I would not normally enter the forest during the day, preferring the softer hues of the night. That witchy land, filled with magic so thick that you nearly wade through it.  It seems a different place bathed in sunlight. The paths turning in different directions and my feet not quite as sure of where to point. 

Ky’Elli follows me, bouncing happily as she sniffs the air, her attention caught by a rustle in the nearby brush. She tucks her wings down tight to her back and her eyes focus, the pupils going so wide that the blue is just a bright ring around the deep black. Her nostrils flare and for the first time, I notice that she actually has two sets. She crouches low and her butt gives a little wiggle just before she pounces, disappearing completely into the greenery. There is a loud rustle and then an abruptly-cut-off squeak.  The tips of Ky’Elli’s wings appear above the grass and she nearly prances back onto the path, a large squirrel held in her mouth. Her body language screams pride, her telepathic voice infused with it, “Kiri!  Look! I hunted!”

You are a powerful huntress, mikros!” Her fur stands on end with the praise, the squirrel held limp in her mouth. Her eyes glow and the lines of color along her flanks shine brightly beneath her fur. “You must eat what you kill, though.  There is balance in a predator taking prey, but the sacrifice should not be wasted.”

Ky’Elli studies me for a moment and then flips her head up. I watch in fascinated horror as the small corpse flies through the air and then falls. Her mouth opened wider than it should have been possible for it to go. She gulps and the squirrel is gone: fur, bones, and all. “There, Kiri! I ate it all! It was tasty. What was that called? It was not bacon. Bacon does not have crunchy bits. This was like bacon with crunchy bits. But not as good as bacon. Do we have any more bacon, Kiri? I like bacon very much!”

I grin in amusement as I pick my way through the forest. “We do have more bacon at home, mikros. I will make you more bacon later. What do you normally eat?”

“Meat!” Ky’Elli announces happily.

Hrm, for the safety of all, I should probably lay down some boundaries for this baby monster. She is not large now, but the way she eats, I suspect she is going to get bigger. Not to mention, those teeth could still do serious damage, even at her current size. 

“Ky’Elli, you may not hunt humans.” I send her an image of a man, a woman, and children. “These are not for hunting and eating unless I say. Do you understand?”

She tips her head. “Ok, Kiri. Not unless you say, but they look like they may be tasty.”

“No, Ky’Elli.”

“I do not think I like that word, Kiri. I do not like the word no.”

Ky’Elli and I continue to wander the woods, all the while debating what she can and cannot eat. I stop and inspect each place I detect a foreign flare of magic. Only residual power signatures remain, the potency fading with each hour, but I can still feel trails leading away from many of them. Things had definitely invaded the land last night, and I have no idea what they are or where they have gone. 

Deep in the forest, we come upon a small teardrop shaped lake. Ky’Elli immediately charges into the water. Her wings held high, as in her excitement, she stumbles and trips her way through the muddy shore. She paddles about in the shallows, her wings held against her back, her body floating so that she looks like an oddly shaped duck. The chatter in my head is constant as she asks what the shining things are beneath the water and I explain fish to her. I am unable to hold back my laughter when she dives beneath the surface and comes up with a large frog in her mouth.  Her look of pride turns to horrified surprise as the feel and taste fill her mouth. She opens her jaws and the frog falls back into the water with a plop as she rubs at her tongue with her paw. Her mental voice is loud and urgent, “Kiri!  What was that? It was horrible! It is not good meat!”

“It was a frog, mikros,” I say between bouts of giggles.

“Frogs are bad meat! I do not like frogs, Kiri. No eating frogs! You can say no to me eating frogs!”

I watch Ky’Elli as she plays in the water and then waddles her way out to me. She stretches out in the sunshine to dry off. The air is laden with the scent of sun-warmed grass and wildflowers. The warm breeze shifts and Ky’Elli’s relaxed body suddenly goes very alert. Her nostrils flare as she scents the air. She jumps to her feet and runs into the tall grass, her body disappearing and reappearing as she hops and glides her way around the lake and back into the woods. I hurriedly follow, careful to keep her in sight. “Ky’Elli! Where are you going? What do you smell?”

I catch up to her at the edge of the woods, her body nearly vibrating as she circles the area in ever widening arcs, exclaiming to me, “Kiri! This is where I came through and something else has come through after! I know these scents! It is Joren and Madec!”

I unleash my own power, searching for an element that I do not recognize. “Are they your family, mikros?”

“No, Kiri. They are of our clan, though. Joren and Madec lead our clan and are the best hunters. They are very powerful! Madec comes to see us often. I like how he smells.”

I turn to look at her, not having heard that tone in her mental voice before. I study her for a few moments as she sniffs at both the ground and the air, turning this way and that, kicking at the fallen leaves before deciding to roll in them. I smile and shake my head before returning to my own quest for information. It is not an easy task! There are things of such power in this area that I struggle to sort through the tangled strands. There are a few places that I sense unfamiliar magic, but this forest is so filled with it, it is hard to tell what is foreign, what is its own, and what has been brought in by my brethren.  These woods are nearly a living entity. With its very own arcane power and it tends to claim what enters its borders, swallowing it up and making it a part of itself. It needs the myriad beings and the energy that they bring in order to sustain itself and once it has tasted them, it holds onto them greedily. 

The sun falls in beams through the thick overhead foliage, filtering through in golden rays that spotlight the forest floor.  In one of them, I find a massive boot print, the depth of its impression letting me know that whoever left it behind is very large and heavy.  I touch the massive paw print beside it and then spread my hand out, my fingers not reaching the edges. Great! I let out the gods damned predator and his hunting cat into the world.  I should be so very proud! I hang my head in near despair, feeling Ky’Elli come up behind me and brush her wing against my back. “It is ok, Kiri.”

I turn to look over my shoulder, an idea coming to me. “Ky’Elli, can you show me an image of your home? Can you show me Deoti? Can you show me the Adralans?”

Her expression turns serious as she focuses inwards and the world abruptly shifts. I look around at the massive alien trees, dripping with vines. The forest deep and filled with secrets so thick you can almost hear the whisper of them. A riotous tangle of flowers and plants encroach upon paths that have been painstakingly carved through the dense vegetation. Spores drift through the air and the rustle of small things in the brush and the call of creatures above tell me that the land is filled with life. The canopy shadows the ground in perpetual gloom, but through the small breaks, I get a glimpse of a sky tinged purple and the remnants of a broken moon. The pieces so massive and close that it seems as if you could reach out and pluck one from above.

I stand before a tree that looks as if a giant redwood and one of the banyan trees of Earth had a baby. The bark and height of the tree reminiscent of the redwood, but the root system and branches that of the banyan. The perspective shifts and the focus becomes a deeper patch of darkness at the base of the tree. I concentrate on that deeper shadow and we are transported to the entrance of a large underground den. About fifteen small creatures like Ky’Elli frolic over the dark sandy floor. The little ones are all different colors and sport various markings, each as individual as the next. Their wings rustle and flutter and flap as they use them for balance and attempt to lift from the ground. Some of the babies have tiny horns forming between their ears that they use to headbutt each other.

Ky’Elli bounds forward, her body somersaulting as she attempts to tackle one of the hatchlings and ends up passing right through him. She sits up on her bottom, her legs sticking forward, her expression one of confusion and sadness as she watches her brothers and sisters tumble around her in play.

My attention is pulled away from the babies as one of the adults passes in front of me. I blink and instinctively take a step back. These creatures are massive. Standing at least as tall as the biggest horse, but heavier and thicker. There is an air of helpless despair and protectiveness that surrounds both the adults and they never take their eyes off of their young. The slightly smaller of the two paces the perimeter of the den. The lines of her body softly curved and delicately formed despite the enormous strength and power that she emanates. Her white fur is raised down the back of her neck and following the line of her spine. Her lip is curled in a silent snarl, exposing terrifying double fangs. Her white wings are held close to her back, the feathers dusted with an icy blue. Her tail swishes angrily, feathers flared at the base and around the spade shaped tip. Her aquamarine gaze is focused and intent on the littles that frolic across the soft sandy ground. Agitation is apparent in her every step. 

The male is the larger of the two, the angles harsher and the breadth of his body heavy with muscle. His fur is a deep auburn with black rosettes, his body nearly vibrating with rage and flames glowing deep in his eyes. He lies on a low shelf of rock towards the back of the den. He turns his head, tracking his mate, and I finally notice what my brain has been attempting to process: the impossibility of the two black horns that add to the majesty of his profile. Thick and heavy they grow forward from just inside his ears and then sweep up in graceful arcs, the surfaces studded and jagged. The Adralans resemble large cats, but in the loosest sense of the word. They are so much…more. And then it hits me and I stagger…this is what Ky’Elli will become. Oh great Chaos, I am going to need a bigger house.

Nemesis (Aisling MacKay)
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