I rose from my crouch, scanning my surroundings, and reached up to pull the tie from my hair. I gathered the thick mass back into order, my movements automatic. I tapped deep into my powers, a furrow creasing my brow, listening intently, sensing the air and the ripples of energy that flow around the planet. Never. Never, in all my eons, had it taken me this long to run my prey to ground. Was it the Titans? Were they enough of a disruption to mask what I sought? That didn’t make any sense, though. The Titans had always been on my radar. Locked away or not, their energy still permeated the planet and the universe. Their threads still shone brightly, woven through the fabric of this reality.
I scanned the ground again, I could see the footprints. Both were deep, one large, heavy human and one, the paw print of a massive creature. There were just the two, as if they were taunting me, or as if the forest was sheltering them. Ky’Elli confirmed that this was the pair that she called Madec and Joren, the warrior and the beast from the vision. But it had been two weeks! TWO! I had been hunting them for two weeks and couldn’t find them. I had become nearly obsessed with this quest, unable to get the warrior’s eyes from my mind. He had filled my dreams at night and occupied my thoughts during the day. I was sure it was due to the fact that I. Could. Not. Find. Him.
And why hadn’t he found me? Why hadn’t he done what he came here to do? There had been nothing but these single footprints throughout the trees and the random scent of fire on the air. Not smoke, but that subtle scent of fire, of heat, of air burning.
I heaved another exasperated sigh, frustration filling me. I reached out to Ky’Elli, checking on the small beast, although she wasn’t as small anymore. She was growing rapidly and consuming alarming amounts of food. She had doubled in size these last weeks, her legs were long, her feet getting big, and she was gaining bulk along her chest, shoulders, and back.
“Kiri, I do not see them, but I am sure that they are close. Joren is good, Kiri. He will not hurt anyone…well, unless they are bad. Or an enemy. Or a threat. But that is his job, Kiri. He protects us.”
A small smile played around my lips. “I’m sure he is, mikros, but I suspect that Joren may feel I’m all of those things. Best that we find him first and get this cleared up, rather than him catching me by surprise.”
The bond vibrated with Ky’Elli’s shock, obviously not having considered this possibility at all. There was a long moment of silence before she responded, her mental voice filled with resignation, protectiveness, and a thread of strength that gave a hint of what she would one day become, “Do not worry, Kiri. I am your Kirir and I will protect you and defend you, even if it is from Joren and Madec.”
“Thank you, mikros. I’m blessed to have you at my side. Come on Elli, let’s check –”
I spun before I had even registered the nature of the threat. I reached back, my hand closing over what seemed clear air and drew my sword, my power cloaked me and my wings snapped into existence. Ky’Elli screeched on both the mental and physical plane, my startled defensiveness thrumming through the open bond. My booted feet braced wide as I swung around, my wings compensating to aid my balance. I brought the weapon forward in a deadly arc. My mind finally caught up to my instincts and I nearly jerked my own arms from their sockets, attempting to abort the attack. The blade rimmed in glowing black and steaming with my aggressive anger, stopped a breath from Thanatos’ neck.
Ky’Elli charged through the brush, her eyes blue fire, every line on her body glowing brightly. She and I nearly collided as I stumbled back, opening my hands to drop the sword, the weapon disappearing as it fell. Ky’Elli mantled her wings, coming to a stop at my side, battle rage emanating from her.
“Thano! Fucking fornicating fiends and Chaos’ mighty balls! I nearly killed you!” I snarled at my brother.
“Nem…I need your help. Something’s happened. I need your help,” Thanatos said without preamble. “And you can’t kill me, but that probably wouldn’t have been fun. I’m glad you stopped.”
I took a deep breath, trying to calm both myself and my power. His words registering enough that I finally actually looked at him. He was dirty: suit tattered, hair mussed, and he was obviously exhausted. I could tell by the way that he held himself that he was in pain and probably needed both food and water. It was such a shock to see Thanatos so disheveled. My brother was always put together and took pride in being so.
“Thano…? What’s happened? Are you ok?” I stepped towards him, drawing my power back and leashing it tight. My passive power doesn’t work on him, but being so primed for the hunt and battle, it was possible that my active power could slip. Ky’Elli followed me, jumping up and clinging to the front of Thanatos’ jacket. He flinched from the grip of her claws as she climbed, not stopping until her face was right in front of his and she was able to look deep into his ebony eyes.
“Kiri, there is something wrong with the Thano. He is scared and he is worried and he is angry. I can smell it. We have to help him, Kiri. I will protect him, too. He is good people, Kiri.”
“We’ll help him, mikros. But first, let’s get him home, get him cleaned up, and figure out what this is all about.”
Thanatos instinctively wrapped his arms around Ky’Elli to support her, his movements stiff and slow, as if he was having to concentrate on the actions. I watched with concern and stepped in close. I flared my wings forward, enfolding the three of us into the heavy darkness of the luxuriant feathers and ported home.
Joren watched as the small group disappeared, his lip curling in a silent snarl. Madec mimicked the movement, exposing double fangs. Neither male liked that the females had gone from their sight. Joren had a time convincing Madec to not charge forward to aid the hatchling when she’d screamed. Truth be, that he himself had struggled to remain where he was. The female was his and no one would be allowed to interfere.
As she’d hunted him these last two weeks, he’d stalked her. Leading her about the forest, learning her, studying her. There was no doubt that the hatchling had bonded with the woman. Not a human, not a mortal, but worse…a Goddess, and not just any goddess, a Primal Goddess. He wasn’t sure how this had come to pass, but he suspected she’d done something to force the bond. Used magic, powers, or cast a spell to steal one of the young.
No matter. He would figure this out and he would free the small one and return her home. He had the Primal’s scent now and he would find her again and then she would face the consequences of stealing something so precious.
I moved about the kitchen, fixing a quick meal of bacon, eggs, and toast. I turned to hand Thanatos a plate of food and set a glass of water before him, only to find Ky’Elli perched on his lap. She seemed to believe that he needed her close because she had followed him to the bathroom when he went to shower, guarding the door, stayed with him as he dressed, and paced beside him as he made his way to the kitchen.
“Ky’Elli, move so he can eat. Here’s your food,” I said, setting down her own heaping plate of chicken and bacon at one of the empty seats. She grumbled softly and walked across the table, pulling her plate closer to Thanatos before tucking into the food. I took another chair, wrapping my fingers around a hot cup of coffee, watching over the rim as he began to methodically eat.
“Thano…what’s going on? What’s happened?”
He glanced up at me, dark eyes haunted, and voice dull, “Nem. It’s Hypnos. He’s back, Nem.”
I closed my eyes, dropping my head back against the chair and let out a long breath. I opened them again to meet his gaze. My voice filled with concern, pain, and sympathy. “Back how? What did he do? You know that there’s no saving him, Thano?”
Thanatos nods. “I know. He’s doing terrible things Nemesis. He’s creating sleepwalkers. There is a well-filled with magical water in this other realm, another world, that enhances and increases his powers.” He got up and went into the other room, coming back with a water bottle, the contents of which both pulled at me and repelled. “It’s given him the ability to put to sleep and enslave an entire planet…including the gods of that world. He has complete control over them.”
I stared at him, my expression going flat as the consequences of this sank in. “And now he’s here? He’s back in this realm? He’s planning to do the same here, isn’t he?”
Thanatos nodded again, his gaze steady on mine. “To complicate things further, he’s joined forces with the Titans. He’s working directly with Kronos.”
I dropped my head back and closed my eyes again, my fingers gripping the cup until my knuckles showed white. “Anything else?”
“Kronos has my scythe and Hypnos has a dagger made from the same material that allows him to create the rifts.”
My eyes snapped open and my voice emerged a near growl. “Wonderful!”
“I need you to track him, Nem. You are the best tracker, the best hunter I know. Plus, he’s our brother and I have the twin sense. Between the two of us, we can find him, and we can stop him.”
Ky’Elli finished her food and sat between us, watching and listening as we spoke. I put my cup down before I broke it in my grip and ran a hand over my face. “Of course I will help, Thano–,” I paused, my gaze swung to Ky’Elli as she broke into my thoughts.
“We will help, Kiri. You will not leave me behind. Where you go, I go, and if you try to leave me, I will find a way to follow and I will be very angry.”
My lips twitched and I focused back on Thanatos before continuing. “We will help, but you know that this is going to be brutal, little brother. Are you prepared for this? If you need, I can do this alone.”
Thanatos was shaking his head before I finished. “You can’t, Nem. You know that I’ll have to be the one to lock him away again, and that I will be needed if he decides to open a rift to another world. I need you to help me track him, to help me fight him, and subdue him, but we do this together.”
“Ok, Thano. Do you need to rest or do we head out now?” My gaze moved over him, evaluating his condition, his strength.
“I can’t sleep, Nem. Neither of us should sleep until we have him. Sleep is not safe for anyone right now,” he said, his eyes darkening to the point that I could no longer tell where the pupils ended.
I stood up and Ky’Elli moved to stand on the table before me, we faced Thanatos. “Then we hunt, brother. Let’s get ready.”