Legends of Amacia: The Gathering Shadow

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Chapter 23: The Dream and the Claw


Hannibal and Selina slept soundly and for the second time in two days, dreamed the same dream simultaneously. In the dream, they found themselves standing on a plain of waist-deep wildflowers looking off into the distance. The plain appeared to go on without end. They looked around, and then at each other. “What is this?” Hannibal asked. “What are we doing here? This plain is just like Amelia’s mind.”

Selina shook her head, replying, “I don’t know.” They looked around in every direction, seeing that they were the only living thing on the plain. A soft breeze blew out of the northeast, causing the wildflowers to sway in the breeze. To the south rose a mountain wall. It appeared to hang there like a mirage. Abruptly, they began to walk through the flowers, which perfumed the wind with their strangely sweet scents. The pair walked and continued to watch the horizon. Hannibal picked a flower and presented it to Selina as they walked along, hand in hand. “Thank you,” Selina said gratefully as she tied it in her hair.

They went on a little farther and suddenly stopped when a high-pitched cry from above them attracted their attention. They looked up and saw a giant bird of prey circling above them. Hannibal was astonished. “That’s one huge bird. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything like it before,” he told Selina as she looked up at the circling bird.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen on like it before either,” Selina replied. “Look. Now there are two of them.” A second bird had appeared and started circling over them. It called out and the other bird answered. Hannibal and Selina began to walk on. The two giant birds continued to circle above them, following their movement. Then there was a third cry as a third bird joined the other two. Hannibal and Selina suddenly became uneasy about the situation and stopped to gaze at the birds again. The birds began to descend, slowly coming closer, showing their size. Fear began to grip Hannibal and he squeezed Selina’s hand. She also became afraid as the giant birds got closer and closer. The birds were absolutely beautiful; looking much like colossal golden eagles. As the birds circled a hundred feet above them, Hannibal and Selina’s fear suddenly evaporated.

“It’s all right,” Hannibal murmured, “They’re not going to hurt us.” Selina held on to Hannibal as they looked closely at the birds as the circled at a hundred feet over their heads. Each bird was every bit as big as Argus. They created a wind as they flapped their wings, circling, covering an area of over a half-mile diameter in their flight path. One bird shrieked and then Hannibal and Selina heard a rumbling growl from behind them.

They wheeled around to see nothing but the plain of wild flowers waving in the wind. A strong musky smell abruptly perfumed the wind. “What’s that smell?” Selina asked as a chill raced down her spine. “It smells familiar.”

“I don’t know,” Hannibal stated, “But you’re right. I remember smelling something very similar when I woke outside of the secret cave where the cave paintings were.”

One of the birds shrieked again, and again the rumbling growl echoed across the plain. Apprehension blossomed in them again as they turned toward the growl. When they turned around, they stood face to face with a saber-toothed tiger twice the size of the largest rhinoceros found in the savannahs of Africa. The cat looked at them with mild curiosity. Hannibal and Selina stood petrified with fear, not moving a muscle as the great cat pushed right up to them. It grunted and began to sniff them. “Oh…my…god,” Hannibal exclaimed softly, “…a giant smilodon!” All Hannibal could see was its eighteen-inch long upper canines that hung down like twin swords from its three-foot wide head. The longer Hannibal looked at the cat, the more familiar it seemed to him.

The bird cried out and the cat looked up at it, and then returned to examining Hannibal and Selina. It snorted and sniffed Hannibal, and then seemed to be attracted to Selina. She gripped Hannibal tightly as she tried to stifle her fear. Suddenly, Hannibal remembered the lesson with the tiger at the Temple and said to Selina, “I don’t think he’s looking for lunch, otherwise he would have eaten us already. I think we have another tiger who wants to talk.”

Selina swallowed hard and said, “But he’s so big.”

Hannibal’s fear began to melt as his courage rose. He looked into its strange ice-blue eyes as he held out his hand to the saber-toothed cat. Its curiosity rose dramatically. The cat cocked its head and moaned softly, followed by a short burst of purr. It sniffed Hannibal’s hand, and then licked it. Upon licking Hannibal’s hand, he realized where he’d seen the cat before. The cat then looked at Selina and grimaced with a guttural growl. “It’s okay, Selina,” Hannibal declared. “I think this is the same cat that got the drop on me at Xavier’s tower. He’s not here to eat us. Talk to him.”

Selina suddenly snapped out of her fear and she began to communicate with the great cat with purrs, grunts, and growls along with facial expressions. It immediately responded in kind. After a few moments of communication, Selina had conquered her fear and was standing next to the cat, stroking its fur. “Oh, you’re such a big boy, aren’t you?” Selina purred while petting it. The cat purred and allowed Hannibal to touch him. Their attention was completely on the cat.

Without warning, they found themselves surrounded with all manner of animals: from giant hares to strange antelopes, gazelles, deer, horses, giant sloths, boars, and even a few giant wolves and big cats, though the giant saber-toothed tiger was the largest animal present. The circling birds suddenly dove and landed. Hannibal and Selina looked around with amazement at the variety of animals that had surrounded them, nearly all of which were animals that had long since become extinct. The animals were friendly towards each other, Hannibal, and Selina. Not once did Hannibal and Selina notice the predators going after the animals that were usually their prey as the animals milled around them.

Hannibal looked at the giant birds with wonder. “Selina; you know these birds remind me of the owls of the desert,” he declared. “They have all the features of that breed, right down to the red mark on their breast. But the feather color is slightly different and these guys are way bigger than the ones that I’ve heard of.”

“Yes, now that you mention it, they do,” Selina agreed as she looked closely at the great birds of prey. Suddenly, a deep rumble echoed over the plain and the ground trembled. First, the giant cat turned toward the source of the rumble, and then the rest of the animals. The cat growled fiercely at the noise, and then moved toward Hannibal and Selina, butting them with his head to get their attention. “What was that?” Hannibal asked, feeling the ground trembled as the cat nudged them, pushing them away from the rumble. The great birds looked toward the noise and shrieked loudly, hurting the ears of Hannibal and Selina. The birds immediately took flight and the saber-toothed cat roared. The animals scattered in every direction, disappearing into the plain of wildflowers.

Both Hannibal and Selina felt a wind from behind them as the giant birds of prey snatched them up in their talons. Hannibal and Selina cried out in fearful surprise as the talons of the massive birds scooped them up effortlessly without cutting them. The birds cried out and the cat roared as Hannibal and Selina were born up by the birds. They clung to the bird’s feet for dear life as the birds bore them into the sky while watching the huge saber-toothed cat and the other animals vanish into the flowers of the plain. At that, they became aware of what was happening. Off in the distance to the southeast, Hannibal and Selina saw a dark pall of a cloud rising with lightning flashing through it. Underneath the cloud was an eerie orange glow.

“Where are they taking us?” Selina called out fearfully.

“I don’t know,” Hannibal answered after they realized that the birds weren’t going to hurt them. Hannibal and Selina looked down at the plain and saw a shadow creep over it. The birds went higher, allowing them greater visibility. Suddenly, they saw why the ground had trembled so: two great armies were approaching where they were standing before the rumble. One army came out from the cloud and the other approached from the opposite direction. Both of the armies were so vast the numbers couldn’t be counted. The birds began to circle in a wide pattern as the armies approached each other. There were great battle machines in the armies. The sky suddenly began to fill with strange flying machines. The birds took them higher still as the armies clashed together in a battle fit for epic. Explosions, missiles, and energy weapons of every shape and size were suddenly in use. The clashing of infantries armed with energy weapons, firearms of every imaginable type, and edged weapons added to the din. The flying machines fought in the sky. A myriad of drakens abruptly appeared out of nowhere and engaged in the fight, battling with the flying machines and those on the ground that had come from the cloud. The bird shrieked as if to call their attention to what was above them. A colossal red planet surrounded with debris loomed ominously in the eastern sky, taking up nearly a third of it. Hannibal swallowed hard when he saw it, knowing exactly what it was. The birds circled the battlefield once more. Smoke from the epic battle was so thick that the ground was not seen, only the flashes of the weaponry in the cloud of smoke.

Then the birds soared even higher and turned southeastward toward the dark ominous cloud, heading toward it at great speed. Hannibal and Selina held on tightly as the wind whipped their faces. The cloud grew in size as they approached it. Suddenly, the birds dove into the cloud and for a few moments, Hannibal and Selina choked on the burning noxious fumes of the cloud. Emerging from its bottom, they saw a bleak wasteland with endless columns of soldiers and armored weapons heading toward the battlefield they had just left. Off in the distance rose a great volcano that belched lava continuously. Rivers of lava flowed from its summit, flowing and surrounding a great city. The city was vast with many towers. The centerpiece of the city was a gargantuan Black Fortress with great tower bastions all around it. The keep of the fortress was the highest structure around, reaching almost a mile in height. The birds soared over the city in moments, and then the fortress, showing that it was carved out of a mountain and was surrounded by a terrible moat of boiling lava. A hideous pall of darkness covered the whole land. The birds banked over the fortress and Hannibal and Selina found themselves fired upon from the top of the keep. The birds banked away and soared into the sky away from the city; however, both birds were grazed by the energy weapons fired at them. They cried out in pain and fell nearly a thousand feet before regaining their wings. Hannibal and Selina shrieked as the birds fell with them, holding on for dear life, thinking that this was their last ride.

The birds found their wings and within moments, they were safely away from the city. The birds vanished in an instant and Hannibal and Selina found themselves on a hill of flowers, all alone. Off in one direction loomed a black cloud and the din of a terrible battle. Off in the opposite direction were majestic mountains. Hannibal and Selina dropped to their knees and embraced each other. “I thought we were goners when the birds were hit,” Hannibal said, relieved that they were still in one piece.

“Me too,” Selina replied.

Suddenly, the saber-toothed cat appeared again and growled, getting their attention. They turned to the cat and he looked behind him, toward the mountains. Suddenly, four people appeared, all of which were heavily armed. It also appeared they were royalty. As they approached, the cat moved and sat beside Selina and Hannibal as if it were guarding them. There were two men and two women. They approached and stopped before Hannibal and Selina. The pair looked at them and Hannibal’s jaw dropped. One of the women looked exactly like Amelia. “Princess Amelia!” Hannibal exclaimed. The one that resembled Amelia stepped forward and held out her hand to them, smiling soberly. As Hannibal was about to take her hand, the dream abruptly ended with a coronal flash of light in the direction of the battle.

Hannibal bolted upright in the bed with a cry, looking around wildly and panting heavily. Selina cried out, partially bolting upright. She looked down at the bed and moaned, covering her eyes with one hand while she held herself upright with the other. When Hannibal realized that they were still in their quarters in Kaal Bek, he slumped and covered his eyes with one hand. “Lord have mercy,” he cried, shaking his head. He heard Selina moan and turned to look. Selina sat propped up with one hand, with her back to him, trembling from head to foot. Hannibal noticed her condition and felt her mind reeling from what she had experienced. Hannibal then noticed his own condition. He too was trembling violently. Reaching out and placing a hand gently on Selina’s shoulder, he asked, “You too?”

Selina jumped at his touch, startled by the contact. With a growl, she turned roughly toward Hannibal and lashed out with her claws by instinct. He saw it coming and caught her arm, restraining her. Looking in her eyes, Hannibal noticed that she still seemed to be asleep with her eyes wide open. Selina growled again and her other arm shot out with her claws bared. Hannibal blocked the blow with his arm, a blow aimed at his face. Her claws raked his arm just below the elbow beyond the reach of the armored shirt he wore, drawing blood and causing him cry out. When she tried to strike again, Hannibal grabbed her other arm and shook her, crying urgently, “Selina, snap out of it! Wake up!” Her face suddenly lost its fierce look and she ceased to struggle. Shaking her head, she snapped to awareness and saw Hannibal’s face contorted with a mix of pain and concern.

“What happened?” Selina asked innocently. “Was I dreaming?”

Hannibal sighed and let her go; clenching the arm she had raked with her claws.

“Apparently,” Hannibal said as he held his arm to stop the blood flow.

Selina looked at his arm and asked with great concern, “How did that happen? Are you all right?”

Hannibal shook his head and said, “That must have been some dream. You thought I was the enemy there for a minute.”

Selina looked at her hand and saw the blood all over her fingers and claws. A horrified gasp escaped her lips. “Oh, no,” she cried. “I’m so sorry!” Tears welled up in her eyes and she immediately got up, hobbling to the bathroom to retrieve a washcloth as quickly as her immobilized leg would allow. Feeling much stronger than before their nap Hannibal rose and followed her into the bathroom, limping along with his splinted leg while clenching his arm. He marveled that he could walk at all after everything that had transpired.

Selina turned on the water in the sink to wet the washcloth she procured as Hannibal shuffled up to her side, dragging his immobilized leg. He could sense she felt terrible about the incident as he pulled the shredded arm of his shirt up and stuck his mangled arm under the water. Her claws had ripped into his arm nearly a quarter of an inch in depth and nearly half the length of his forearm. The water stung substantially, causing Hannibal to clench his fist, grit his teeth, and growl in pain. “Oh, Hannibal, I didn’t mean it. I’m so sorry!” she cried, hugging him as the water run over his arm. The strange healing properties of the water slowed the blood flow from the gashes in his arm, easing some of the pain. He relaxed a bit and turned to her as she wept on his shoulder.

“Don’t cry, baby. I know you didn’t mean it. It’ll be all right. Come around here,” Hannibal said gently, referring to his left arm, which was uninjured. She moved around him to his left side and Hannibal put his good arm around her, kissing her on the cheek. “I’ll be all right,” he said softly. “I just have to learn to be a little faster with you; that’s all.”

Selina stared at his arm and cried, “I don’t understand how this could have happened. We’re linked! I should have known it was you.”

“Shhh,” Hannibal cooed in her ear. “I’ll be all right. I’ve taken much worse and you know it. You were dreaming and I suspect you were dreaming the same one I was. I just woke up out of it before you did. Tell me. Were you and I in a field of wildflowers?”

Her ears twitched and perked as she looked at him with intrigue. “Yes, we were,” she replied softly. “There was this giant saber-toothed tiger and giant birds that carried us around while a colossal battle took place between two enormous armies armed with advanced energy weapons. We saw a great city and a massive active volcano. The birds were shot at and injured, and then we were on a hill with flowers. The tiger appeared again, then four people, one of which was someone that looked exactly like Princess Amelia.”

“Oh, man,” Hannibal breathed. “This is twice in two days that we have had the same dream. At least this time we didn’t get the shit beat out of us. The last thing I remember is Amelia reaching out to take my hand, and then a coronal flash from the direction of the battlefield, after which I woke in a panic. Is there anything else that you remember?” He pulled his arm from around Selina and turned off the water. The wounds were no longer gushing but just oozing. “Could I have that?” he asked her in reference to the washcloth she still clenched in her hand.

Selina immediately relinquished the washcloth and said softly, “I remember Amelia reaching out for us, and then a flash of light, followed by a concussion wave knocked us to the ground. The next thing I remember is the six of us: you, I, and the four others, which included Amelia, became surrounded by the beast-men that were about to swarm us. It was at that point that I woke and found that I had mangled your arm.” She looked down and sobbed softly.

As she spoke, Hannibal clenched the washcloth to the wound. He let her cry for a moment, and then said, “Selina, listen to me. It’s all right. I’m going to be all right. I do not fault you for what happened and I forgive you for the accident. Had I not been as fast as I was, you might have been looking into a mangled face rather than a shredded arm. You weren’t aware when it occurred hence you aren’t responsible for it. I know you didn’t mean it.” Selina stifled her tears and looked into his face, which reflected the sincerity of what he had said. She composed herself, wiping her eye with her clean hand. “That a girl. Now wash your hands. Then find me something to wrap this with,” Hannibal said gently.

Selina cleaned her claws of the flesh and blood she had ripped from Hannibal’s arm, and then dried them as Hannibal limped back to the bed, sitting down on the edge of it. He sighed as he looked down at his wounded arm, which was swelling and turning color, stinging painfully. There was a knock at the door as Selina hobbled out of the bath with a clean towel in hand.

“Come in,” Hannibal called out. Nathanael and Harry came in, followed by Arabella and Drew, who carried his doctor’s satchel. Nathanael immediately sensed something was wrong. When he saw Hannibal holding a bloody washcloth to his arm, his suspicions were confirmed. He looked at Selina and saw her face as she stumbled back to the bed and knew what had happened. “Having a bit of a problem, Hannibal?” he asked.

Hannibal nodded. “That girl of yours has some damned sharp claws,” he said with pained smile.

Nathanael chuckled and said, “Yes, she does. Let me see your arm.”

Hannibal removed the washcloth when Nathanael, Harry, Arabella, and Drew reached the bed, holding out his arm. “Whoa,” Arabella declared, “That’s a nasty laceration.” Selina remained dismayed at the incident, but composed herself enough to keep from crying as she sat next to him on the left with her hands in her lap holding the towel, looking at the floor.

“That it is,” Drew stated as he opened up his satchel. “Let me see if I have something here to treat it with.”

Harry saw the wound and cringed. “Ouch,” he chimed. “I bet that hurts like hell.”

Hannibal chuckled softly and looked at Selina, saying playfully, “Yeah. Maybe next time we play tag, we can do it without the claws.”

As Drew rummaged through his satchel, Arabella noticed Selina’s hurt look, so she sat next to Selina and put an arm around her. “It’s okay,” she told Selina. “It looks worse than it really is. He’ll live. Everyone knows you didn’t mean it.”

Nathanael squatted down and held Hannibal’s arm, examining it closely. “It looks like she got you good,” he declared. “But it didn’t get anything vital. I should have warned you about the claws.”

Hannibal smiled and put his good arm around her, saying, “I knew about the claws. I just wasn’t fast enough. I’m just going to have to be more careful.”

Nathanael smiled and turned to Drew, asking, “Do you have anything in your bag of tricks that we can patch up his arm with?”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” Drew answered, pulling out a tube of ointments and a clean bandage.

“Good,” Nathanael said pleasantly. “I’m going to check the first-aid kit to see if it’s still working on them. I know it has some potent antibiotic ointments that would be useful. I’ll be right back, Hannibal.” Hannibal nodded as Nathanael went to the nightstand where the first-aid kit from the Temple sat.

“The crystal is still lit up,” Nathanael reported, “so it must still be working on them.” He quickly opened the kit, pulled out the ointments, and closed the kit so it could continue to operate. While he got the ointments from the kit, Drew began cleaning Hannibal’s mangled arm.

“Other than this laceration, how are you feeling right now, Hannibal?” Drew asked. “Are your ribs and leg still giving you trouble since the princess used her healing trick on you?”

“I’m actually feeling pretty good right now,” Hannibal admitted. “Whatever Amelia did really helped us a lot. My leg and ribs aren’t hurting now at all, though I’m still just a bit fatigued. But it’s nothing like it was after the Emperor sucker punched us. Both of us were actually able to walk to the bathroom just before you got here without our legs giving out. It was a bit tough walking with these splints on.”

“I bet it was,” Drew chimed as Nathanael returned with the ointments. “But I’m astounded that you could put any pressure on it at all.”

“You’re not the only one,” Hannibal agreed. “But it seems between the bath, the healing kit we brought from Tiamat, and Amelia’s timely assistance, we’ve mended at a miraculous rate. The Lord is so good.”

“That He is,” Nathanael stated while smearing the ointments on Hannibal’s ripped arm. “Amelia has a potent gift for healing that made the difference. Are your injuries healed up just as good, princess?”

“Yeah,” Selina replied sullenly. “It didn’t really hurt to walk, though I did feel a little pressure on it. But it wasn’t bad at all: no real pain that I could tell.”

“That may be why the kit isn’t done,” Nathanael declared as he and Drew wrapped Hannibal’s arm in the bandage. “You both may still have a lingering problem that’s not quite resolved.”

“I could be,” Hannibal murmured. “But I won’t know about the leg until we get the splint off of it.”

“That’s why we came,” Drew declared, fastening the bandage securely. “There…that should be okay. Arabella and I were coming to examine you two to make sure.”

“In that case, get on with it,” Hannibal stated. “I can’t wait to get that splint off.”

“Could you can check out Miss Selina while I take a look at Hannibal, Dr. Bishop?” Drew requested.

“Of course,” Arabella replied. “I’m going to check out your ribs now, Selina.”

“Okay,” Selina answered, sighing glumly.

“Let me know if you feel anything,” Arabella said professionally. Selina nodded as Arabella started to prod her ribs. “Oh, my,” Arabella chimed pleasantly as she felt Selina’s ribcage. “Your ribs are healing nicely.”

Selina winced with a slight groan as Arabella pressed on the lower ribs on the left side. “I definitely felt that,” Selina moaned. “Those are still just a tad sensitive.”

“Mmmm hmmm,” Arabella murmured. “There must still be a little trauma left there. Did it hurt when you walked to the bathroom?”

“Not really,” Selina reported. “It felt just a bit sore, but not painful enough to stop me.”

“Good,” Arabella stated. “We’ll leave those ribs wrapped just a little longer…at least until that little kit finishes.”

“Sounds good,” Selina said, a smile starting to cross her lips.

“Is that a smile I see?” Arabella chimed. “That’s really good. Now let’s check your leg before we take that splint off.” Selina responded with a grunt and a wider smile.

“Now that’s what I like to see on you,” Hannibal chimed, seeing Selina smile. “Your smile is like a ray of sunshine on a dark day.” Hannibal abruptly groaned as Drew found a sensitive area on his lower right rib cage.

“You felt that?” Drew asked.

“Well, yeah,” Hannibal answered with a slightly sarcastic tone. “Didn’t you hear me groan? But it’s not nearly as bad as it was. Those ribs weren’t even bothering me until you prodded them.”

“I see,” Drew stated. “In that case, we’ll leave the wrap in place for now and check your leg. How’s Selina’s leg, Dr. Bishop?”

“Please, call me Arabella,” Arabella chided. “Selina’s leg feels okay and she says it doesn’t hurt, only feels just a bit tingly. That could be from the brace. I want to check it again after we get it off.”

“Very good,” Drew stated. “Take a scalpel from my satchel and cut her trouser leg open so you can get to the brace.”

“Yes, doctor,” Arabella stated; retrieving a scalpel from Drew satchel and proceeding to cut Selina’s pants leg open carefully.

“Feel anything, Hannibal?” Drew asked as he probed the leg.

“Nothing painful,” Hannibal stated. “It actually feels kind of strange”

“What seems strange about it?” Nathanael asked.

“I don’t know,” Hannibal stated as Drew continued the examination. “It feels warm down right in its center like the bone is hot. But it isn’t painful. Furthermore, my leg muscles are tingling in that area and my skin feels like it’s crawling. Like I said, it feels strange.”

“That is strange,” Nathanael admitted. “I suppose you’re feeling the body mending itself from the inside. Other than that, it feels fine?”

“Yep,” Hannibal reported. “It is. The only real problem I have right now is this arm. It’s stinging some.”

“The ointments will take the stinging out of it in a few minutes,” Drew stated.

“That’s good,” Hannibal murmured. “It’s a little irritating right now.”

“Maybe it’ll teach you to be more careful of Selina’s claws,” Harry stated. “She does have some wicked claws.”

“I’ll not be forgetting that any time soon,” Hannibal chimed. He cast a warm glance at Selina as Arabella started removing her leg brace. “But I forgive her. Besides, I just adore her claws. They’re so versatile.” Selina blushed as she realized Hannibal was trying to make her feel better.

“Let’s get that leg brace off, shall we?” Drew said pleasantly to Hannibal. He grabbed another scalpel from his satchel and started cutting off Hannibal’s pants leg to get at the brace.

“Nathanael,” Arabella called out. “The disks from the first-aid kit are still on Selina’s leg and in the way of removing the brace. What shall I do?”

“I’ll shut off the kit so you can move them,” Nathanael announced, walking to the kit. “When you get the brace off, we’ll put them back on the leg.”

“Right,” Arabella chimed as Nathanael opened the kit, interrupting the cycle.

“There,” Nathanael stated. “You can take the disks off now, Arabella. You might want to do the same with Hannibal, Drew.”

“Okay,” Drew stated as he finished cutting Hannibal’s pants leg open. He immediately saw the disk and gently picked them up as Arabella removed the disks from Selina’s leg at the same time. “I have them,” Drew announced, sitting the disks aside. “What about you, Arabella?”

“I got them,” Arabella stated. “You can restart the kit, Nathanael.”

Nathanael closed the kit, restarting the healing cycle. “Once we get the braces off, I’ll put them back on their legs since I know where they need to go,” he stated.

“Sure, Nathanael,” Drew replied, going to work on Hannibal’s brace. “Since you’re talking about Selina’s claws, Hannibal, how did she mangle you like that?”

“She was dreaming,” Hannibal declared as he looked at her again. “Strange as it sounds, she didn’t know it was me. I’m still trying to figure out how that was possible with our telepathic fusion.”

Nathanael rubbed the side of his face and knew there was more to it. “Did you two share dreams again?” he asked.

Hannibal sighed and nodded. “Yes, we did,” he replied, “however, this time I woke before she did. When I woke, I saw her propping herself up so I thought she was awake. I wanted to check and see if we shared the dream so I touched her and I found out the hard way that she wasn’t awake even though her eyes were wide open.”

“That’s weird,” Harry stated as a knock came to the door.

“Who is it?” Nathanael called out.

“Joshua,” Joshua answered. “May I enter?”

“Come on in, Joshua,” Hannibal replied while Drew slowly removed the splint from his leg.

Joshua came in, closing the door behind him. Immediately, he saw Hannibal’s arm wrapped in a bandage and asked, “What happened to your arm?”

“I found out first-hand how sharp Selina’s claws really are,” Hannibal announced. “It’s the price I pay for having such a beautiful tigress for a wife. I must be more careful in how I approach her, especially when she’s asleep.”

“How’d it happen?” Joshua asked as Drew finished removing the splint from Hannibal’s leg.

“Selina was dreaming and I didn’t realize it,” Hannibal reported, “When I touched her, she got me good. But it’s all right. It was an accident and the injury isn’t that bad.”

“How bad was it?” Joshua queried.

“It was a nasty laceration,” Drew answered, “But it didn’t nick anything vital and looked worse than it really was. He has five lacerations six inches long and a quarter inch deep along the face of his forearm. By time Dr. Bishop and I got here, he’d stemmed the bleeding.”

Joshua grimaced. “Damn,” he chimed, “she got you good, didn’t she?”

Hannibal nodded and he flinched as Drew pressed on his leg. “That’s still a little tender, doc,” he declared.

“The bone feels okay,” Drew stated, “so you must still have a little lingering trauma that’s still healing. You should try the leg without the splint.”

“Sure,” Hannibal stated, shuffling so he sat right on the edge of the bed. “Why don’t you show Joshua your claws, honey?”

Selina remained hesitant, not wanting to show the claws that inflicted so much damage on her lover. “Go on, Selina; show him. It’s all right.” Hannibal urged her softly.

“Before he gets up, let me put the disks back on their legs,” Nathanael stated.

“Here,” Drew replied, handing Nathanael the disks from Hannibal’s leg. He stepped aside as Nathanael replaced the disks on Hannibal’s injured leg, making him flinch each time they touched him. He then crawled on the bed and did the same with Selina once Arabella had finished examining her leg without the brace. “Are you sure they need them?” Drew asked.

“Yeah,” Nathanael stated as he finished replacing the disks on Selina’s injured leg. He crawled off the bed, adding, “It will continue the healing process until the problem is remedied. That’s the way the kit works.”

“Very well; help me get him up, Harry,” Drew ordered, taking hold of Hannibal’s arm above the laceration.

“Okay, doc,” Harry replied, taking Hannibal by the other hand. “Ready for this, Hannibal?”

“Yeah, as ready as I’ll ever be,” Hannibal stated as he looked to Selina. She gazed into his eyes with a pleading look and telepathically let him know she really didn’t want to show her claws. “It’s okay, Selina. You don’t have to show your claws if you don’t want to,” Hannibal declared with an understanding tone. “Nathanael, would you show Joshua your claws while we find out how sound my leg is?”

“Certainly,” Nathanael replied. He held out his hand to Joshua and flexed his muscles instinctively, extending his inch-and-a-half long claws.

Joshua’s eyes lit up with amazement. “Man. Those are some wicked claws,” he commented as Nathanael relaxed, retracting his claws.

“Those claws are razor sharp too,” Hannibal said as Harry and Drew lifted him to his feet. “Selina doesn’t have as large a set of claws as Nathanael, but they’re still formidable at about an inch long. Okay, guys, let’s see how well the leg is going to hold up. Let me stand on my own.” Drew and Harry slowly let Hannibal go, shadowing him as he stood solidly on his injured leg.

“Geeze,” Joshua said. “After seeing those claws, I definitely don’t want to be on their bad side.”

“That’s an understatement,” Harry said. “Those claws can kill very effectively. I’ve seen them in action back at the Temple when we’d go hunting.”

“Try walking, son,” Nathanael ordered Hannibal.

“Here we go,” Hannibal announced. “I was able to walk on it with the brace. Now let’s see if I can do without it.” Hannibal took a step and faltered a bit when he put his full weight on the leg. Harry, Drew, and Nathanael started to catch Hannibal, but he shooed their assistance away when he caught himself. “I got this,” he insisted. Slowly, he began limping around the room without any help.

“You still have a nasty limp there, bud,” Harry stated.

“It’s to be expected,” Hannibal answered as he finished his little circuit of the room. Sitting on the edge of the bed with a sigh, he added, “The break must have been really bad. Despite all the help I’ve received, it’s still just a bit sensitive. Give me a cane and I’ll be all right. You hear that, Emperor? You can’t take me down that easily!” Hannibal shook his fist in the air in defiance of the Emperor.

Joshua chuckled. “You’re really a piece of work, Hannibal,” he chimed. “You just refuse to be beaten. I’m impressed.”

“I’m stubborn that way,” Hannibal admitted. “But I am very thankful for all the help I received and thank the Lord for healing me and Selina so quickly. By the way, is it time for the meeting yet? Is that why you’re here?”

Joshua shook his head and replied, “No, I was just in the neighborhood so I just thought I’d check on you and Miss Selina to see if everything was all right.”

“That’s thoughtful of you,” Hannibal said. “How much longer is it before the meeting?”

“It’ll be at least three more hours,” Joshua stated. “Some of the people are starting to arrive. It’ll be a little while before everyone shows. I’ll let you know when to come.”

“Okay Joshua,” Hannibal chimed. “We’ll see you later then.”

Joshua nodded and turned to leave, walking to the door. He briefly stopped and turned to Hannibal and Selina. Noticing Selina’s downcast look, Joshua chimed, “Chin up, girl. You didn’t kill him. Just think of it as a love scratch. Besides, it’ll go great with all those other scars he has.” Hannibal chuckled and saw Selina smile as she shuffled to his side without the leg brace on. Joshua walked away, closing the door behind him.

Nathanael stood before them, and then squatted down in front of Selina, lifting her chin with his hand so he could look her in the eye. “Selina,” Nathanael said gently. “I know you feel awful about clawing Hannibal’s arm. Don’t let it get you down. You didn’t hurt him on purpose and you didn’t hurt him all that seriously. He’s a tough old cat. He can take it. He’ll be all right. How about you; are you going to be all right?”

Selina looked into her father’s eyes with tears welling up again and she threw her arms around his neck sobbing, “Oh, dad! How could I have hurt him? He is my whole universe.”

Nathanael wrapped his huge arms around her, consoling her. “Shhh. It’s all right, princess,” he purred. “He still loves you.” He pushed her back and handed her to Hannibal, who wrapped his arms around her, pulled her in, and let her cry on his shoulder.

“It’s okay, princess,” Hannibal cooed as Nathanael, Harry, Drew, and Arabella watched. “I still love you. Like Joshua said, it’s just a love scratch. Besides, now I have a set of scars that will always remind me of you and your love for me.”

Selina suddenly broke out laughing. “If that’s a love scratch, then I’d hate to see what they’d look like if I hated your guts,” she chimed, suddenly realizing he didn’t fault her for the accident.

“You’d probably being using his guts for garters,” Harry replied.

“He’s right,” Hannibal agreed. “I wouldn’t have a scar like that because you’d have killed me. But I know you’d never do that. You’re my kindred spirit and soul mate. Now why don’t you try that leg out?”

“Okay,” Selina stated. “I guess I’d better try it. Dad, Arabella, help me out.”

“You got it,” Arabella stated. In moments, Nathanael and Arabella helped Selina stand and followed her around the room as she too limped on a still healing leg.

“The leg is still just a bit off,” Selina commented as she stopped at her dresser and leaned on it for a moment. “But I’m thrilled that I’m walking at all.”

“So am I,” Arabella stated. “Both yours and Hannibal’s recoveries are miraculously quick.”

“Can you get us a couple of canes, Drew?” Hannibal requested. “I can see Selina has as much a limp as I do. A cane will make moving around much easier.”

“Of course,” Drew replied. “I suggest you make use of the bath a few more times too. It should help finish the healing process.”

“You read my mind, Drew,” Hannibal stated. “I planned on doing just that before going to bed tonight.”

“Good; I’ll have the canes brought by before you go to the meeting,” Drew answered as Selina made it back to the bed with little trouble. “It’s so good to see you and Miss Selina on the mend so quickly. I thank the Ancient of Days for the mercy He granted you.”

“Amen to that,” Hannibal agreed wholeheartedly.

“We’ll leave you two to get some more rest now,” Drew stated as he gathered up his tools and the remains of the braces. “Take your ease and relax.”

“Drew is right. Come on Harry…Arabella. Let’s go,” Nathanael ordered. They left the room following Drew, closing the door behind them.

“Alone at last,” Hannibal chimed as he put his arm around Selina. “I thought they’d never leave.”

“Me too,” Selina admitted. “But I’m glad they took that leg brace off. It was itching something terrible and starting to make my leg go numb.”

“Same here,” Hannibal replied. He looked deep into Selina’s eyes and kissed her ever so gently on the lips as she put her arm around him. When the kiss ended, a dreamy smile plastered Selina’s face. “Are you still upset that you clawed me?” he asked.

“Some,” Selina admitted. “I still can’t understand how I didn’t know it was you.”

A sobering thought entered Hannibal’s mind as Selina spoke. “I think I know,” Hannibal answered.

“How?” Selina asked intensely.

“The Black Prince and the darkness he spawns,” Hannibal declared. “Somehow, he was able to cast a shadow between us so you didn’t see me. It’s the only explanation.”

“Oh, dear,” Selina moaned, becoming fearful. “I never thought of that. Can he do such a thing?”

“We’re in his domain, Selina,” Hannibal reminded her. “He can do what he pleases. But we must be strong and strengthen our connection so he cannot do it again.”

“How can we do that?” Selina queried.

Hannibal smiled warmly and kissed her on the lips. “I think you know how,” he answered with a sultry smile as he drew her to the middle of the bed. “Sleep with me, princess. I’m exhausted.”

“Me too,” Selina purred as she and Hannibal laid down together, arm in arm. Hannibal stroked her gently as she purred for him. In minutes, they fell sound asleep.

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