I had taken to bringing Ky’Elli to the woods. Not only was she young and like all young had the energy of a thousand suns, but I could feel her unrest at being surrounded by walls. She thrived in the open air and drank in the magic of Olympus forest.
Ky’Elli would prowl her way along paths, hunting, pouncing, and rolling in the grass. She climbed the trees, her sharp claws digging deep into hard bark, and perched high above the ground, her unearthly eyes surveying the surrounding land: a goddess in her own right. Spreading her wings wide and flapping hard, she looked like a baby bird at the edge of its nest, strengthening the muscles of her chest and back, her talons holding her tight to the branch. She would release her grip and half glide, half fall to the ground. Her instincts were pushing her to hone inherent skills.
I wandered through the forest, keeping a light watch on her through our bond. She was very fierce and had her own unique defenses, but she was still young and small. My mind sifted through thoughts, and I let them come and then let them go, my own sort of moving meditation.
Ky’Elli’s excitement alerted me to a change, a small yip of alarm, and then a rustle. I figured that as she had in the past, she had found and killed her prey. Ky’Elli emerged silently onto the path, and my eyes widened.
Her trilling voice filled my mind, “Kiri! Look what I found! It is different! I hunted it. I am going to eat it!”
I do not know why she had not killed the small creature outright. Typically, she is fast and efficient in her kills. The big dark eyes of the tiny beast looked at me in panic and terror, its body twisting, the back of its head trapped in Ky’Elli’s mouth. It yipped in desperation, unable to free itself.
“Ky’Elli! No! Drop that!.” She froze and looked at me in surprise. I felt her reluctance to release her prey. “Ky’Elli, drop it now! That is not your food.”
She slowly lowered the small animal to the ground and released its head from her mouth, but not before placing a paw onto its tail to hold it in place. The little fox looked up at me, its large black-tipped ears flicking back and forth and its tiny feet scrambling at the forest floor. Its auburn fur was matted and soaked with saliva, and its small sides heaved as it panted in panic. Ky’Elli looked at the kit and then back at me, her expression and mood one of disgusted annoyance.
“Kiri, I dislike the word no. It is not a fun word.”
“I know, mikros, but this is not for eating today.”
“It is not a human, Kiri. This looks nothing like a human. You only said, no humans.”
“I know Elli, but this is not something I want you to eat. It is young, and we have to be careful about eating young animals. If we eat the young, then they can not grow and have new young.”
Ky’Elli looked at me, skeptical and still somewhat disgusted with my views. I walked towards her, and she let out a small hiss as I approached, not wanting me to take her prey. I tapped her lightly on the nose.
“I know that you are angry with me, mikros. But you may not eat this creature.”
I bent and gathered up the small shaking body, wrapping the drool-soaked kit into my scarf. I stepped into the brush, hoping to find a den or a sign of where this little one belonged.
“Ky’Elli, where did you find him?” She reluctantly showed me, but there was no indication of any other fox nearby.
“He is alone, Kiri. He would not survive on his own. Does that mean I can eat him?”
“No, Elli. No eating him.” I tucked the fox into my pocket and then bent to pick up my outraged baby monster. “Come on, you. Let’s go home. I will make you some bacon instead.”
Ky’Elli grumbled and grumped as I teleported us all back to the God Complex. Inside, I set Ky’Elli down, and she stalked imperiously towards the kitchen, her entire demeanor one of annoyance. I sighed and followed her in, settling the baby fox into a deep box on the counter and prepared the bacon. Ky’Elli faced away from me but kept a very close eye on the box. I could hear the calculation going on in her mind.
“Ky’Elli,” I admonished.
She bared her fangs at me over her shoulder and went back to her watchful sulking. While the bacon cooked, I cleaned up the baby fox. I gave him a quick bath, drying, and brushing him until he resembled a very fluffy Pomeranian: his big eyes dark and liquid as he surveyed me and his environment. I did not know what I was going to do with this little guy, but he was undoubtedly adorable.
Ky’Elli’s mood improved some after a pound of bacon and some peppermints, but she was still grumbling in my head as I gathered up the box and took it into the bedroom so I could shower. Ky’Elli skulked behind, her irritation a dark cloud and the bright lines beneath her fur pulsing dully.
I kept the kit close over the next few days and watched Ky’Elli constantly. It was not an easy task. Every time the little fox’s feet hit the ground, he went in search of her. He would shadow her every step, climb on her if she was lying down, nip at her feathers, and pounce on her tail. Each time he came after her, she would turn and give me a look of such annoyed outrage that I could almost hear the implied, “You should have let me eat him. He is the most annoying creature on the planet.”
He simply worshipped her and did all he could to imitate her at every turn. If she was hunting, he hunted, most often than not, scaring away her prey. If she climbed a tree, he did his best to follow, usually making it much higher than I would have thought possible. One night he found the box of holiday decorations and tightly bound both himself and her up in the Christmas lights, or the ‘evil thorn vine’ as Ky’Elli called them. More than once, she grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and tossed him unceremoniously at my feet.
Three weeks passed, and I took them back to the forest. Ky’Elli still begrudged the little fox his every breath but had ceased trying to eat him. She had settled into a resigned acceptance with bouts of annoyance and anger.
Ky’Elli climbed a tree, and the kit was jumping and scrambling at the bark, trying to get to her. She was studiously pretending that he did not exist. He finally admitted defeat, taking up a sentinel position on a large rock. He looked up at her and then copied her body posture, his head held high as he looked out over the forest floor.
I settled on my own fallen log nearby, letting the two of them enjoy the chill gray day. I glanced up as Ky’Elli left her perch, half tumbling to the ground, but managing to slow her descent with widespread wings. She landed hard but kept her feet under her, settling her wings against her back with an air of pride.
She disappeared into the foliage, and I went back to my book. The frisson of awareness hit me just before the low baby growl-hiss of the fox whispered in the air. I snapped to my feet and went quiet, my power slipping from me to investigate. I saw a dark shape slam into the brush. Ky’Elli’s frightened and startled shriek broke the peace of the forest. I cringed as the sound hit me on both the mental and physical planes.
I was moving before I registered what the danger was. The kit had disappeared from the rock, and I spared a moment to hope that he was safe. I broke through the branches to see Ky’Elli backed against the trunk of a large tree, her wings held tightly to her back, and her thin sickle teeth on display. Her eyes glowed a hot blue, and her runes shone brightly over her body. Dark liquid dripped from a wound on her side, matting her fur. The promise of what she would one day become was clear, but right now, she was young, she was vulnerable, and she was injured.
The creature that faced her was the size of a Great Dane. It was hairy with a large hump at its back and looked like a cross between a bear and boar. A thick line of white fur over the darker gray trailed its spine and framed its face in a short mane. The neck was wide, and the snout short. The mouth opened to reveal teeth made for gripping and crushing. The eyes glowed with an unearthly turquoise splintered with brown. It stood on all fours, one large front paw scraping at the dirt with long deadly claws. I knew this thing. It was a tragon from one of the ancient realms. I had a sinking suspicion I knew when it had come through. My loss of control last October was still bearing fruit.
I reached out and manifested my sword, the shadowy shape of it deceptive in the gray light. I lined it with my power and looked this creature over for a weakness. It swung its massive head side to side and let out a low bellow, Ky’Elli responded with her own cry of war, the sound soul-shattering. I briefly wondered if, at some point, that shriek would have the power to kill.
The beast charged. I could feel the vibration of his weight against the ground through the soles of my shoes. I ran, my wings exploding from my back. Ky’Elli nearly glowed with light as the tragon pounded closer. I leapt into the air just as a bright orange blur spun from beneath the bushes, positioning himself between the tragon and Ky’Elli. The tiny fox jumped and scampered up the side of the shaggy beast. He sunk sharp needle-like teeth into the tender snout, and little claws raked at the burning eyes. The tragon shook its head, howling in pain and anger. My breath caught again, the kit so very small, but hissing and growling and fighting like a little demon.
I landed heavily on the back of the beast, my sword a blur of black as it arced downwards. With the first cut, the creature faltered, my power sucking at the life force. Smoke engulfed the tragon. My feet landed on the ground as both the kit and I fell through shadow. The fox spun, snarling, spitting, and yipping, looking for the foe. Every hair on his body stood on end, his bushy little tail straight and poofed out, his eyes crazy with battle rage.
He came to a stop in front of Ky’Elli, crouched low in a defensive posture, scanning his surroundings. Ky’Elli and I stared at him in shock. He was barely bigger than a gerbil, and yet he had the heart of a lion! I bit my lower lip to keep from laughing, not wanting to hurt his feelings. Ky’Elli sighed big and nudged at him with her nose. The little fox spun to look at her, then stepped closer. He licked at her side then nuzzled in close against her, looking for comfort and reassurance.
Ky’Elli sighed again and looked up at me. “You really should have let me eat him, Kiri.”
I chuckled softly. “I know, mikros. I know.” I gathered both of them up and ported us home.
Two weeks later, I overheard a conversation in the breakroom at Olympus Administration. Clio, the muse of history, had just returned to the pantheon and was looking for a pet. She was gentle and highly intelligent. Her power shone with a brightness of spirit and emanated an intense protective energy. She was often lost in her thoughts but was always very aware of those around her. And she was one of those rare beings that was just kind.
She needed a protector and a companion. The kit may be small, but he was fierce, and my instincts told me that Clio belonged to him. I brought him into the breakroom later that day and left him with a note. He was happily pouncing and bouncing when I left. He almost seemed aware of what was to come, as if this was his plan all along.
I finished the flat white and the story at about the same time, looking down to find Ky’Elli and the fox curled against each other, sleeping peacefully.