at his enemy with talons, beak and inferno wings.

He reached out towards those who had been affected by his chaos wave, drawing them in and warping their perceptions. Sheira's forces raised their rifles, opening fire on Jake and the other Champions. A few bullets hit him, but many more hit their mark before Kymeil turned the winds against them and pushed the true mortals out of the room and the battle. Jake was unharmed, the bullets melted into slag by Halikar's flames, but Konuse hit the ground, riddled with the high-powered rounds.

He shifted his focus to Kymeil next, driving the chaos into the Champion of Storms, twisting her perceptions and loyalties in her mind as he forced his way behind Jake, putting the Champion between himself and the Wyld Lord's pack. It worked for a moment, but not long. Between Jake's penchant for going overhead and the pack surrounding him, it was marginal defense at best.

Rock turned his focus on the young shekat, trying to knock her down by overloading her brain with pure pain. Sheira, Khan and Eternal Dawn intermingled with the Wolves, each seeking space to attack their quarry or dodge an attack.

Kulfaux clawed into one of the Wyld Lord's gammas, leaping out of the fray for the moment it took him to summon his Chaos Blade, the blade materializing in his hand, form twisting into a great scythe. He reached a hand out towards Rock, and the Champion of Pain's powers shifted, no longer targeting Kymeil and shifting instead to send them coruscating through the Wyld Lord. The Wolf howled in pain, twisting and clawing instinctively at Rock, throwing him back against the wall, bleeding and unconscious.

It did take one of the most potent champions out of the battle, but it also allowed one of the most dangerous access to even more power now that his mate was badly injured. Despite the divine and chaos-driven call to strike at the Wyld Lord, Jake's training and long-honed skill at ignoring divine drives allowed him to continue to focus on Kulfaux.

Eternal Dawn had a brief moment of clarity in the chaos and moved out of the fray to lunge upwards, tackling Kymeil midair, his magic cleaving through her wind-shields and sending them both slamming into a wall.

A bolt of lightning crashed through the hole in the ceiling, incinerating the Jaguar clutching the Mistress of Storms. Konuse leaned up with a wince, looking over at Jake.

"We have to stop her," he shouted a warning.

Wave Runner took up the challenge and transformed into the Giant Bacteria, a form he knew was immune to anything she should be able to throw at him and lumbered towards her, lashing out with his massive limbs in an effort to kill her outright, knowing it wouldn't last.

He crushed her back against the wall again, letting his body flow into her mouth as she hammered at him with water, ice, and lightning. He felt himself thinning out, watering down... and then felt himself changing again, the Myradi changing without his command! The agony of transforming badly injured, rapidly flipping through form after form dropping him to his knees, his mind overloaded by the pain and chaos of it.

Abi bit her lip, and made a quick decision. She kept her place in the Grimoire with one knee and grabbed a nearby blaster riffle. Taking quick aim, she fired into the maelstrom around Kymeil.

She hit, and Wave Runner took advantage of her distracting to pull her beneath him as he shifted into the Warbeast form, landing on top of her with bone-crushing weight. She went still, just as he changes for the last time ... into Kulfaux's stolen form.

"You focus on that damn book!" Konuse snarled at her, watching as Khan was cut down by Kulfaux.

"He'll heal!" Abi snarled back, getting back to work on searching through the book.

"Not if I have anything to say -" Kulfaux broke into a snarl as Saljar bit down on his shoulder, teeth piercing his flesh and crushing bone as easily as crackers.

"I should have killed you when we were kits!" He roared, grabbing Saljar by the head and hurling him against the wall. He swung his blade, but Arba leaped into the path of it, her arm falling to the floor as he cleaved it cleanly off.

"No more of my children," she growled, putting her hand into the blood pouring from her severed arm. It boiled, and a hose of twisted, wasp-like creature erupted from it, swarming over Kulfaux as the Wyld Lord broke off from the fight, leaving Lierok to handle Kulfaux while he checked on Saljar.

"I'm tougher than I look," Saljar struggled to his feet and leapt back into battle.

What he missed, but his mother did not, was the impressed expression on the Wyld Lord's face.

"How the hell does he stand the flames?" Jake asked no one in particular, frustrated that the weapon that had worked so well before didn't seem to be having much effect anymore.

"He's the god of Chaos," Abi shouted back. "No guarantees - on anything except this!" She found the page in the Grimoire she was looking for, and started preparing to read Kulfaux's lengthy Name.

"Not even that!" He snarled. He extended his hand, trying to disrupt the book ... but then focused on the wall behind her. It crumbled, and Wave Runner rushed forward, grabbing her with the tentacles Kulfaux's form had given him and pulling her clear.

"Bastard drained the Myradi - I've got to keep my head down," he explained to her briefly. "You do too!"

"Stick close to me," she suggested as much as requested, though her eyes and hands stayed on the Grimoire and her efforts. "You're as vulnerable as I am here. One of the few who can die."

"But not the only one," Kulfaux grabbed Saljar again, this time taking no chances on the half-Hyaenodon as he ripped Saljar great head off with a twisting, sickening snap and threw it at their mother.

She screamed and lunged at him, claws of her one good arm and teeth flashing. Lierok dove out of her patch, and she lit into her rogue child - her claws carving through him like he was mortal. He snarled, backing away and hacking at her as his blade shifted again. She fell to the ground, cleaved in two by the great sword he was now wielding. He spun around, hacking at Jake and Lierok with it, carving deep into the werewolf's flesh as he took the hit for Jake, the Wyld Lord pouncing on Kulfaux and biting down on his throat.

Abi prepared herself for the sentence she was going to have to speak, and began, standing and exposing herself fully for the first time, taking advantage of the chaos surrounding Kulfaux.

"Kulfaxrasizithimaxsalronicaskame ad re Kulfaxrasizithimaxsalronicas!" She shouted, her tongue twisting to speak the lengthy name of the god... and then to speak it again, stripping the syllable of divinity from his name.

Kulfaux's eyes went wide. She wasn't trying to Unmake him - that would have been gentle, compared to what she was doing instead.

He didn't even have the time to try and scream before the Wyld Lord crushed his throat and chest, twisting his head up and bolting the rapidly shrinking Kat in a single bite.

With the God of Chaos gone, so were His effects, and the room stilled within heartbeats as the Wyld Lord and his pack vanished. Zach dropped to the ground, comatose and nearly dead. Rock, Kymeil and Khan were all dead, and Andrea still lost in the vision that were slower to fade to her control.

"No!" Jake's throat was torn with anguish as he rushed to Rock's limp form, Halikar's fire fading as he sought to determine if this death was for real or not.

Te'lon, the Champion of Lyris, moved quickly onto the battlefield now that it was over and checked Zach first, as the worst injured of the living.

"He'll be okay?" Wave Runner asked hopefully, sticking his head up over the cover he had carefully.

"He will be," the Wyld Lord promised, the wolf-spirit stepping out of Zach's body. "Drained, but alive. You have all fought well, this day," he said with grudging admiration.

"The two of you especially," Lierok admitted, his spectral form walking over to Jake and Rock. "He will live, Champion. When he recovers, tell him that I am sorry for what I did to him."

"Lierok!" The Wyld Lord barked. "We must return, soon." He padded over towards Saljar's corpse, nuzzling the Hyaenodon's shoulder. As Te'lon put Arba's body back together, her eyes blinking open, Saljar's body began to glow. His spirit stepped out of it, hugely powerful, crackling with an aura of power and kindness. He looked over at his mother, walked over to nuzzle her apologetically, then turned, fading away along with the Wyld Lord and the remainder of his pack.

"Did ... did I see what I think I saw?" Arba mumbled, more than a bit dazed at being alive at the damage she'd taken from her son.

"It seems that Saljar has been invited to join the Wyld Lord's pack," Andrea said, standing shakily. "It has been six millennia since a mortal impressed him that much."

"It's been almost that long since he's fought alongside one," Zach rasped as he pulled himself up. "Casualties? Jake, are you okay?"

"He will be, along with Rock, Lord Khan and Kymeil," Te'lon assured him. "I believe that Queen Boadicea, Eternal Dawn, Saljar and Lord Khan's guards are the only casualties of those who came with us. I would expect that they will all be well-rewarded when they arrive in the spirit world."

"I'm sure," Abi nodded, closing the Grimoire now that she didn't need it any more. "Wave Runner is stuck in Kulfaux's form for the next day or so, so nobody go shooting at him thinking that he's come back, please."

"Yeah, I'm one of the good guys," Wave Runner spoke up, keeping her, between himself and the more trigger-happy warriors.

"Just don't get out of her sight until you can change back and you should be fine," Jake said as he struggled to get up, and let out an unconscious breath of relief when Rock reached down to help him up. "Maybe stay in your ship."

"Heh - once we're back and I can get on board, I'll be glad to." He looked around the scene, taking in the damage. "How are you going to handle the bodies?" He asked more gently.

"Since there does not seem to be a contest over my claiming this place formally as a Spoil of War, ours will be brought back with us," Sheira said as Lord Khan stood and inspected himself. "Arba, what of your children who have fallen?"

"Lamashtu has her own ways," Arba said, turning to the others. "Thank you all for your help; I ask only the time for my surviving Children and I to gather the fallen and our belongings before we leave, unmolested." Her eyes were on Jake, more than on any of the others. "With the exception of Night Raven... for her, I only ask that you let any kits she carries come to term before her execution."

"Tamorl has asked that I perform the Rite of Rebirth on her," Rock said, clearly less than thrilled with the idea.

"Agreed," Jake nodded. "Take your belongings, your people, and find a new home. You have earned their freedom this day. Do you have magic to see you somewhere?"

"We do," Arba nodded. "Well enough to see us off the Plateau, and into the wilds. Once we are there, we will thrive or die on our own merits. It is Her way."

"Herms accepted," Sheira agreed, putting the divine force behind the peaceful evacuation of Lamashtu's children.

Arba stroked the fur of her fallen son one more time, then left to begin gathering the survivors and all they had. The funerals would be long, but they would wait until everybody was ready.

Saljar looked around, trying not to show that he was nervous and uncertain as he followed the Wyld Lord and his pack. He knew he was dead, but this wasn't what he'd been expecting. He couldn't help but wonder if he'd meet Crusher, and if he did, how old his brother would be. Would his spirit have aged, or would he be the same age as when he died?

"Don't worry, you'll have time to get used to the place," one of the other gammas reassured him, holding back to walk next to him. "Though we don't spend much time in this part of the spirit world," he admitted, looking around the great columns of Izaris' palace and Library. "I'm called Batthra."

"I was thinking about my brother," Saljar told her with a smile of thanks. "He died when we were pups."

"He's probably been absorbed into the universal energy then," Batthra told him. "Not that many who die so young stay for long."

"I expected it... it would've been nice to see him again," he mused. "But it's better if he's moved on. I hope he's happier now, wherever he is. Do you know what I'm supposed to do now?" He asked hopefully.

"We all run and hunt when Wyld Lord calls us to hunt, though as the new gamma, you'll be Defender of the Cubs most of the time," she explained. "It's a very important job, but it doesn't come with much honor. You'll always get a fair share of the meat, but you have to beg for it, just like the pups you guard."

"It's nothing that new to me," Saljar nodded, quieting down as they approached the gathered deities in the Great Library itself, keeping to his place near the back of the pack.

"I see you won," Rarzyn was the first to speak, his tone appropriately respectful.

"We did," the Wyld Lord nodded easily. "With the help of several of your Champions, and their mortal allies. Allow me to introduce a new Gamma in my pack; Saljar. He demonstrated great bravery and prowess in the battle; when offered the chance to leave, he willingly stayed and fought with the pack, despite having no reason to risk his life so."

"Congratulations Saljar," Tari, the Mother of Packs, smiled at him. "It is not often a mortal joins us."

"Thank you, Mother of Packs," Saljar bowed deeply to her.

"It is we who should be grateful," Fahik said from where he stood, next to Izaris. "Your half-brother was a threat to all we've built. That he was stopped when he was was largely thanks to the chances you took, and the sacrifices you made. All of you," he said, nodding towards the rest of the Wyld Lord's pack.

"It was our bargain," the Wyld Lord pointed out. "Which I assume I can count on being fulfilled?"

"As we agreed," Rarzyn said firmly, all but daring any of the other Kantin gods to disagree.

"Yes, Wyld Lord," Kram inclined his head, granting the elder Wolf his due as his equal.

"It is as we agreed," Tari, Queen Sulma and Veliece, the Solitary Mother, agreed.

"So are you going to play the game now?" Lamashtu asked her former mate. "With a thousand years, you could maintain your status."

"If I should find a worthy Champion, I may," he nodded. "One of Lierok's children, perhaps."

"Perhaps one of my grandchildren?" she raised an eyebrow. "Even without my gifts, they will be among the strongest."

"You make a good point," he considered. "However, I would rather my first Champion came from my pack's blood, considering that it is a possibility."

"Keep in mind there are rules regarding divine blood in a Champion," Thordunn, The Tyrant, spoke up. "If they display divine power, they can not be a Champion. It would be an unfair advantage."

"I will consider it," the Wyld Lord reassured him. "However, I should warn you all that my aid in this does not mean I will always be on your side. Kulfaux was a different issue than the day-to-day concerns of the wild."

"Such is true with many of the alliances today," Halikar agreed. "Things change, it is the constant in the universe,"

"Only where I do not hold sway," Tuu pointed out, his thick arms crossed in annoyance.

"I rest my case," Shando snickered. "You're hardly ever on our side."

"Most of us wouldn't be in this room without bloodshed, if it weren't for the gravity of the situation," Izaris agreed. "Perhaps we'll make something good come out of all this though. We will have to identify a new Chaos though, now that the Demon's true colors have been shown."

"Chaos always makes itself a home," Nulaa smiled knowingly. "We will meet the new one sooner than we will like."

"Like as not. Before then, I'd like to be sure we've made sure that we won't have something like this happen again," Thordunn pointed out. "He didn't do this on his own."

"I didn't have anything to -" The Lord of Bones was shut up as Lierok reached over and deftly removed his jawbone again.

"What? He annoys me," the Dire Wolf shrugged, returning to all fours. "Besides, he's already told everybody in earshot that he didn't have anything to do with it this time."

"This time?" Saljar asked Barthaa quietly.

"He had a lot to do with The Twelve and the last great contest," she explained quietly. "Never enough for more than a sanction, but he's always involved somehow."

"The simplest means would be to write a new law into the contest," Shando said. "One that forbids a divine action in the world that is not channeled through a mortal."

"To formalize what most believed was the law anyway," Rarzyn nodded.

"It will take time to pass, but not so long that this is likely to happen again," Shando agreed.

"Perhaps include a clause that allows for direct action to counter a violation of that rule," Halikar suggested. "The Contest was never meant to allow only one to act, thanks to a loophole, while restraining the rest of us from stopping him."

"It is a ... reasonable ... clause," Sheliel agreed, along with Rarzyn and several others.

"But make it one that has little chance in resulting in another Badland or continent sinking," Tuu insisted.

"The simplest way to do that is to write it in such a way that forces any counter-attack to be one with a near-perfect probability of succeeding," Nulaa said.

"It uses overwhelming force," Halikar said it more simply. "Overwhelming precision force," he clarified. "Had we all responded to Kulfaux's resurrection and summoning, it would not have resulted in the devastation of the Godswars. We'd have destroyed him and everything else on the Plateau, but not devastated nations."

"I had been more interested in making sure that we actually punished more than just the mastermind this time," Thordunn pointed out. "It was unwise to limit our retribution to Kulfaux. It taught the lesson to not try and circumvent the rules, but it did not teach the lesson to take care that you weren't used to circumvent them," he said pointedly, looking between the Lord of Bones and Lamashtu.

"You would hold me responsible for the actions of my Champion's mate?" she raised an eyebrow. "I did nothing with this beyond blessing every single one of my Champion's kits, as I have done since I began."

"You expect us to believe that you had no idea you were 'blessing' a physical reincarnation of Kulfaux?" Thordunn challenged her. "That level of mutation requires more than your standard blessing."

"You do not know how Lamashtu's gift works," the Wyld Lord countered. "You also do not know how much of Kulfaux's rebirth was facilitated by His Champion."

"Do you?" Thordunn glared at him.

"How her gift works? Yes," the Wolf countered, matching him glare for glare. "Her cubs, or those she blesses, are touched by chaos. The raw power of the Wild, of evolution itself. Sometimes, most of the time, it works out to their benefit, at least in the wild. However, she cannot control what the outcome is, besides powerful. As for how that created Kulfaux's doppleganger ... His Champion has been working on this for how long? Kulfaux was a creature of Chaos. He could not have been born without that infusion of raw chance. However, either there was outside control in Kulfaux's rebirth - which would require Dark Kat - or it was such a miraculous chance that Lamashtu wouldn't be the one to blame for the odds coming around."

"Which is a subtle way of asking if you are willing to charge Nulaa and me with the crime," Fate spoke with a soft resonance that promised so much more. "After all, we are the only two that could influence such 'random luck' to happen on cue."

"I think it far more likely that Dark Kat arranged for the conditions, and used Lamashtu's Blessing for the spark of chaos he needed, than that two of the Lords of Order worked with the Unmade Lord of Chaos to enable his resurrection," Tamorl observed, stepping into the room. "Particularly not Fate."

"Only slightly less likely than I would be to work towards His goals," Tenoic, the patron of advanced technology, chuckled. "Can we get onto a better topic?"

"Like celebrating that we all still exist?" Sheliel grinned. "That was one hell of a war, and a glorious battle. If it is not worthy of a party, nothing is."

"We do have practically everybody here," Izaris grinned. "If somebody could help the Lord of Bones reattach his jaw while we retire to the feast hall?" she suggested.

"Must we?" Lierok looked to his Alpha even as most of the others quite happily began to leave.

"It would be polite," the Wyld Lord shrugged. "Besides, if he gets too irritating we can split him up among the rest of us if nobody else complains too much."

With that the great Dire Wolf grinned and handed the jaw back to the Lord of Bones before trotting off after his Alpha to join the celebrations, leaving the feline skeleton behind to reassemble his skull.

"Feral," Felina answered the phone in her office.

"Commander, there is a priority call for you," the officer on the other end told her, clearly very excited. "From Lt. Commander Clawson."

"Put him through," she said firmly, controlling the twisting in her gut.

"Hi Felina," Jake's tone was tired, sore, and jubilant. "Just a minute, so Callie can pick up."

"Commander Feral, Jake - good news, I hope?" Callie spoke up after a moment.

"Overall, very good news," he answered with a grin. "Dark Kat is dead, the God of Chaos was destroyed, and our casualties were fairly light."

"That's the best news I've heard in months," Callie sighed. "How bad were the casualties?" She asked, her mind on what sort of funerals they'd be looking at. At least there wouldn't be nearly as many as she'd feared.

"No one from MegaKat City," he said first. "Queen Boadicea and a couple of Khan's personal guard are the only one you might know."

"Our condolences to their families; we'll send word along to Queen Boadicea's people," Callie said. "You've got no idea how glad I am to hear this didn't get any farther than ... where are you, anyways?"

"Flying back to Tusandrin," Jake said. "Rock and I will be back in a few days, but I'd prefer to tell the Keldina myself."

"If you wish," Callie nodded. "I'm sure you're exhausted; is there anything in particular you need to relate?"

He paused, running over everything that needed to be said, and shook his head. "Just let Chance know we're both okay. I think everything else can wait for the full report when we get back."

"He'll be glad to hear it; we've been preparing for a Plan B that nobody liked very much, and he was the best candidate to be the pilot for it," Felina admitted. "Do you feel this situation warrants informing the public?" she asked him. "Those involved might want a little credit for helping out."

"Not yet at any rate," he told them. "I'm sure the public story will be worked out before we leave Tusandrin."

"Understood," Callie nodded. "Keep us informed of what's going on, if you get the chance. We'll be looking forward to seeing you again."

"I will, and it's mutual," Jake told them. "I'll see you in a few day Commander, Mayor."

"We'll see you then," Callie and Felina both promised, before hanging up.

"How'd it go?" Rock asked, sitting down next to Jake in the cockpit.

"The ladies had a plan B, no surprise, and even not knowing what it is, we're all glad it didn't happen," he smiled and leaned against his mate. "Maybe the Omega issue will settle down now to."

"That'd be nice," the tabby mused. "Makes sense, really... with Dark Kat dead and chaos sucking down the biggest Contest loss ever, it'll be a major hit. So ... think we'll be able to talk about this, when we get back?"

"At least chunks of it," Jake nodded, grateful that Ameris could handle all the flying, now that the defensive storms around Kadath had settled down at the will of it's new mistress. "I don't see this as one of those secret missions. Far too many world leaders know about it, and damn near every priest, no matter who they look to."

"Yeah, and many of 'em have no concept of black ops," Rock chuckled. "I know I'd hate to have to try and convince Kymeil to keep quiet about it. I just hope we can give Zach a little credit for his help, myself. It'd be good if the people who remember him in MKC don't just do it for what happened when he was in school."

"If anyone gets credit on this one, it's going to be Abi and Zach," Jake said firmly. "They had the most to do with Kulfaux's defeat."

"Now you know they'd both argue the point with you," Rock chuckled. "By the way, I hope you don't mind but I offered Zach a ride back home. He came with Andrea, but ... well, she's pretty out of it at the moment yet. Apparently when that chaos wave hit, she ended up seeing every possible future spiraling out for the next few months. She's still sorting out which timeline we're in, and what she can safely discard from that."

"No problem, as long as he doesn't mind hanging out with us while errands are run," Jake chuckled and stole a kiss while they came in for a landing outside the palace. "I intend to return Boadicea to her people myself, and attend her funeral. It could take a few days."

"I don't think he'll mind," Rock chuckled. "Oh, and he'd like a chance to send a message back to Karalanol. Amanda's got a receiver he can use, but he wants to let everybody know he didn't get killed. Out of curiosity, do the Karalanol have rules for how to count a battle where you were possessed by a god?"

"No different than if he did it himself," Jake smiled at him. "He'll get major credit for this one, probably more than he wants."

"Most likely, but he might feel a bit differently now," Rock mused. "There's something different about him now, I think. I think he's got a bit of confidence back, now that there's something he can do that nobody else has really figured out yet again. At least that he views as suitably important."

"Good," Jake nodded, relaxing as they set down. "It's about time he realized his own worth."

"I'm with you there. So, head back, meet Keeu and the kits, prove we're all still in one piece before she can tie you to the bed?" He teased.

"And enjoy some time as a tom before Bastet gets all in a huff about the level of damage I've done and insists on another little," he chuckled, standing as they rolled to a stop.

"Just don't get so hung up that you forget a better body for me," Ameris piped up. "This one's effective for it's job, but it's so not my style."

"We won't let him forget," Rock reassured her. "Just be glad you don't have a felinoid body in the wings, or he might not get around to it," he winked, following Jake out to the ramp where the others were already starting to disembark. He was mildly surprised at the calmness of those gathered, but one face in the crowd demanded attention before any of the others.

"Joasta," Lord Khan stepped up to her before anyone else could. "Your mate fought well, but he did not survive the battle. As we agreed, I will care for you and your litter as my own."

"Thank you, Lord Khan," the Lynx said, bowing her head. "I hope he received a measure of justice for how he grew up."

"He did," Rock told her. "And we can say with some confidence that he has found a good place, and acceptance; he was accepted into the pack of the Wyld Lord."

"That is good," she smiled. "Thank you, both."

"Dads!" a small chorus, lead by Ghunaya, rushed forward to claim Jake and Rock's attention. Keeu was not far behind them, but gave the kits first dibs. She could see that both of them were alive and well, and most of the war party had come back alive.

The crowd made way for Jake and Rock, as Khan was greeted by Ulysses and their six kits, all the same age as Jake's, and several of Khan's wives.

"Is it all over now?" Ghunaya asked Jake, hugging him tightly. "Is the creature gone?"

"Yes," he nuzzled her head. "He is gone for good this time. Made mortal and eaten by the Wyld Lord."

"Ouch," she winced. "So... those dreams won't happen?"

"No, they won't," he stroked her ears reassuringly and began to guide the family back to the quarter they had occupied since their arrival here less than three weeks ago. "It's over, Ghunaya."

"Good," she sighed in relief.

"What dreams?" Kaylinn asked, flicking her ears as they were ushered out.

"Ghunaya and I shared a nightmare when we passed near Kadath on the way to Tambron," Jake explained. "About the Demon and what he would do if he was free."

"The Demon that's always tormented you?" Kaycee asked quietly.

"Yes, Him," Jake nodded.

"But he's gone now," Keeu reminded them. "Everybody's going to be fine, and nobody's going to be hurt. And once your Dads have a new Ameris put together, we can get back on our way ... will we be paying MKC a visit, while we're at it?" She asked, looking back at them.

"Among a few other unscheduled stops," Rock nodded. "There will be Keldina and Karalanol before we go back on tour."

"Visiting friends?" Garnet asked curiously.

"Dropping some off, I suspect," Keeu said, hoping it was in one piece for most of them. A moment's thought told her she was right in one case, at least. "Zach will be going back before we go back to MKC, I imagine?"

"That's up to him, but I expect so," Jake said. "Now, how about you play with Uly's kits, so Rock, Keeu and I can celebrate that we're all still alive?"

"Stick to the kits quarters until somebody comes to get us?" Willow giggled. "I think we can do that. I have a feeling they're gonna get sent there pretty soon too."

"I'm quite sure of it," Jake winked and shooed his kits. "Especially since Ulysses got left behind. He's going to have all sorts of pent up aggression and energy to vent."

"Mmm... I'll have you know that you're the only person who'd keep me in our quarters through that show," Keeu winked as the kits left. "And I'm considering bending a few vows at that, except that I know Khan'd cream me for it."

"I think we can make it worth the loss," Rock grinned mischievously before closing the door to their quarters behind them.

"I'm sure of it," Jake grinned as he stripped down and rolled to his back on the huge bed.

"I'm gonna hold you to that," Keeu grinned back, purring deeply as she stripped down herself and straddled Jake's hips, kissing him hungrily. "You already owe me for making me worry like that."

"Better than having us distracted worrying about you," Rock murmured, nuzzling her from behind as he rubbed against her back.

"I know," she murmured, pressing back against his touch. "Not like I could've helped any as it was. I just hope it'll be safer from now on."

"With the God of Chaos gone and his Champion dead, it should," Jake moaned softly as her slick juices rubbed along his hardening cock. He reached up to fondle her breasts. "Ready to take us both at once?" he suggested lustfully. "Enjoy two tom mates while you can."

"You think Bastet's going to want you to carry another litter?" She asked, licking his cheek as she raised her tail to give Rock better access. "Not just to sire one?"

"I'm fairly sure of it," he nodded and kissed her as he sank into her sex. "Take Rock in with me?" he moaned into her ear.

"If he wants," she moaned, pressing against Jake needily. "Love you both," she whimpered.

"We love you," Rock purred in her ear as he slowly pressed his cock inside her sex with Jake's. "Gods you feel good," he moaned, sure that Eshik and Marka were giving him a little extra for fucking his first cousin's daughter.

"So good," Keeu moaned, pressing her face into Jake's chest, drinking in his scent as she milked the two cocks in her pussy. "Haven't done this... in a while," she panted.

"We will frequently, since you like it," Rock grinned, grabbing her ruff as Jake fondled and caressed her breasts and their thrusting rhythm synched.

"Definitely," Jake panted, his balls tightening already between her body and Rock's cock rubbing against his.

"Fill me, studs," she moaned, nipping one of Jake's nipples, clawing at his shoulders lightly.

"Anytime," Rock growled and thrust forward hard, feeling the twitching of Jake's cock as the lean tom came with a snarling cry, filling her body with his seed and making the tight confines even more slick as she came hard, milking them, their mixed seed squelching out around their throbbing cocks.

"Keep going?" She asked, panting hard already, but eager to go for another round.

"When have we ever stopped at one round?" Rock laughed playfully, shifting his weight so he could fondle her with one hand as he continued to thrust.

"My Lord, reports are coming in of monsters in the wilderness near the mountains," his vizier said, clearly agitated.

"Have they attacked?" the grand, battle-weary tiger looked at him.

"No, My Lord," he shook his head. "But there are many of them."

"Do not move on them unless they attack first," Khan instructed firmly. "The children of Lamashtu aided us in the battle. Unless they attack, they are to be given free passage."

"Yes, my Lord," the vizier nodded. "I will spread the word. It will be hard to convince everybody though," he pointed out.

"The Children understand," Khan said, aware of Ulysses' marginally-kept silence. "Peasants can not do much harm without our backing. Prepare to do without myself or Ulysses for several months. The world stage is being reset and I intend to be on it."

"Yes, my Lord," he nodded. "We will be able to run things here; will you be leaving instructions with your corporate holdings?"

"Yes," Khan nodded. "Now I wish to bathe and indulge myself before the funerals and politics begin."

"Of course," he nodded. "Should word be sent to the harem not to disturb you, or will you be there?"

"We will be there, eventually," he chuckled before stepping towards his quarters with Ulysses.

"I am so very glad to be back here," he sighed as they reached his quarters and he began to undress. "Things like this remind me that it's good to be alive."

"I know the feeling," Ulysses claimed a lingering kiss and pulled his mate close. "Just like I know the frustration of being left behind for the greatest battle in recorded history."

"I'm glad that you weren't there, though," Khan murmured, returning the kiss. "You've been in the line of fire often enough, in your life. This fight ... I don't know that you would have survived it. The only mortals who did had extra defenses, and not even all of them made it."

"Love, if I thought you were wrong, I would have been there," he pointed out. "It wasn't that long ago that I thought there could be no better way to go than in that battle," he said, glancing down with a sigh. "For all I have to look forward to in the next century, I still envy those who will be remembered for this. There will never be a greater legacy."

"Not for the sake of battle," Khan agreed. "But there are other legacies we can build together. Tusandrin will be taking on a new set of challenges soon, and I'm going to need you by my side."

"Never doubt I will be here for you," Ulysses murmured, enjoying the act of undressing each other and the steaming warmth of the bathing room. "If things were different ... it is tempting to hunt the last of Chaos' minions."

"If we ever get bored, I think we'll be able to take some time out to go track some of them down," Khan purred, working on his mate's belt. "For now, they'll be too busy being in chaos to be a real threat."

Ulysses rumbled, claiming Khan's mouth with his and cupping his mate's sheath and balls in his hands. "True. For now, we can enjoy our continued survival."

"However big the feast, this is my favorite way to celebrate a victory," Khan rumbled deeply, pulling Ulysses down on top of him as he went down into the cushions behind him. "Mmm ... much more comfortable than that jet of Clawson's too," he grinned.

"I'm sure," Ulysses laughed as they aligned their bodies, allowing them to rub their cocks together. "He designs for small Kats," he kissed his mate passionately, rocking his hips much like he would into a lover, but against one.

"Mmm ... we don't get enough chances to be together like this," Khan moaned, claiming Ulysses' mouth in a hungry kiss and thrusting back against his lover. "Nobody else between us."

"No one and nothing," Ulysses agreed, shuddering as their entire bodies rubbed, trapping and intensifying their arousal. "Come inside me, love," he whispered.

"Are you sure?" Khan asked him, rolling over on top of him and reaching for the nightstand, pulling some lube out of it.

"Yes," he turned his head to kiss the Tiger's chest.

"All right," Khan purred, taking some of the slick lube and spreading it over the Xanath's tight pucker. "I'll go slow," he promised, starting to work on stretching his lover out.

Ulysses dropped his head between his folded arms, moaning softly at the pleasure and willing it to wash away the mixture of panic and pain from his early experiences. He knew that Khan would make it all good, and was nothing like those who'd used him.

"Promise you'll tell me if it's too much," the Tiger rumbled, pressing against him as he gently slid a finger up into Ulysses' ass.

"I will," he promised, moaning softly in the pleasure of being stretched and prepared. Trust made this good, instead of terrifying.

"None of the ones who've hurt you are left," Khan whispered for him. "Not who'd still want to hurt you. It's just the two of us now." He slowly worked Ulysses' ass to be loose enough for a second finger, then worked it into him carefully, backing off any time his expression indicated too much pain.

It wasn't long before Ulysses was trembling in pleasure and anticipation, his body easily accepting all three fingers sliding in and out. "Sheir ... take me," he moaned deeply.

The Tiger didn't say a word, he just removed his fingers from Ulysses' ass and sank his cock into the tight, hungry orifice he'd just stretched out. He paused for a few moments, letting them both adjust, then began to thrust.

It wasn't long before Ulysses was trembling in pleasure and anticipation, his body easily accepting all three fingers sliding in and out. "Sheir ... take me," he moaned deeply.

Khan didn't need any more convincing. The Tiger pulled his fingers out of his mate, replacing them with his thick, rigid shaft, giving Ulysses just a moment to adjust before he started to thrust slowly, groaning at the blissful warmth of his lover's body.

Soon he had Ulysses scruff in his jaws and they were both breathing hard as the gray tom trembled right on the edge of coming. Khan reached down and began to stroke his lover's cock, driving him over the edge with a roar.

Soon he had Ulysses scruff in his jaws and they were both breathing hard as the gray tom trembled right on the edge of coming. Khan reached down and began to stroke his lover's cock, driving him over the edge with a roar.

"Wound up, huh?" Khan grinned around Ulysses' scruff, thrusting faster as he found his mate's prostate, working to draw out his orgasm as long as he could before they both surrendered to the pleasure.

"Thank you," Khan rumbled and nuzzled Ulysses neck as they settled down on the pillows, still united.

"Tell me about Dark Kat's fall," Ulysses asked softly.

"What about it?" Khan asked him quietly, snuggling against the smaller tom's back, wrapping his arms around him.

"How did it happen, who killed him ... if I couldn't be there, I want to at least hear the details from someone who was."

"It's actually one of the reasons I told them to let Lamashtu's children travel freely through our territory," Khan sighed. "It was Arba who killed him. My guards, Bodicea and I surprised Dark Kat in her quarters, but he still managed to kill her, my guards, and almost me. With Kulfaux there, he was at his strongest as a priest," he explained. "And Kadath is outside of Tusandrin's borders, for the purposes of divine influence."

"Which left you relatively weak," Ulysses shivered at the thought of that last moment before she'd intervened. "Why did she help us?"

"She realized that Kulfaux would likely destroy much of the world, including her children," Khan explained. "She... is twisted, to say the least, but she has a mother's heart. It pained her incredibly to have to kill her mate and one of her children to save the rest, but she knew she had to do it, all the same. It's just as well for both of us that she called a truce between us; I don't know that I'd have wanted to have to get in her way."

"Even after what she's done," he couldn't stop the growl. "I guess it's fitting that he was finally killed by a betrayal."

"I know... at the time, I didn't like it either," Khan admitted, kissing his neck gently. "But it was accept the truce, or risk facing Kulfaux with far fewer allies, and more injuries. I couldn't let what she'd done get in the way, not when she was clearly helping us."

"I didn't like it either, love," Khan murmured, kissing Ulysses' neck. "But I couldn't risk the fight, not with what was at stake. Besides... she was a mother, defending her children, at that point. The next time we meet, I won't be so forgiving."

"Good," Ulysses turned his head to kiss him. "For our kits, for saving you and the world, I guess I can forgive her for a while too."

"It doesn't have to be for long," Khan murmured into the kiss. "We'll have repaid my debt to her as soon as they're outside of Tusandrin."

"Good," he rumbled and reached back to squeeze Khan's ass. "So, a few more rounds to ourselves, or indulge in female flesh?"

"Are you kidding?" Khan chuckled. "While you're in this mood, I want you as long as you're still in it," he rumbled, nipping Ulysses' scruff and starting to thrust again.

Chance made a final adjustment to his dress grays. They hadn't been included with the order to report to the Commander, but it was typically expected, even for a Ghost, when a different uniform was not specified.

The call had Midnight in a tizzy, for all she tried to put on a brave face. She knew as well as he did that the mission he was coming in for was suicide, and that was a best-case scenario.

He tried not to think about the worst-case scenarios... though if Jake was dead, which he probably was if they were calling him in for this, it was almost guaranteed in his mind. He'd been training to fly this solo, but he knew the odds of it working were slim.

He opened the door to Felina's office and stepped in.

"Captain Furlong, reporting for duty, sir," he said, snapping off a formal salute.

"At ease," she returned the salute from her chair.

Something wasn't right. She wasn't as unhappy as she should be to send one of her officers on such a mission.

"I received word on the assault Clawson lead to Kadath," she said.

"Good news, I hope?" He asked, hoping that it might be. She wasn't serious enough for it to have been entirely bad news, particularly not considering who was in the line of fire.

"Overall, yes," Felina nodded. "Dark Kat and the god were permanently killed. Our casualties were minimal. Jake, Rock and Khan all survived."

"Only the three of them?" Chance winced. It was the three he'd wanted to survive most, but it was still a Hell of a list for 'minimal.' But, then, compared to the city....

"Most of force did," she explained. "The dead are Queen Bodicea of Keldina, two of Khan's guards and some locals who helped. You won't have to fly the mission. It's over, and our people are coming home safely."

Chance tried to fit what she was saying into what he'd been preparing himself for, and found that he just couldn't.

"Good to hear it," he managed to say after a minute. "Commander ... it's none of my business, I suppose, but what are we going to do with the gigantic magical nuke I was getting ready to haul now that we don't have a god to wipe out with it?"

"It will go into storage with the rest of the doomsday weapons," she said simply. "Smaller versions will exist for the Pastmaster and his kind."

"Understood," he nodded. "Will I be picking them up then, or will they be flying back on their own? I'm assuming there wasn't any civilian harm from the battle, since it sounded like it was a pre-emptive strike?"

"It was, and Jake indicated they'd come back on their own," she shook her head. "There are stops he said he needed to make before he returned for debriefing."

"Leave it to Jake," Chance chuckled. "'Just killed a god, I'll be in to tell you about it after I pick up the milk.'"

"While it is just like Jake, it will be after he returns Queen Bodicea's body and attends her funeral," she said. "She was a ruler, but she was also a high Priestess of Halikar, there on Jake's request."

"Understood," he said more soberly. "I hadn't meant it to belittle the actual situation. Should I report for reassignment, since the curent mission is cancelled?"

"First go home and tell your family the good news," she smiled slightly. "I'll have your new assignment ready in the morning."

"Thank you, ma'am," Chance grinned, saluting again before he turned and walked out of his office and back to his car, taking a deep, relieved breath before he pulled out his cell phone and started for home, dialing ahead to let Midnight know. For all the appeal of being there in person to receive her delight, he couldn't let her think he was going any longer than he had to.

"Raven-Furlong residence," Cody answered.

"Hey Cody - it's Dad. Let your Mom know that the mission was called off, and I'll be home in a few minutes, okay?" Chance said, relief and cheer clear in his voice. "And Jake should be back in a few days."

"Yes!" the kit cheered ecstatically. "Rock, sis and the kits too?"

"Yes, though they'll be going back out before too long, probably," Chance chuckled. "They're just coming back to handle the red tape, I think."

"I'll tell Mom," the kit grinned. "She'll be so happy."

"That's why I'm calling, kiddo. See you in a little bit, and make sure she remembers I'll need a spot at the table tonight."

"Will do," Cody promised before they hung up, leaving Chance with his thoughts on the drive home. About the battle, about missing it while Jake was there, about what he'd almost been called on to do.

He didn't like any of it, honestly. He was just glad that Dark Kat was dead, and that he wouldn't have to push that big red button. With any luck, things would be better going forward... he couldn't come up with any better way to be out of a job than to have the Omegas go away.

He made it back home, and parked next to the family van. He was all but assaulted by his family, the kits getting first dibs, though they gave way to their mother quickly.

"I thought you were about to fly away," she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him soundly.

"Mmm ... got a reprieve from the Commander," he purred, kissing him back. "Cody give you the news?"

"So did I," he purred, kissing her back and hugging her tightly. "Cody give you the good news?"

"Yes," Midnight smiled, her curvaceous body clinging to his, encouraging his arousal at her scent and touch. "Today is full of good news."

"That mean anything more than what I already knew about?" He chuckled, kissing her lightly.

She blushed, ducking her head slightly. "I didn't want to tell you when you weren't likely to come home. It did take."

"Great," he smiled warmly, tipping her face up to kiss her. "And thanks for not telling me," he admitted. "It would've made it harder to go in today. I'm just glad that I've got good news out of it. So, let's get back inside, hmm?"

"Before you get too mushy," Heather giggled and helped herd her younger siblings inside.

"Want me to handle dinner?" one of the others offered.

"If you're up to it, that sounds fine," Midnight smiled. "And your father doesn't get mushy," she teased.

"It's against regs," Chance chuckled. "We call it romantic instead."

"Whatever you call it, it belongs in your bedroom," Heather teased. "Not that I mind, mind you."

"I know you're all old enough to know what really belongs in a different room," Chance smirked as they walked in. "Anyways, let's get in and get dinner."

"Sure thing, dad," several of them piped up, the group scattering to various tasks ranging from preparing the meal to entertaining the youngest ones.

"It really over?" Midnight looked up at him.

"This? Yeah," Chance nodded. "Still not sure what the fallout will be, but it should back off on the Omegas too."

"Is Dark Kat's dead, or captured?" she asked softly, reaching up to kiss him.

"Dead, from the sound of it," he said, returning the kiss. "Well and truly, by a Champion, so he won't come back this time. We're finally safe from him again."

"For real, this time," she smiled, nuzzling his chest. "You're okay with not being there when he went down?"

"Hon, I don't have much say in it," he chuckled, kissing her head. "It's already over. I'd have liked to be there... but I'd have been in the way," he said. She could tell how hard it was to admit to it, too. "Just like the rest of Jake's Champion business."

"Maybe there won't be much more of that, with Dark Kat gone," she suggested. "He was the biggest threat like that."

"That's what I'm hoping for," Chance nodded. "What we all are, really. He also created about half the Omegas, so that's a good move. For once there shouldn't be any consequences from the good news," he chuckled.

"Except more good news, one can hope," she purred, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him again. "This is definitely worthy of a huge celebration when Jake gets here."

"Oh yeah," he grinned. "Too bad Tamera's out of the country for now; be a good chance to get her around too. We'll just have to let him take care of a few other things first."

"Mmm, maybe Jake will swing by and pick her up for a day at home to celebrate," she purred softly. "How long would it take to organize a full clan gathering?"

"If I cheat a little, I can probably get us a good chunk of the way there before Jake's back," Chance purred. "He has given us permission to use all the land while he's gone, right?"

"As if he'd object even if he was here!" she laughed, bapping him playfully on the nose. "Yes, he has, and permission to use company funds and equipment with good cause. This does qualify, if I know my brother, and your cousin."

"Good, if we need to bribe anybody to turn up on short notice we can offer them a date for the night," he teased. "I'm sure we can arrange something, the only question is if we're keeping it to family or if I need to warn somebody to bring food for hyaenodons."

"Well, I think inviting everyone would be right," she purred, snuggling up against him. "Callie, Felina, the Ghosts, Black Knights, his old friends. So yes, we're feeding the hyaenodons and andrewsarchus. Everyone who's anyone in his life."

"You realize we're going to be feeding people for a week," he teased, licking her cheek. "It's going to be a lot of phone calls, but at least I can run air-taxi for some of 'em if I have to."

"It'll be the party of a lifetime," she grinned. "And we won't be the only one. The entire world is going to celebrate the day forever. The day that mortals killed Chaos, and the end of Dark Kat."

"And there's no good reason we shouldn't have the biggest party of 'em all," Chance grinned. "Especially since the odds are there won't be too much public fanfare about it around here."

"Not until history puts it in perspective," she sighed. "It's too bad the public won't know the full extent of their heroics until it's all old history."

"Yeah, but it's probably just as well that nobody finds out we figured out a way to kill a god," Chance pointed out. "The next Dark Kat will take that approach, instead of the old-fashioned one, to taking over the world."

"Mmm ... how long before the kits should be ready with dinner?" Chance grinned, nuzzling her neck and kissing her lightly.

She sniffed the air. "At least an hour."

"Then we should have time to celebrate a bit before we need to be anywhere," he rumbled, pulling her up into his lap as they kissed.

He caressed her belly with one hand and her back with the other, while her hands ran down his chest, unbuttoning his uniform. Both their arousal was easy to smell this close, and their intense relief.

Wave Runner walked through the front treasure vault of Kadath and tried not to think of how much of the world's gold and precious stones were there, or what it could do to the world market if it was unloaded at once. Sheira wasn't the type to do that, and neither were Abi, Khan or Jake and Rock, who were getting the lion's share of what wouldn't be going to a museum somewhere. He didn't understand the breakdown of who got what percentage of what, but no one local seemed too discontent with it, and his share was far beyond his needs for a lifetime.

He couldn't hold it against Abi for not staying until he woke up and the Myradi had finally recharged. Honestly, he was beyond surprised that she was willing to spend the night with him in Kul's form, even if all they did was snuggle and pass out. He was just grateful to be wearing a form he liked, and he knew Abi appreciated the Classic Silver Tabby form he had first acquired on this world.

Now he was sure she'd be in the inner most treasure vault where the magic and finest artwork resided, along with much of the library.

He was less sure of whether or not he'd be able to distract her from what she found.

He made his way through Kadath, strangely sure of himself as he navigated the ancient corridors. He wondered just how much of Kulfaux's memory had been tied into his body, and how much of that he had now, because he knew the way as well as he imagined Saljar had.

He spared a moment to stop and offer a silent prayer for the defector, and the others who had fallen, before he moved on. He wondered what the Champions felt. So many of them would have been killed, if not for their natures. How did they feel about coming back, when others fighting alongside them couldn't?

Especially when, like Kymeil, they'd helped kill the others?

He pushed his questions aside as he heard Abi talking to herself about what she was looking at, and opened the door to the room she was in.

"I sincerely hope you're not reading aloud out of some book you found here," he chuckled.

"I learned not to do that a long time ago," she grinned at him, openly pleased to see a normal tom there. "Just dictating an inventory. I'm kind of hoping that with the war over, Jake will be willing to take head on the Seharal dig so I can stay here."

"What, you mean you're not going to moonlight on two digs, switching between them and keeping the glory of two once-in-a-career finds for yourself?" He teased, walking in and giving her a hug as she put the book back in on the shelf.

"Mmm, I considered it, but two major digs and a life?" she turned her head and kissed him. "One has to give."

"Glad to know it's one of the digs, and not the life," he purred, kissing her back. "You're still going to be the patron saint of archaeology before this is all done."

"Perhaps," she snuggled back against the solid warmth of his chest. "You have spoiled me rotten though. It wasn't that long ago that two major sites wouldn't have been a problem."

"Well, I must really rate then," he smiled, scratching her belly lightly. "Don't worry - if you ever decide you'd like another dig site, I've got a few I know of you'd love. Though this place'll probably keep you busy for a good long time, as long as we don't find out they have any remaining natives. It's a strange place though ... Myradi seems a little nervous about it, for whatever reason."

"It's heavy in magic, has been for millennia," she shrugged. "I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't from Aristal to start with, and if it is, it's old the way almost nothing on this world is."

"I'm not that worried about it," he reassured her. "Should I pick out a nice bedroom to confiscate?"

"That, or right here," she purred, rubbing into his touch. "You know I have a taste for it."

"Well, for right now, that works just fine," he purred, nuzzling her neck. "I meant for when I manage to drag you away from here. But, if you want to get a head start...." His hands drifted down towards her belt.

"I thought so," she slid her back between them to fondle his groin. "You know how much discovery and old places turn me on."

"The scary thing is, it's not the strangest kink I've seen," he rumbled. "Like this, or do you want one of my other forms now that I've got a full charge?"

"The Mouse," she purred, turning to kiss him. "And a little role-play? There's am alter in the next room, created to sacrifice virginity."

"Are you sure that's safe?" He asked her dubiously.

"It's not magical," she purred, tugging him towards the far door. "Just set up for a very hot bondage scene."

"All right then," he chuckled, shifting into his Mouse form as he followed her. "You're in a mood today, now that I'm back to normal," he grinned.

"Surviving such a battle does instill a taste for life," she grinned back before shifting to a much more demure, almost frightened persona. "I am yours, Wave Runner. To undress, bind and take as you will."

"Count yourself lucky I like this form," he rumbled, pushing her back against the altar, kissing her deeply as his tail came around to pull her belt loose as he plundered her mouth with his tongue. "I can think of many, many ways to enjoy a pretty little thing like you."

Abi shivered, enthralled by the promise. "Indulge anything you wish. I'm so hungry for your seed I can barely stand it."

He undid the rest of her clothes, sliding them off of her before pushing her back onto the altar.

"Spread your arms and legs, then. Once you're in place, I'll see that you're properly used," he rumbled deep in his chest, binding her arms backwards towards the center of the alters' pedestal, a position that thrust her chest upwards in a fine display. Her knees came next, spread wide, almost on level with her hips and a little below them. It was a position that made it nearly impossible to fuck her without rubbing her clit with every move.

By the time he bound her ankles near her hands under the altar's platform he was nearly intoxicated with her scent and desire. Her sex was glistening to the point of dripping and her whimpers almost too much for him to stand.

"You're a gorgeous sacrifice," he rumbled, kissing her, laying over her and shifting to lick at her nipples, thrust up by her position as his antennae brushed against her head.

"Please fill me," she whimpered, pressing into his touch as much as she could. "I ache."

"With pleasure," he rumbled, leaning a bit further forward... then gasping as his antennae brushed the altar, picking up the impressions of the 'sacrifices' who'd been there before. He was incredibly grateful that it hadn't been for blood sacrifices... indeed, the majority seemed to be young women on their wedding nights, giving themselves to their mates or the priests willingly. He slammed his cock deep into Abi's hungry body, losing himself in the visions and the pleasure of taking his lover.

Her cries of ecstasy, the tightening of her body in orgasm after orgasm as he filled her body with Martian Mouse seed and continued to thrust, was nearly as intense as when she'd been in heat only a few weeks before.

"Imagine Blue Heat with this," she whimpered as he suckled on a nipple. "So incredible."

"Want me to try it?" He grinned up at her. "They had a stash in a few places...."

"Ohh, y-yes!" she finally decided against her better judgment.

He thrust hard and fast, groaning as he finally poured his seed into her, then pulled out, her sex dripping with his come as he turned around and walked out, not bothering to dress.

"I'll be right back," he grinned back over his shoulder, shifting into his tabby form as he went to find the drugs.

His seed dripping from her sex dried in her fur, the cool air of the chamber making her ache inside. It was all almost too much to bear. She knew she'd beg anyone who came near to take her until she bled from it.

At this rate, Blue Heat would be redundant.

A few more agonizing moments later, and she saw motion near the door. A sleek, black figure that was all slender angles stepped in ... an Anubian Jackal she didn't remember from the trip in.

"Well, what have we here?" He rumbled, walking up to her, sheath filling out as he looked her over.

"Who?" she shifted, trying to get a better look at him. "My mate will be back soon," she said, not sure if she was telling him to leave, or to hurry up and fuck her.

"He's going to be a while," he rumbled, leaning over her and kissing her deeply, enjoying the way she responded. "More than enough time for us," he crooned, licking her chin and neck playfully as he slipped a small vial out of his palm and twisted off the lid. "Drink this."

"Mmm," she agreed, opening her mouth and closing her windpipe to keep from choking as the liquid burned down her throat. "Oh gods," she gasped as the fire of need flashed through her body, making what she had just experienced seem like nothing.

"Good girl," he grinned, slamming his canine cock into her needy, hungry sex, starting to thrust into her hard and deep as his knot slowly expanded.

"Oh yes!" Abi cried out shamelessly, sure this was one of Wave Runner's forms. "Don't stop."

"Wouldn't dream of it," he grinned, kissing her hungrily, swallowing her cries as his knot popped in and out of her sex. "How... mmm... how does my 'foil' compare to Rapier's?" He asked her teasingly as it got harder and harder to keep from tying her yet.

"He's ... um, ohhhhh ... bigger," she whimpered, squeezing down on the wonderful cock pounding into her as she came hard and long, the bindings and completely open position making it intense beyond any heat. "He never did this."

"His loss," Wave Runner grinned, thrusting in hard, tying with her and howling as he poured his seed into her desperately twitching pussy.

"Didn't want to risk kittens," she cried out sharply, her entire body screaming as it tried to tighten against it's bonds. "More! Dear gods, keep it going."

"The advantage of this being a fake heat," he groaned, grinding his pelvis against her clit as he humped her hard and fast as his knot restricted his ability to thrust very far.

"And a fake body," she whimpered, her sex trying to pull and suck his cock deeper inside her desperately hungry body. "So good."

"Now I know I'm better than a dildo," he groaned, emptying his balls into her hungry sex. "Mmm ... want me to come down, or should I cheat?"

"Cheat!" she cried, arching her body what little she could, wanting more. "Don't ever stop."

He nodded and shifted, back into his Mouse form, starting to thrust again as soon as his cock was able to.

Jake let out a small breath as he recognized Bastet's garden. For once, he knew he wasn't in trouble, and the fact made it much more relaxing.

"It is good to see you relaxed here," She smiled as She approached.

"I'm not in trouble," he shrugged. "Why did you summon me?"

"No you are not," She agreed. "You are a hero even among gods now. I called you to balance the scales. You killed many in defeating Chaos. Births are needed to make it even."

"You're not going to ask for a one-to-one exchange, are you?" Jake asked, half-joking. "Even for me, that'd take a lot of litters, and I don't think the house is up to it...."

"No," she laughed lightly. "But a large litter or two, with the sires chosen by my priestesses."

"Not Rock then, I'm guessing," he grimaced. "Do I at least get some input on the list?"

"One or two of his, but not the bulk of the litter like last time," she said. "Yes, you have some say in it. If you truly object to a sire, say so. I would appreciate if you gave them each a chance, however. I did not choose any I think you would object to."

"Good to know," he sighed. "I suppose Fela will be bringing the list by some time after we're back in MegaKat City?"

"She will introduce you, and Rock if you wish, to them," Bastet smiled slightly. "I understand you intend to raise Night Raven as your own, once Rock finishes with her?"

"She will introduce you, and Rock if you wish, to them," Bastet smiled slightly. "I understand you intend to raise Night Raven as your own, once Rock finishes with her?"

"I don't have much choice, do I?" Jake sighed. "I can't let her mother raise her, and she'll need somebody to teach her about the world. Besides... if she's bad so deep down the Rite won't get to it...."

"Yeah," he nodded, still a bit uneasy about it. "It's the world's best chance for hir not to go back to what shi was, and with hir head fixed, shi could be an asset."

"It's possible," Bastet nodded. "I only hope that the damage isn't too deep ... we've never seen what the Rite of Rebirth does to one of Lamashtu's 'blessed' children," she admitted.

"Tamorl outranks Lamashtu by a significant margin," Jake said, though he was less than positive of the outcome. "His gift should be able to overcome hers."

"It's a question of whether or not Tamorl's gift considers the twisting of Lamashtu's blessing to be 'damage,'" Bastet explained. "I believe it will, but I can't be certain yet. Tamorl isn't even sure, from what I know."

"It's not his choice?" Jake blinked in surprise.

"Not with the Ritual... they're not sent to him for manual repair, the ritual simply heals everything," Bastet explained. "Though it works on birth defects; that has been seen before. So it should work in this situation."

"If it doesn't, I'll be ready," he nodded grimly.

"Before that's an issue, why don't we handle somewhat more cheerful topics," Bastet smiled. "There are guests waiting to speak with you."

"To me?" he raised an eyebrow. "And none of them want to deck me?"

"Not who I'd let in," she chuckled. "Some do, but not the majority of them. Those who do... well, Tuu and Thordunn generally want to deck anybody who impresses some of us."

"I don't doubt it," he couldn't help but laugh. "Everybody does know that I didn't do this alone, or even did the killing?"

"Oh, they know it - but they also know that those who did wouldn't have been there if not for you," she pointed out. "The Wyld Lord is about the only person trying to claim more of the credit ... and it's been a while since he's had anything much to claim, so we humor him."

"His Pack did contribute a great deal," Jake said. "Are there any plans to give a little something to Wave Runner and Abi for their part?"

"I have a hard time imagining what we might give Abi that would rival Kadath," Bastet smiled. "However, we are considering some options. It will wait, however. They'll find their rewards in their time." She looked up as she heard a sound in the distance. "That would be Halikar, I believe," she smiled warmly, standing and turning to meet the hawk-headed warrior as he walked in, Fahik and Izaris behind him.

"You made me very proud this day," Halikar was literally glowing with pride as he clasped Jake's shoulder. "You have united the world of mortals as few have before."

"For now," Jake blushed. "I don't know that it'll last though, really... they're just glad not to have Kulfaux looming."

"It is still a major accomplishment," Sheliel grinned. "Even for the war. Your personal alliances are impressive, and you are still young."

"Even if you don't always feel it," Izaris chuckled, heading off his objection. "I hope you won't object to a token of our thanks?" She asked him easily.

"No, ma'am," Jake said with a small shake of his head. This group he trusted to give something he could put to good use for many people.

"Then allow us to give you this," Fahik said, the Caracal stepping forward and offering Jake an old book. "It is called the Codex of the Ages; a book containing lore lost during the Godswars," he explained. "It will not affect your world too strongly, but the medicinal lore progressed in far different directions than it did in the modern world."

"Thank you," Jake smiled, accepting the tome with all the respect it was due. "This will be of great use for many people."

"That is our hope," he smiled. "And now that Chaos has lost a Great Contest so decisively, it can be allowed back into the world. I hope to have all the advantages we can manage in place, before your kits are grown."

"That would be most welcome," Jake acknowledged. "Though it seems like Chaos has been around plenty, allowed or not. Can you tell me if the Omega issues will settle down soon?"

"Some," Izaris said. "Not all of them were the children of chaos, but His influence did have a great deal to do with their creation. It's reduced influence will lower the number of Omegas, and the power they have, though it will also have other effects. The metas, for example, will begin to recede."

"A fair trade, in my book," Jake said. "The majority of known metas are criminals too."

"Some," Izaris said. "Not all of them were the children of chaos, but His influence did have a great deal to do with their creation. It's reduced influence will lower the number of Omegas, and the power they have, though it will also have other effects. The metas, for example, will begin to recede."

"True," the Vixen nodded. "Just something to bear in mind; it will happen. For better or for worse ... Tuu is fuming about the change, though he'll come around. Thordunn is already looking to make advances through the world."

"I'm surprised Tuu is fuming about Chaos being vanquished," Jake raised an eyebrow.

"To listen to him, you'd almost think that Kulfaux had planned on getting killed just to force us to have to accept another Chaos," Fahik chuckled. "He doesn't like change of any sort. He's glad that Chaos is defeated - glad that he's gone - but he hates the fact that it means change. He is the embodiment of stasis, after all."

"True, which means he's never happy," Jake chuckled lightly. "Life is change, after all."

"Precisely," Izaris smiled. "One of the original mopers."

"So does anyone have any other major projects I'm expected to take part in?" Jake looked around the gathering, hoping his life would be his own now, but not expecting it.

"Major projects, no," Shando said, stepping up with Sheliel at her side. "However, we have a gift for you as well." She held up her hand, summoning a tasseled baton to it and handing it to him. "The baton of a divine marshal, in honor of your initiative and skill in leading the battle. It is time that it became a symbol of peace, as it had always been meant to be."

"It will be my honor," Jake bowed deeply to the Warrior and the Lawgiver before accepting the baton. "That is a mission I can believe in fully."

"While we do not have such gifts for you, we would like to offer our thanks as well," Rarzyn smiled, stepping forward with the Mother of Packs. "You have brought many of our own back to us, with your friend's help. You would have been quite an alpha, if you had been born a Wolf."

"Thank you Rarzyn, Tari," Jake inclined his head to them. "I have hope that the trend of cooperation will continue. It has been good for MegaKat City." he paused, glancing between Izaris, Fahik and Tenoic. "I am curious, how close is Aristal to the greatest technology level archived before?"

"You've very nearly reached it," Izaris said easily. "Aristal had reached the point of defensive satellites before, one manned space station, but never FTL technology. We've loosened restrictions on communications with the outside, which is part of how you've gotten as far as you have now."

"However, you won't be able to progress too much further," Tenoic warned him. "Aristal is going to remain on Aristal, if you catch my drift."

"I understand," Jake nodded. "No colonizing other worlds. Short of that, we can push it as far as we can?"

"Generally speaking, yes," he nodded. "The primary concern is that if our influence spreads, we'll find ourselves having to deal with more and more complicated relationships with the Contest. It's bad enough with just one world - imagine if we had the universe's deities to contend with."

Jake cocked his head slightly. "If that's the only concern, and this solar system is already off limits to the outside, would it really complicate things much to allow us to colonize this system?"

"I've made the argument," Tenoic admitted. "It's being considered, but we'll have to see what develops."

"I understand," Jake smiled at him with a bow. "Bureaucracies move in their own time."

"And in their own way," Izaris added. "If the rules change, I will let my librarians know."

"Don't expect it any time soon though," Shando cautioned them all. "There is another guest here to speak with you, but she is not allowed inside," the Lioness explained.

"Okay," Jake raised an eyebrow at his patron and was motioned towards the gate to the garden. When he stepped outside, he was rather surprised to see Lamashtu standing there.

"I'm glad they let you out to see me," the great black shewolf said respectfully. "I wished to thank you, for doing as little damage to my children as possible. You are quite a warrior, Jake Clawson."

"Thank you. They earned their treatment in aiding us," he pointed out.

"It is true, but Bastet's chosen would not have always let that stop them. It is not a one-sided dislike between us. A pity sometimes."

"I know," he admitted with a bit of a shrug. "I'm just not much on the hate thing. You never know when you'll need someone's help."

"True," she granted. "Perhaps, some day, we'll be able to arrange something less adversarial between us. I've often thought that Bastet limited herself too much by disregarding my own strengths."

"It can as easily be said that you limit yourself by rejecting her," Jake said. "Arba and I could have been friends, if she'd told me about Night Raven and hadn't fallen in with Dark Kat. Perhaps the next one will make fewer assumptions."

"By the time you met her, she had already been Dark Kat's mate for several years," Lamashtu pointed out. "As I had been Kulfaux's in the past. We shall see, however."

"You will, at least," he chuckled. "What happened between you and Bastet?"

"Civilization, really," she shrugged. "Bastet focused on birth, but civilization placed too high a value on physical and mental 'perfection.' My first followers valued their kits regardless, so long as they could survive and thrive. I was born out of that divide... the bad blood didn't come until Bastet's faithful began to paint mine as corruptors of children, and the purges began, before the first Godswar."

Jake just stared at her for a long moment, the full anger of injustice flaring brightly behind his eyes. It was her surprise that it wasn't directed at her.

"Okay, so why do your children feed into it with raids and ignoring the laws of the land they are in?" Jake asked, trying to work out a way to come to terms with this, and how to change it.

"You'd be surprised how many of them follow the laws... for a time. Those who live outside of civilization do just that - they live by their own culture and its laws. Would you blame the Karalanol for raiding? Several of their tribes harbor my children. Those who live within civilization... are you familiar with the Phantom of the Opera? The story has its basis in truth. A child with my blessing, brilliant beyond imagining, but hideous in the eyes of the people around him. Is it his fault that he was hated for his entire life?"

Jake scowled, more to himself than her. He knew he was missing something, but he couldn't figure it out right now.

"Will you have one of your ranking priests to talk with me?" he asked after a moment. "There may be less of a rift than you and Bastet think."

"I will send one," she nodded. "I will have her contact you, after you have returned."

"Thank you," Jake inclined his head to her.

Power Games 9.99: Clash of Titans

NC 17 for M/M, M/F, M/H, F/H sex
Het Level is MediumHet Smut Level is Medium
Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Medium
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is LowHerm Smut Level is Very Low

578 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Finished
Written November 1, 2008 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Karl Wolfemann

Setting: SWAT Kats

Primary Races: Kantin, Kat

Contents: Furry. Herm. Het (M/F). Slash (M/M). Alternate Universe, Angst, Children, Death, Incest (brother/sister), Incest (uncle/niece), Magic, Master/Slave (Non-Consensual), Rape (H on F), Rape (M on F), Relationship (Cross Species), Romance, Romance (Teen), Sex (BDSM), Sex (First Time), Sex (Kinky), Sex (Orgy), Sex (Pain-play), Sex (Rough), Sex (Threesome), Supernatural, Violence, Violence (Sexual), Xenophilia

Pairings: Chance Furlong/Midnight Raven, Jake Clawson/Rock Furlong, Jake Clawson/Keeu Raven, Tamera Furlong/Lyth, Kul/Night Raven, Abi Sinian/Wave Runner, many others

Blurb: With Jake and Rock's kits ten years old, the family leaves MegaKat City on a multi-year tour of Aristal, intending to visit many of the temples of both their gods. All is going well until their presence triggers Dark Kat to accelerate his plans to end the world.

Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.

Page Hit Count from November 1, 2008    1355