The run to the Panthera Kingdom was something that I didn’t realise I needed until we set off. I forgot how exhilarating it was to shift into my wolf and tear through the forest, without a worry in the world. Obi, however, made me miss my panther even more. I was jealous, watching him leap from tree to tree, hardly ever needing to set his feet on the forest floor.
A couple of times during the run I tried to tap into my panther, hoping maybe she would allow me to shift, but instead I was just met with the invisible wall in my subconscious that pushed me back.
After about three hours, Obi leapt from one of the trees and landed in front of me, forcing me to stop in my tracks. We must have been close.
The panther shifted back into his human form and I did the same.
“We’re nearly there. Chuck some clothes on, we’ll walk the rest of the way” Obi said as he grabbed the bag from around his neck and put his clothes back on.
I followed suit and slipped on a nice red summer dress with large wooden buttons down the front and some brown sandals. I noticed Obi grinning at me.
“What?” I said.
“You look beautiful, Luna. They’re going to love you”
I felt my cheeks redden, slightly thrown by Obi’s compliment. I was used to being showered in compliments and flattery by Jayce, but hearing it from someone else was nice, if not a tad uncomfortable.
We walked for a few hundred metres before I felt a strange pull, like an energy, drawing me towards it. I closed my eyes, letting it wash over me.
“Well there ya go” Obi murmured next to me.
I opened my eyes, looking at him.
“We are here...but you already knew that. Didn’t you?”
“I can feel the energy...or power. But where is it?”
I looked around, all I could see was the vast forest surrounding us. Nothing but trees and shrubs.
“Look past what you know. Instead look for what you feel. That power...visualise it, allow it to manifest”
I nodded, closing my eyes again. I breathed in deeply and allowed the power to reveal itself in my mind. It was beautiful, warm, colourful...sweet. I felt it surround my body, snaking around my arms and legs, between my fingers, into my lungs.
“I feel it, it’s almost hypnotic” I hummed.
I heard Obi laugh.
“Open your eyes Quinn”
I did as Obi said and my heart almost stopped at the sight that greeted me. I let out a gasp, my hand moving to cover my mouth.
“Welcome to The Panthera Kingdom”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Gone was the forest that once surrounded me and in its place was one of the most breathtaking landscapes I had ever seen.
Panthera was a tropical paradise. Palm trees, lush green grass, colourful birds. The sound of a nearby waterfall caressed my ears and the humidity left a soft sheen of moisture on my skin.
I inhaled, allowing my lungs to devour the warm, damp air. The smell of recent rain tickled my nostrils but also the smell of something...sweet.
“It’s amazing” I breathed, turning around to take everything in.
“It is. To the left is jungle, to the right is beach. Straight ahead is where you’ll find the palace and village and over there” Obi said, pointing to a space hidden by trees, “is where we grow and harvest sugar cane”
That explained the sweetness in the air.
“That’s Panthera’s trade?” I asked.
“Sugar, syrup...honey too. We are a very sweet bunch” he answered with a wink.
“Speak for yourself”
I turned around quickly at the familiar voice behind me.
I grinned like a Cheshire Cat at the sight of her. We had barely spent more than a few hours together but she felt like family. With all that we had been through, we would always be connected.
Onyx returned my grin and wrapped her arms around me.
“It’s so good to see you again Quinn. I can’t believe you’re actually here”
Onyx released me and stood back, looking me up and down.
“You look beautiful! A true Luna”
“As do you...princess”
Onyx grimaced, giving me her best ‘you got me’ look. She actually didn’t look much different from the night I met her. Big, beautiful doe eyes, pitch black silky hair that sat in a bob, just below her ears. Her skin like porcelain but now with the slightest hint of colour and thankfully no longer looking deathly skinny.
“Yeah, sorry I didn’t tell you about the whole princess thing. I couldn’t risk someone finding out and using me to get to my people. I’m sure you understand”
I understood completely.
“No need to explain yourself. I get it”
Onyx took my hand in her tiny palm and squeezed it hard. Her eyes took on a look of desperation, like she was pleading with me before she even asked her question.
“Quinn....” she started, her voice tiny.
Obi placed his hand gently on Onyx’s back, sensing her pain.
“I hope you don’t mind, Nyx, but I sort of already told Quinn why you invited her here”
Onyx’s eyes widened, looking at her friend then back to me.
“And you still came?” She asked, shocked.
“Of course! If your people are even slightly interested in bridging the gap between panthers and wolves...then I’m in”
Onyx squealed. Jumping up and down like a kid at Christmas. Then she stopped.
“What about Jayce though?”
I shrugged. I’m sure he would be all for the idea too. He was a forward thinking Alpha, I’m sure I could convince him that it was the right thing to do.
“What about Jayce?” I asked.
“He’s ok with it?”
“Well...” I mumbled, looking down at my feet, “I kind of didn’t tell him yet”
“So, if you didn’t tell him, then what does he think your doing here?”
I bit my lip and looked back up at Onyx.
“He doesn’t know you’re here?!” She squeaked, “Where did you tell him you were going?”
I didn’t say anything. Obi cleared his throat.
“The Alpha wasn’t there when I invited her”
Onyx’s jaw dropped. Shit, maybe I hadn’t done the right thing. Maybe I should have waited to tell him. He would definitely be pissed and I’d left poor Cameron there to cop the wrath.
“Well. Ok” Onyx looked slightly uncomfortable, “you’re here now...so, care to meet the King and Queen?”
The palace was breathtaking. I didn’t know what I expected, but I certainly didn’t expect this. The building itself was situated in the centre of the Panthera village. It was made from all different kinds of marble and stone.
Onyx had explained that not only did Panthera deal in sugar and honey, but also in gems and precious stones. That had been one reason why the kingdom had to be cloaked and moved, not only to protect its people; but also it’s commodities.
I looked up at the high ceiling of the main foyer, it was held up by white marble pillars that towered above us. The ceiling itself sparkled in a sea of various gems and crystals. Everywhere the light hit was a different colour and every different colour cast its own unique rainbow to the stone floor below.
“Pretty amazing isn’t it?” Obi said.
I nodded. Onyx had entered a room in front of us, where she said her parents were. The room was blocked off by large double doors that looked like they would be impossibly heavy to open. Outside the doors stood two guards. They were in their panther forms, sitting proudly, not moving an inch. If I hadn’t know better I would have thought them to be statues.
“She’s been in there a while” I said after a couple of minutes.
Obi was just about to open his mouth when the doors started to open. I placed my hand over my stomach as it backflipped. I wasn’t nervous before, but now I was shitting myself.
“Just follow me. You’ll be fine. They’re good people”
I swallowed. My mouth was impossibly dry. I walked behind Obi as we entered the room.
We were legitimately in a throne room. I had to stop myself from gasping. In the middle of the room was a large stone table with flecks of ruby and emerald within. The table would have seated fifty people comfortably. The chairs surrounding it were made from a deep red wood. Behind the table, on a raised marble platform, were four thrones, encrusted in a stunning array of multicoloured gems. Two large thrones sat in the middle and a smaller one off to each side. In the middle two thrones sat a man and a woman and on one of the smaller thrones sat Onyx.
I held my head high, the only sound to be heard was the soft tap of my sandals as I approached the thrones. I didn’t know where to look. Do I make eye contact with them? Is that rude? Is it rude to not look at them? Shit. I chose to just look at the floor near their feet.
I reached the lip of the marble platform and stopped. No one said a word. Every second that I stood there felt like a minute. Every minute felt like an hour. Was anyone going to speak?
Fuck it, I’ll just look at them.
I raised my eyes slowly until they locked with the Queen. She was beautiful. Not just a standard level of beauty but an old style beauty, a classic beauty. Her skin was like ivory, a stunning contrast against her jet black hair. Her hair was completely straight and fell over her shoulders, with a sharp fringe that stopped just above her perfect brows. Her eyes, they locked me in, held me to where I was standing. They were green like the emeralds in her throne and stood out more due to the deep shade of red on her lips and the green, long sleeved gown that hugged her body.
She smiled at me.
“For a minute there I thought you weren’t going to look at us at all” she said in a warm tone, “My name is Astrid, Queen of The Panthera Kingdom”
I bowed my head slightly.
“My name is Quinn. Luna of the Fern Creek wolf pack” I answered. Thankfully my voice didn’t shake like I thought it would. Why was I so bloody nervous?
“We know who you are”
I turned to the King. He had dark curly hair and black eyes, just like his daughter’s. His skin was sun kissed, as if he spent his days working outside, although I highly doubted it.
“I am King Magnus. Our daughter” he said, gesturing towards Onyx, “told us all about the Luna that saved her life. the Luna that was not only a wolf but a bear and panther also”
I glanced over to Onyx. She smiled at me, making me relax somewhat.
“What she didn’t tell us” the Queen added, “was that she had invited you here, to The Panthera Kingdom, without our knowledge or consent”
I glanced over to Onyx again. She was staring at her hands, fiddling nervously with a ring on her finger.
“If I’m not welcome then I can leave. Neither I nor your daughter meant for any disrespect” I said.
The King and Queen exchanged looks and the Queen stood up, walking towards me. Even the way she moved was glamorous, her long gown making it look like she was floating along the marble floor. The Queen stepped off the platform, standing directly in front of me.
“I said that Onyx invited you without our knowledge or consent” she said, a faint smile playing on her lips, “if she had asked us we would have said yes and we would have at least had time to plan a proper welcome for the Luna that saved our princess’s life”
I let out a deep breath that I didn’t know I’d been holding. What a relief! The Queen laughed and took another step towards me, wrapping her arms around my body in a warm hug. Without giving it a second thought I returned her hug, my arms circling her body. I closed my eyes, I felt like I was a child again, getting a hug from my mother...or the one that raised me.
The Queen released me and took a step back, looking me up and down.
“You are a gorgeous Luna, very pretty indeed. We shall have a dinner tonight in your honour. Onyx will get you something to wear”
“Oh, that’s lonely but that won’t be necessary. You don’t have to go out of the way for me. With all do respect, your highness-”
“Astrid” the Queen interrupted.
“Astrid...with all do respect, I would like to keep my being here on the down low. As lovely as a dinner sounds, I just don’t think it would be a good idea”
“Nonsense” the King jumped in.
“A small dinner will do no harm. We’ll hear nothing more of it. Onyx!” The King clicked his fingers and pointed to me.
Onyx jumped up straight away and stood at my side. Astrid gave her daughter a loving kiss on the forehead.
“Darling. Take Quinn to a guest room, find her something beautiful to wear”
Onyx nodded and grabbed my hand. Her face lit up like Christmas. Suddenly I felt like I was going to be her dress-up doll for the afternoon, something that didn’t interest me in the slightest.