Back in Black

by Oberon Snowcat

It had taken me more than four weeks for me to finish my initial training with the Long Scouts.

Tomorrow I was going to actually take part in my first active mission with the Long Scouts. In particular I was going on my evaluation mission with Misha so that he could certify me for standard operations. The first thing that I needed to take care of was I needed some kind of fur dye to replace the junk that I had purchased before I had gone out on my killing spree against the lutins.

So I took some advice I had gotten from Finbar just before the Duke’s special dinner during the summer Solstice Festival and headed to see the Keep Alchemist Pascal.

Boy was I in for a surprise. When I had first walked into her lab she had been bent over a strange assortment of bottles, flasks, beakers, and test tubes. As I was about to say something one of the beakers began to emit clouds of green and purple smoke. As soon as the cloud of smoke touched the open flame of a nearby candle it exploded with terrific force. Flinging the strangely coloured morphic porcupine across the room and into a distinctly rickety looking bookcase. She shook her head to clear it before she finally noticed me standing at the door

“How long have you been standing there?”

I looked at her and cocked my head and wiggled my right ear. “Since before you blew yourself ma’am.”

“Ok. Who are you and why have you been standing there watching me detonate smoke clouds?”

“My name is Adòn Naharél, though my comrades all know me as Oberon. The reason why I am here is because I am trying to find a good fur dye for my job in the Longs.”

She nodded her head, which set her quills rattling a little. “I am Pascal the Keep Alchemist. What colours do you need?”

“Well this is what I’ve been using so far.” I held out the black fur dye that I had gotten from a merchant in Euper. I had bought it just before I had gone out on my rampage killing lutins by the dozen. “What I need is something similar to this, but it also has to be relatively easy to get out of my fur when I get back from a patrol. At the same time I want it to be very durable when I am out there in the bush.”

She took the bottle from me, and opened it. She sniffed the contents and even tasted it a little. “Cheaply made. I have the same black, brown, and green that Misha and the other Longs Scouts use.”

“From what I understand that stuff can wash off in the rain. That is something that I would rather not have happen to me when I am out there. The reason that I only use one colour is because of psychological reasons.”

She shook her head with a rattling of quills, “I have a waterproof version of this dye and it comes with a special soap that is needed to wash it off.”

“That is precisely what I had in mind.”

“All right,” She retrieved two large bottles from a nearby shelf. The first bottle was blue while the other was black. “The black bottle contains the dye while the blue one holds the cleaner.”

“Thank you my dear alchemist. Now what do owe you for this stuff?”

“One hundred suns,” the porcupine answered. “Go easy with that dye. A little will go a long way.” I reached into one of my belt pouches and pulled out a small sapphire, which I had been hanging onto for many years. “Will this cover it?”

Her eyes widened a bit. “That is more than enough. Thank you!”

“I hope that you enjoy that little gem. Now if you will excuse me there is a certain female that I have to meet.”

“Thank you and feel free to return whenever you need help.”

I nodded before I headed out of the room. First I made my way to my own apartment where I dropped off the dye and special soap before I headed back into the Keep. I was looking for the apartment of a certain female Keeper that I been courting for the past month. Last night she had dragooned me into a date tonight and so now here I was ready to take her out. I was wearing one of my normal utilitarian outfits. A black leather vest with gold thread, a black and red kilt, a red lined black cloak, and my normal swordbelt with a short sword and the Claw attached to it.

When I knocked on the door to her apartment I had a bunch of flowers in my hand.

The door swung open to reveal Kristinai standing there. She looked at me for a moment and finally said, “Oberon! Good to see you today.”

“How are you feeling this morning? The last time I saw you, you were on all four feet on the floor under one of the tables at the Deaf Mule.” While I said that I sniffed the air and picked up the odour of her scent. Even though I could feel that it was having the same effect on me I managed to control myself.

“That catnip last night was a little strong for me. How about you, how are you feeling?”

“I feel great Kristinai, but perhaps you should do something about you scent today. Otherwise you might find me making a number of highly inappropriate suggestions.”

She looked down at the floor but I could see that the inside of her ears had turned bright pink. “I do have a perfume that I can put on if you would like that.” With that said she retreated into her apartment for a few minutes. When she returned she smelled faintly of roses.

“That’s better, now I won’t make the wrong kinds of suggestions. Last night the feline part of me almost wanted to shift into full tiger form and join you under the table for a little fun. Though that fun could very well have had unforeseen consequences.”

“We all have to learn to cope with our animal side,” She replied softly.

“That is for sure.” I conceded slowly. That was something that I was still learning to deal with. Finally I smiled and said; “Now I believe that I was going to take you out for the afternoon.”

“I’ve been looking forward to this all morning!” She answered before she stepped out of her apartment and joined me in the hallway.

I smiled at her before I asked; “Now how about we go outside and take a stroll down by the river?”

“The river? Of course. I would enjoy a nice quiet stroll down by the water.” She answered.

I took her hand in my own and then leaned over and gave here a lick on the cheek with my rough tongue.

She returned my lick with one of her own. “The water is always nice this time of year.”

“Yes there are times when I enjoy a good dip in the water.” I slowly fingered my black leather collar. “If I wasn’t wearing this I would probably spend a lot more in the water in an effort to simply keep cool.”

“What does the collar do? Keep you cool?” she asked.

“Yes that is its function. Otherwise I would cook in my own fur.”

“A clever idea. Who made it for you?” she asked as we made our way down through the halls in Metamor enjoying each other’s company.

“I bought it from Misha shortly after I first arrived in the Keep. That was after I suffered an episode of heat prostration and ended up in Brian’s infirmary. I doubt that Brian was happy to see me in his infirmary after only four days in the Keep.”

“With fur as thick as yours heat is always going to be one of your most serious enemies Oberon.” She commented. After a moment of thinking she said, “I didn’t know that Misha was a good enough a mage to be able to make something like that collar.”

“Well when winter comes I think I will not have any troubles at all.”

“Winter is your time of year! The rest of us in the Keep will be hiding inside from the cold and you will be outside enjoying it.”

“What about you my dear? You look like a cat that would enjoy the cold and snow.”

“Yes well in the summer these,” She touched a pair of gold earrings that dangled from the tips of her ears. “Keep me cool in even the hottest weather,”

“Have you ever gone outside in the middle of winter?”

“Occasionally. I do enjoy a long walk in the cold of winter when the snow is falling.”

“Maybe we should both go out there at some point this winter.” I told her as we made our way down through Euper

“I would really like that. Going out in the brisk weather of winter with you would be a wonderful way to spend a day.”

“Well right now we just have to live here with the weather that we have right now.” I said pointing up at the clear cloudless blue sky. “Do you want to go dive into the river for fun?”

“All right! That would be fun, but I am not a strong swimmer.” She answered.

“If you get into trouble I’ll help you out.” I offered as I removed my clothing and stuck my toe into the ice-cold water. As an afterthought I removed my collar and placed it on top of my neatly piled up clothing.

“Thank you,” She says as she removed most of here clothing. Then she stepped behind me and gave me a strong push on the back.

I stumbled forwards and hit the freezing water with a massive splash. As soon as I stabilized myself in the water I turned and turned to see the beautiful form of Kristinai still standing on the riverbank. Just for the fun of it I shifted to my full tiger form and continued to swim around in the frigid water.

She stood up and laughed as she watched me slowly swimming around in the water. “How’s the water? Cold?”

I shook my large head and jumped out of the water, my fur streaming water.

She steps quickly in the water getting herself fully wet. “This water feels great!”

I jumped back into the water with an enormous splash and went over to her and rubbed my heavy body up against hers.

She leaned down and kissed me lightly on the muzzle. “This was a great idea, going for a nice cool swim.”

I gave a slight grumble of pleasure before I shifted my form in front of her. “I am glad that you liked this idea.”

She smiled and then stepped out of the water and shook the water from her fur, spraying me with shimmering droplets of clear water.

I stepped out of the water and shifted back into my full tiger form before I gave myself a hearty shake. Once I was satisfied that I had gotten most of the water out of my fur I shifted back into my anthropomorphic form and flopped down on the soft grass beside Kristinai. I looked over at her sitting beside me and asked, “I am glad that you enjoyed the water.”

“That was great.” She replied as she stretched out in the grass languorously.

“How long have you lived at the Keep Kristinai?”

“I’ve been here since long before the curse was placed on the valley. Over fifteen years,” She answered.

“Did your father send you here?”

She nodded in response. “Yes, he sent me here to train with the finest mages in the Midlands.”

“What did he think when you were changed by the curse?”

“He was kind of upset at first but later on after he had some time to think about it he came to the realization that as a snow leopard I was a great and noble creature now. When he came to that realization he was happy that I had become such a fine animal. He once said that it bodes well for the future of our family.”

“I hope that he likes you going out with me.”

“I am sure that he will, when I tell him in due time. It is not easy to communicate with him sometimes, due to the distance between us.”

“Where does he live?”

“He lives a days ride south of the mouth of the valley. With so many outside the valley who are hostile to us, getting messages to him is often very hard.”

“Have you ever managed to get home since curse caught you?”

“Only once,” She said. “My family was good to me, but the townspeople acted…badly. They tried to kill me.”

“Someday we should go to your father’s place together.”

She nodded solemnly. “Yes we will and I WILL make those ignorant fools understand me and all of us Keepers.”

“They had better not try and assault you while I am with you.”

“They won’t. Father put down their riot in a rather firm fashion. The worst ones were killed and the rest fled.”

“If they try that with me around I can tell you that the results will not be pretty.”

She nodded slowly. “Someday,” She said. “We will go back. But for now I will have to remain here at the Keep.”

“Why do you have to remain here?”

“This is my home and I have a job here help and protecting it. Besides that Metamor is still the home of the finest mages in this part of the world.” She explained.

Finally when I was satisfied that my fur was dry I began to get dressed. “Do you want to go get something to eat now?”

Kristinai paused from getting dressed and looked up at me. “Yes! I’m famished! A good meal would be most welcome.”

As soon as she had finished dressing I took her and we both began walking back towards the Keep. “What did you do last winter during that attack that I heard about?”

“I was at Misha’s Yule party,” She answered. “I volunteered to go out on patrol after the initial attack. I was there at the final assault on the barracks.” She said proudly.

I unsheathed my short sword and held it out to her, hilt first. “Are you any good with swords?”

She took the weapon from me and moved it through a few basic manoeuvres. She did seem to know how to handle it, though I detected no real proficiency in her moves. She did show some signs of considerable potential and I wondered what would happen if she got some real training.

“If you want I’ll make you a weapon of your own. I could also show you how to use it a little better.”

“I would really appreciate that!” She said. “One should always take the opportunity to learn from a master of the blade.”

I carefully took the weapon from her just before we reached the gates of Euper. “Who taught you how to use a sword?”

“One of my father’s retainers.” She explained. “He wanted to be sure that I could protect myself in any circumstance.”

“Did your father approve of that?”

“He did. A person can never know too much.” She replied. “And too many mages know nothing about how to protect themselves, other than by using their magic.”

I smiled and led her to the restaurant that Misha had suggested the night before inn the Deaf Mule.

Kristinai grinned and pointed at two figures in a corner booth. “It seems that Misha took his own advice.”

At that point in time a young boy who looked to be no older than ten years old walked up to us and said in his high-pitched voice. “My name is Almar. Welcome to my humble little establishment.”

“I am glad to be here Almar. Misha personally recommended this place to us last night.”

The boy’s face brightened immediately. “I am glad to here that one of our more famous customers has steered you here. You will not be disappointed. How many are there in your party? Two?”

“Yes. Just the two of us.” I turned my head and winked at Kristinai.

“This way!” Almar said before he steered the two of us towards a table in a quiet corner of the room.

I sat down in one of the seats; I had to shift my belt around so that the sheath of the Claw didn’t jut out into the aisle.

Almar handed both of us a small menu before he said, “I’ll bring you some wine to start the meal.”

I picked up the menu and began to read, with a little difficulty, through the selections that were available. After several moments considering what I should have I finally made my selection, a nice, very rare, half-pound steak. “What are you going to have Kristinai?”

“I am going to have those beef tips braised in red wine,” She answered. “With vegetables.”

I looked at her in surprise and wiggled both of my rounded ears before I asked her. “You can actually stomach vegetables?”

“A few,” she replied. “As long as I don’t over do it. Can’t you eat any vegetables at all?”

“Not really. When I tried it shortly after I changed I had the worst case of the runs that I had ever experienced. You can only imagine what that was like.”

“I’d rather not imagine that,” she said. “It’s strange how the curse affects everyone differently.”

“I take it that more of you is human than is the case with me?”

She shrugged. “Probably. But to tell you the truth I do prefer meat. Vegetables simply don’t taste as good as they used to.”

“At least you can still eat them.”

She nodded. “The curse affects us all differently.”

At that moment Almar arrived at the table with a bottle of wine and two glasses on a tray balanced in his small hands. He poured the pale yellow wine into the two glasses. “I’m sure that you will really enjoy this vintage.”

I took a sip of the pale wine and tasted it before I swallowed before I smiled and said, “This is quite a good wine. What do you think of it Kristinai?”

She took a sip of her wine gently and tasted it for a few moments before she commented, “A nice, sweet taste to it. Where is it from Almar?”

“It comes from the Giantdowns,” He answered. “We still have a few bottles left from before Nasoj took control of the region.”

“That must be a pity that your source of this fine wine is gone now.”

“Someday, perhaps when Nasoj is gone, we might be able to get more of this from the lutins.”

I nodded before I placed my order, and watched while Kristinai placed her own order. As she did so I watched light from the candles and lanterns in the restaurant refract from the silver highlights in her fur. As soon as she finished ordering I looked into her blue-grey eyes and said, “You are definitely, without question, one of the most beautiful people that I have ever seen. And trust me, I have seen a lot of beautiful people over the past seventy two years.”

Her ears turned bright pink and she looked down at the table. “Thank you.” She stuttered. “I… You are one of the most handsome men I’ve ever met. You are so unique and wonderful.”

I laughed before I replied. “You are unlikely to run into anyone else like me in this part of the world.”

“At least not outside of Metamor Keep,” she joked. “And you are truly unique Oberon.”

I chuckled before I heard a yip of laughter from the other corner of the restaurant. “I think that Misha is enjoying his evening with Caroline.”

“They do make a fine couple,” Kristinai answered. “About time he finally proposed to her! It was long overdue.”

“I hope that you are patient. There is also something else that you have to know about me. I will probably live until well into my four hundreds.”

“I am willing to wait. I’ve waited this long for the right man to come along. I can wait a little longer if I must.”

“Can you imagine what it would be like me? Having the people that I care about for dying around me while I keep going?”

She placed her hand on mine. “We all have losses. Here at the Keep you’re safe.”

“Well I was referring to the simple fact that I will outlive almost all of the people here at the Keep.”

She shrugged. “Life is never easy. The length of life doesn’t matter, just how good it is.”

I nodded just as Almar returned with both of our meals. As soon as he placed the plate in front of me my mouth began to water as the smell of the warm meat hit my nose.

“That smells really good!” She said as Almar placed the meals in front of us. She picked up her knife and fork and started eating.

I grinned and picked up my utensils and quickly sawed off a chunk of the steak and began to eat. “This tastes wonderful. The chef here really knows how to cook for his customers.”

“He does indeed. This food is perfect. It has been far too long since I’ve enjoyed a fine meal like this.”

“Well I wasn’t sure if he would understand that I really don’t like my meat cooked all that much.”

“You’re probably not the first carnivore that he’s had as a customer that likes his food raw.” Kristinai commented.

I chuckled, took a sip of my wine before I asked, “What do you do in your free time?”

“Oh I manage to stay busy. Studying magic, reading, as well as a little painting.”

“To tell you the truth I am not really much one for culture. I’ve spent so many years fighting and carousing, that I’ve almost lost track of the little things.”

“There is a lot more to life then just killing things. Surely you have some form of recreation?”

“Back when I was a human mercenary in the company of others like me I would unwind by drinking and wenching with the rest of the boys.”

“Not even some singing, or reading?”

“Unless you count drinking songs as singing. Generally I didn’t have enough for that back when I was serving as a mercenary. Usually I spent most of my free time training, sleeping, or trying to enjoy myself with the boys.”

“Well,” She said cheerfully. “I have to change that! We need to get you back into the gentle arts!”

“What do you want? Kelmar calligraphy?”

“You do calligraphy?” she asked in surprise. “That is amazing.”

“Though most of time I write runes on steel.”

“Steel? Why steel? Why not paper or parchment?”

“My runes are the core of what make my weapons so special.”

“Do you ever make runes just for decoration? Just for their own beauty?”

In response I pulled out my dagger and placed it on the table in front of her so that she could see the angular runes inscribed on the steel blade. “Those runes there are an example of my work.”

She nodded and then looked at the weapon in question. She even placed her hand on it to touch the runes. “Interesting. I’ve only seen runes like those a few times, and then only in books or scrolls. As far as I can tell there is power in these runes.”

“They are very tough to set properly. I can only do three or four in a single day.”

She nodded. “Have you ever tried doing something like this for arts sake? Not making power runes like these but instead simply writing for the sake of art or enjoyment?”

“Not really, besides there aren’t very many who would say that these runes like these could really be called artistic.”

“If you can do this type of calligraphy, why not the normal calligraphy? I think that you would do quite well with a brush and parchment.”

“Well if you have ever seen my attempts at writing you language you wouldn’t be so optimistic.”

“Everything gets better with practice Oberon.” She explained. “I bet with practice you would do very well!”

“Well I hope that you are very patient, because I have spent the last thirty years on this continent and yet my understanding of your written language hasn’t gotten any better.”

“Well it helps if you are doing things besides drinking and fighting,” She kidded. “I could help you if you want.”

“Sure, I’ll help you with your swordsmanship, and you can help me with my reading, writing, and penmanship.”

“Sounds like a fair bargain to me. We both could use the help!” she answered.

I finally finished my steak, leaned back and almost inadvertently let loose a thunderous belch.

Kristinai looked at me and smirked, “I’ll be polite and take that as an accident.” She said.

“Sorry about that Kristinai. I really need to get a hold of my manners. Back when I was at home in the Clanlands that sort of thing was taken as a complement to the cook.”

“I’ve heard of cultures where that would be an insult worthy of a duel to the death.” She explained. “But I understand.”

“My god Oberon,” Came Misha’s voice from across the room. “Was that a burp, or were you trying to imitate a moose!”

I raised my voice and spoke up, “Sorry about that everyone.”

A ripple of laughter flowed across the room and everyone returned to their meals.

At that point Almar walked up and expertly cleared the table. “What would you two like for dessert?”

“What is there available for a carnivore like me?”

“Well we have iced cream. A rare dish, but one that is well worth the cost.”

“If it is edible for me then I guess I will try it.”

“All right!” He answered before he disappeared into the back of the restaurant. He returned shortly afterwards with two small bowls in his hands. He placed the two bowls in front of each of us. “Vanilla iced cream for both of you.”

I picked up a small spoon off of the table in front of me and tasted the concoction. It was cold and I could taste the smooth sweet flavour in both of my oral sensory organs. “That is good!”

Kristinai took up her own spoon and had a small taste of the cool white concoction. “That is VERY good!” She exclaimed.

I looked at Almar before I asked him slowly. “Where did you get this stuff Almar?”

“We make it here ourselves,” The boy answered.

“Well this is the first really sweet thing that I have had ever since I moved here back in February.”

He blushed at my comment. “Thank you. I’m honoured that you enjoy it so much.”

“Well part of the reason I haven’t really been able to taste sweets is because my tongue isn’t really designed for it any more. The only way that I can taste sweetness now is if I inhale the odour of the food through my mouth so that it can contact a sensory organ on the top of my mouth.”

“Oh? So your sense of taste has been affected by the curse as well?” Kristinai asked.

“A little. I think it comes mainly from the extent to which I have changed.”

“What do you mean? She asked. “You changed as much as most of us did.”

“I have seen some people who have the animal transformation who still have human feet, but I have more animalistic feet.” I pointed out before I moved one of my digitgrade feet out from under the table.

Kristinai nodded in response. “The curse is different for each individual. I know that there are some people who have lost their thumbs.”

“So perhaps my limitations in this body of mine are simply one manifestation of the variety of things that can happen when the curse take hold.”

Kristinai shrugged her shoulders. “I’ve seen people debate for days over the subject. Some people have human feet, others don’t, some see colours and others do not.”

I chuckled and finished off my delectable desert. “Kristinai I can tell you know that today has been most enjoyable.”

“Well I too am enjoying every moment of this wonderful day. I haven’t spent time with a man like you since before the Yule Attack.”

“Well tomorrow I have to go out north of the Keep and do my job.”

“Work, the evil of living,” She answered. “I too have things to do tomorrow.”

“Well tonight before I turn in I have to apply my fur dye. I don’t want to have to take care of that tomorrow at four in the morning before going out on my first official patrol with the Long Scouts.”

“Dye your fur?” She asked. “What colour? And why would you want to dye it?”

“Well the reason why is because I tend to stand out right now, in the winter that will change, but for now I must wear the dye. As for the colour that I wear I tend to prefer black. Mainly because the lutins are already familiar with me in that shade.”

“Ah! Black to blend into the shadows and the darkness of night. Everyone fears the darkness.”

“Yup. Though one of the other reasons I like black is because the lutins are terrified of me when I wear that hue.”

“They are terrified of you regardless of what you wear. You are a fearsome warrior.” She countered.

“Perhaps, but I will take every advantage that I can get.”

“I understand. Your enemy’s fears are his worst weakness.”

“My sword also helps me out every so often.”

She laughed openly. “I guess a good sword does help out a lot!”

“Especially when the sword in question has its own personality.”

“Your sword has a mind of it’s own?” She asked. “It thinks?”

“Yes it does. Misha said that it is similar in that way to his massive black battle-axe. However, I believe that their personalities are quite different.”

“I know about Misha’s axe, but from what I know sentient weapons are so very rare that I never expected to meet someone else who used one other than Misha.”

I chuckled for a moment. “From what I’ve heard Misha’s axe actually has a rather pleasant personality. On the other hand the Claw’s personality is much more grim. There are times he can be in a downright macabre mood.”

“It’s a weapon,” Kristinai said. “What type of life must it have been through?”

“Well he is roughly three thousand years old.”

“That is older than most civilizations. He must’ve witnessed many great events.”

“Well he did witness the fall of the ancient Kelmar Empire and the beginning of the Great Clanwar.”

“You ever thought to write down what he has witnessed? She asked. “I know that Misha has written several stories that he claims that his axe told him.”

“Well I haven’t thought of writing anything down about the sword, mainly because he hasn’t yet really decided to tell me much about his past. For some reason he likes to keep his secrets.”

“I see. That is a shame. I bet he must have some fantastic stories to tell!”

“Well I think that in time he may decide to tell me some of his stories. After all I have only had him for thirty-two years.”

“So? Misha has only had his axe for twenty years, and yet he’s already written several very good books based on what it has told him!”

“Well we Kelmar live for a very, very long time. So therefore our weapons, if they have a mind, have a lot more time to get to know us.”

“That not what I mean. I meant that if you pushed him he might tell you some of the things that he has been through so that you can write them down.”

“I believe that I should let him take his time. He will tell me when he is good and ready.”

“All good things come with time.” She commented.

Just after she said that Almar came up to and asked, “Now who is going to take care of the bill?”

I smiled slowly before I replied with a slight wiggle of one of my ears. “That would be me.”

“Ok then that will be five silver my Lord,” Almar said.

I reached into my belt pouch and pulled out two gold suns and placed them on the table. “Keep the change Almar. I enjoyed this meal a lot, and your service was superlative.”

“The boy smiled broadly. “Thank you SIR!” he said cheerfully. “Please come again any time!”

“Your welcome Almar.” I replied before standing up and holding out my hand for Kristinai.

She put her hand into mine. “Thank you Oberon,” She said as we made our way out of the restaurant.

I smiled and twitched the tip of my tail in contentment before I said, “Well I thought that I should make this evening something to remember. By the way do you want to see where I live? Maybe you can even give me a hand with my dye.”

She looked at me and said, “I am curious to see the home of a one hundred year old Kelmar Warrior.”

“I am not quite that old Kristinai.” I replied with a chuckle as we reached the doors of the Long House. “Now you will have to watch yourself in here. My comrades tend to be a little paranoid when it comes to the Long House. I also have to warn you that I have a four legged friend who lives here.”

“A friend? What type of friend? I do not see you as having a pet dog or cat.” She commented twitching her right ear and cocking her head.

“I wouldn’t really go as far as to describe him as a pet. He is more like a fellow comrade.”

“I think I understand that, but what exactly is he? She asked me as we stepped into the Long Hall.

“Well he is a …” At that moment as I was about to describe to her what Tcukendra was he came up between us and gave a low woof at me. “Well this is easier because this is him. His name is Tcukendra and he is one of the members of the dire wolf pack that lives here in the Long House.”

She looked down at the massive dire wolf that was standing in between us and shrank back away from him instinctively. “He is big!”

“Just relax Kristinai. He won’t hurt you unless you make an aggressive move. He has been with me through most of my training.”

“I…hope so.” She said before she looked down and held out one of her hands for him to sniff. “Hello Tcukendra.” She said softly.

He stretched his head forward and sniffed her hand for a moment before he stepped forward and put his large head under her hand and whined.

Kristinai gently petted the top of his head before she began to scratch his ears. “You certainly an impressively large animal.”

He let out a low woof just as we reached my engraved door. “This is my home. It isn’t much, but it is my home.” With that said I opened the door and stepped into my familiar room.

Kristinai stepped into the room and looked around before she finally said. “It looks nice and cozy.”

I nodded before I removed my cloak and hung it on a hook. “I like it because it suit me.” Now I removed my heavy weapons belt and hung it on a hook by the door before I removed my black leather vest.

“It could really use a woman’s touch to lighten the place up a little. A few flowers at least.”

I smiled and nodded before I nodded and removed my kilt, leaving me in nothing more than my loincloth. I quickly stepped over to my desk and picked up the bottle of dye that I had gotten from Pascal. “This is me, or at least as much as I dare show you right now.”

Kristinai's eyes widened a bit at the display and she looked him over from ears to tail. "That's all right Oberon," she said and laughed.

“You like what you see here?” I asked as I flexed some of the muscles in my arms, chest, and stomach.

Her ears coloured bright red but she still continued to smile. "You are a fine specimen," she said and gently ran her fingers thru his chest fur.

I opened the bottle of dye and placed some in my right hand and began to rub it into the fur on my left arm. “Would you mind giving me a hand by putting some of this stuff in the fur on my back?”

he smiled and wiggled both of her ears. "Oh I love to do it." She took the bottle from me and poured some of it onto my back before she started to massage it into the fur on my back. "Your fur is so soft!"

“Ah that massage feels good Kristinai.”

“Your whole body is muscle,” Kristinai said. “I can feel muscles upon muscles under all of this fur.”

I grinned and flipped my tail and asked, “Would you really expect any less from an old warrior like me?”

She laughed before she replied, "You are also a tiger my dear. A fine, sleek tiger."

I felt my ears grow warm and I flipped one down. “You say the nicest things Kristinai.” I replied as I finished rubbing the black dye through my white chest and stomach fur.

She giggled a little. “It’s true.” She said as she continued to apply the dye to my back.

I grinned slightly and then turned around and looked down into her deep grey-blue eyes. “I hope that you really want to capture my heart because you have me hopelessly ensnared in your web.”

She laughed. “I’ve already got you.” And then she reached out and wrapped her arms around me and hugged me closely before she gently licked my muzzle.

I returned the feline kiss and then replied “Yes you have my dear.” Then I looked her head for a moment before I gathered my courage and said, “I am growing to love you my dear Kristinai.”

She hugged me again, tighter this time. “Be careful out there my love. I love you too much to lose you now.”

“I will come back, that I promise you my dear.” I told her as I hugged her closely to me feeling her heart beating through both of our fur.

She held me closely to her for a quite some time before she reluctantly let go at long last.

I let go as well and stepped back before I softly told her. “I have to sleep soon Kristinai, after all I have to get up very early tomorrow.”

She nodded reluctantly and turned to the door.

I grabbed her hand and turned her around and planted a kiss on square on her muzzle.

She returned the gesture and then stepped away from me and headed for the door before she headed out, to be escorted by Tcukendra to the entrance of the Long House.

I quickly finished dyeing my arms before I went to bed and blew out the flame of the lamp.

"Back in Black", copyright Oberon Snowcat