A Lover's Sense
They were oblivious to the hot earth under their coarse paws. A strip of a moon rose cooling sand that could’ve burnt them without their notice. Trees broke the span of dry land. Gloomy shadows against the backdrop of the Sourthern Vale’s perpetual fog.
Cimmerii Nonis, rodents. He groaned at the awful odor of them...
Lumbering in the borders of Phalanx Forest told him there were bigger things there. A glimpse of the elongated snout and lumbering head told him what they were.
Targue. The ugly demonic dogs were half the size of horses.
Threading through the shadows they watched through glimmering yellow orange eyes. Highly aggressive the larger Targue were far more dangerous than the rodents. But better then crossing paths with a Sarabi. Still, the Targue’s disconnected jaws and raptor claws were designed for shredding human flesh.
The things of nightmares.
As Deragan dodged several swiping claws his wings began unfurling from under the skin of his back. Pushing silver fur off to splay and carry him up.
Landing heavily on the back of one, he tore into the chords at the base of its skull. With a ferocious snarl. Balancing precariously as it tipped sideways. Flying off before it could crunch him. Dropping to all four he wound his wings tightly before pulling them into his fur in a hump that inevitably smoothed beneath his fur coat.
An orange-eyed Noni stepped in his path.
Jerking forward he snatched it between his teeth and shook furiously until he heard the crack of its back. Growling he pitched it aside.
Radix Malorum, master of the Cimmerii, knows Forever Knights are back in Meadowbrook now. Their telepathic link would’ve alerted him.
Evading snapping Sarabi jaws Deragan jumped a Noni pack and landed in the trees...beyond the Cimmerii line. Ensconcing himself safely within the depths of Phalanx Forest. The dense forestry crested around Meadowbrook in a half-moon cradling the small town.
Behind him branches crashed. Spinning quickly, he bared his teeth.
Tearing out the throat of a giant Targue, Bast leapt agilely aside uttering a feline roar, as the beast fell. Already the tormented Targue was returning to the form of a dying man. Wheezing through a gaping neck. He jerked several times before his eyes glassed and he stilled.
Hopping a log Bast gave another feral scream before proceeding toward town. Deragan behind him.
Even as the distance between them stretched, Deragan heard snarling Forever Knights fighting Cimmerii ranks.
They won’t let any Cimmerii follow me. His gaze steadied on the panther ahead.
Meadowbrook, Grier Country
The heart of Meadowbrook was a circular drive embracing a steepled church. Complete with long-forgotten bell. New paint was a vivid splash against pitch darkness. Awash with the scent of needle trees and dewy early evening, the town was silent. Brushing through the leaves of low branches to make them softly whisper over Deragan’s fur. Dampening him.
He hardly noticed.
His focus is her. He barely sees anything else. Bast knew.
In a night overshadowed by towering treetops, all starlight was blocked. Not even a dim glimmer of moonlight dared peer. Street candles cast a pale glow over dark cobbles on eerily abandoned roads. Only a few yards from the border of trees, and to the left was the park where Bast spotted her.
Glowing like a halo. Bast led to where the woods broke into manicured lawns bearing colored play structures for children and a stretch of flowers. A village park.
Glancing back over his shoulder he eyed the distance to where the Cimmerii had lurked. So close…Children probably played here. It was a terrifying thought.
Lowering to his belly behind a group of ferns Bast took to licking his shoulders and front legs. An attempt to cleanse himself of water, mud and darker things. Across the lonely street Deragan paused to eye the house Bast indicated.
Leaning prominently over a weakening foundation the structure looked condemnable. Blue paint since faded to gray. Peeling in narrow strips. Twin weeping willows stood sentry on each side, similar to every house on the block. But these two leaned toward each other as if to hide their shame. From behind the house Deragan glimpsed a haphazard pile of cast-off boards and straw from the roof.
He eyed it askance. It needs burned to the ground. It’s not safe for anyone.
Circling, he checked for Cimmerii. Rounding the back of the house, he found Rhyers already leaned over, carefully inspecting for Cimmerii tracks.
Deragan sniffed, catching only the faint scents of wet dirt, trees and the lingering aroma of vanilla perfume. Vanilla. Her favorite since the 1500s.
Heading back to the front he saw candlelight flood the yard from a window on the second level. Powder blue curtains moved. He ducked behind a weeping willow as the sheen of a white face appeared.
Thunder crackled as a choked sound escaped Deragan’s throat. The painted image on the stronghold window returned to his mind.
A porcelain face surrounded by silver-blonde hair. Gorgeous lavender-blue eyes. Blinking from a face as flawless as portrayed.
Now she stared out the window. Searching.
She feels me. Deragan swallowed. Trying hard not to think about how long it had been.
Still standing back in the park, Bast’s brows lifted as he met Deragan’s stunned look.
Glancing back up, Deragan saw the curtain wave slightly and was disappointed she’d gone so quickly.
When a candle lit on the lower level, both men immersed in darkness.
She flew to the window.
Heavy clouds unleashed a vicious torrent. Thunder snapped like a whip.
Virtually oblivious, Deragan was mesmerized by the girl.