Full Coalition

by Stealthcat

“I don’t know why I’m doing this.”

It certainly wasn’t like him, much less so than even becoming a taur.

“The greater part of time in your profession is spent in that form.” The knight reminded him.

“Yeah, but I make deliveries, not kill things.” The courier specified.

“Stealth, I’m not forcing you to do anything.” Edmund pointed out in a sharp tone. “I asked you here; if you like we could head back and focus on your weapons training.” He offered in a softer tone.

“No, no. I’m just...” Any number of things really; nervous, anxious, squeamish... Afraid. Stealth the human in fur – as he saw himself – found these animal rolls easy to slip into and always practical not to mention fun.

Yet each time no matter what the benefits he always felt a terrible fear. Of course new things are always scary at first but this was different; a fear of the unknown usually applies to a journey or a task, not BECOMING something, at least not in a literal physical way!

The thing Stealth found most frightening though, it wasn’t unknown to him; he’s experienced it. First in a game of predator and prey that went terribly wrong, and a second time when he lost his mind. Granted, the latter occurred proceeding an accident.

However, he would once again allow himself to become an animal and this time ACT as one. He and the Paladin journeyed out into the field for a full form hunt. Stealth didn’t just feel fear he realised; he felt a slight disgust.

A firm grip on the cheetah’s shoulder brought him out of his trance.

“I understand.” The knight bore a visage of recognition; indeed it wasn’t hard to contemplate one’s struggle in accepting the benefits of the curse, let alone accepting the curse itself. “I think you’ll enjoy the hunt, Stealth, and you’ll be glad to have participated.”

Stealth nodded to Edmund yet sighed inwardly.

“Think of it as part of your training.” Ed offered.

“But Teague trains me in this sort of thing.” He pointed out.

“Aye, however a bearcat can’t teach you about this form like an actual cat, much less another spotted one.” He countered. “But before we head out we’ll need a system in case anything happens.”

“Oh? Signals?”

“That’s right, in the off chance that we encounter lutins or real wild animals or something where it might pay to stay in full form.” Edmund explained.

“But wild animals are deterred by humans; full form would be an ill choice in an encounter with a predator.” Stealth pointed out.

“Aye, an ill choice in an encounter; if you were to choose fight over flight that would be a poor tactic. But for the purpose of stealth and escape it can be essential; I don’t fancy the odds of a naked cheetah-man up against a bear.” The knight explained.

Stealth appeared spooked and raised his eye ridges to Edmund, “Just where will we be hunting?”

Ed waived a paw in dismissal, “As I said, in the off chance that something happens. Now observe.”

The feline knight held up a human-looking arm horizontally and lowered it keeping the arm and paw level. “That just means crouch low to the ground.” He then raised the arm again and made a quick motion of flicking it up and back as if shaking something off his wrist. “That means retreat and NO hesitation, just cut and run.” Edmund shook his head, “If I do that, its all clear or false alarm, and,” he made a few quick nods, “this means you should approach me.” He finished.

Stealth nodded though he doubted how well those signals would translate in full form.

“Now then...” Edmund intoned and began to remove his boots.

“Hmm? Oh.” Stealth hesitated, “usually there’s no one else around for the change.” It wasn’t just the presence of the knight which he referred to; when Edmund offered for him to join him for the hunt that morning the courier wondered how Ed brought back the kill and where he stored his clothing.

Most likely he brought a horse to leave his gear with and transport the kill. This turned out to be the case as they travelled out on horse back, although Edmund didn’t just bring his mount but an assortment of his solders!

Of course the knight needed someone to stay behind and tend to his mount and keep it safe. Three were charged with the duty; a gender morphed woman, a horse morph and a bat. The trio payed no heed to their disrobing superior. Even when handed the paladins clothing, the female showed no reaction.

“There are plenty of others around in the baths, you may be a cat but you DO take baths.” Edmund pointed out distractedly. Stealth all the while hadn’t changed out of his garb, nor even made a motion to.

“Well? Come on, I’ve seen what you look like.” Edmund informed him with an air of irritation. The follower cheetah hadn’t yet removed his pants but had shed everything else; he stood on bare digit grade feet, on its own something not unheard of in Metamor. His chest was bare revealing it to be covered with a featureless light cream coloured pelt which intensified into yellow fur covered with spots toward the sides.

“We’re not in the baths... this is a bit awkward.” Stealth explained and made a motion to remove his shirt but only a motion as he looked at the woman.

"Never mind her. Remember that she was a man until a few months ago." Edmund answered.

The feline realised he was being silly; it’s true they’ve seen him in the baths and surly running around city streets in full form and even as a taur as he has would be more embarrassing!

However, in the middle of a field and accompanied by solders on horse back... it wasn’t the idea of becoming an animal or a taur or whatever that bothered him - at least not so much as the change - indeed it was the change when he would shed his clothing and then – to a visible extent at least – his humanity, that caused him to pause and created a hurdle.

“Your body is nothing to be ashamed of, I told you.” Edmund dropped his pants and handed them to the human female. She took them and continued to scan the surrounding area. Stealth figured solders didn’t really have a sense of modesty because they did things like go skinny dipping in ice cold water or something. “If you want, step behind a bush and change. My men will take your belongings afterward.” Edmund offered.

“...No.” Stealth kicked off his boots and removed his top then threw it to the knight. He turned around and after a moment removed the breeches, proceeding to change quickly into his other form.

There sat a cheetah, on his haunches facing away from the solders. The embarrassment slowly began to melt as he detected another approaching.

Edmund collected the now full animal keepers discarded garments. “Wasn’t so hard, was it?” He asked, collecting the boots. The animal snorted at him and looked out to the fields and forests ahead where he would apparently be hunting.

A moment later another spotted quadruped trotted past. Edmund turned his head back over a shoulder and chirped to Stealth. The dormant cheetah rose to all fours and followed at a slow walking pace. The two headed down a small decline then proceeded up an incline. Short pines cropped up, becoming denser and larger as the cats continued up.

As they reached the top, Stealth looked back to the field where they left their mounts with the solders. Each of them looked about and chatted idly, occasionally sparing a glance to the full form creatures; one of which was their leader!

Eventually the light faded, the temperature dropped and towering pines surrounded them. Suddenly Stealth’s hackles rose and he chirped to the Knight. Edmund looked about the area and sniffed the air. He turned and looked quizzically to the courier.

Stealth should have brought this up before but the thought had slipped his mind at the time. He had no intention of changing back now so after some time he began brushing pine needles from the ground with a fore paw. Edmund approached and tried to comprehend what his friend was doing.

The other cheetah who had been clearing the ground for some reason, decided he had cleared enough space and began to trace his claws in the dirt. ‘W... H... A...’ he managed to spell out ‘what’ then erased it by sweeping his paw over the dirt, then traced out ‘if it’, erased it again and eventually added ‘happens’ and after that ‘again’.

The paladin understood what he wrote but didn’t understand what he meant; ‘what if it happens again’? What if what happens? Edmund stared blankly. Through his animal appearance, Stealth’s frustration showed. With ears flat and a snarl emerging he began to add, ‘F...E...R...R...’ ferrel!

The knight didn’t have time for this; he transformed to his morph form and didn’t care who could see. “Then I’ll stop you.” He pointed out, “I won’t let that happen.” In his digit grade morph form Ed towered over Stealth. It aided him in getting his point across.

Stealth gave up on modesty and rose up; this was simply too important to him. “You know I can’t let that happen again but it could, it could easily. How can I be sure?”

“You can’t be sure.” Edmund conceded, “But last time it was an accident, before that you let your guard down.” He explained, “Stealth, we learn from our mistakes, now we’re hunting wild animals and it’s something I’ve done many times before. As I said, I WON’T let it happen.” He finished in an icy tone.

A moment of silence followed. The smaller cat shifted once more and sat on his haunches with his head down. Stealth’s ears remained folded however his hackles had lowered. The cheetah’s tail swept wildly at the pine needles behind him, in front – directly in his field of vision – the area he had cleared still held the unfinished word ‘ferre’ although it had been smudged by his foot while standing as a morph.

A bat to his face brought the cheetah out of another trance. The full form Edmund lowered his fore paw. Stealth narrowed his eyes; he reared up and bat the knight’s feline head, pummelling him with both paws. Ed shielded himself and swiped at the attacking quadruped. Stealth broke off and trotted past Edmund, nipping at his tail in the process.

The two soon found a trail and for the moment intended to follow it. The path hardly resembled an open road that game would likely avoid so the male coalition afforded themselves the luxury of walking out onto the clear open ground. It would be easier on their paws and probably closer to the terrain their species had been intended to traverse.

They walked in single file on the hard packed dirt and Edmund of course led the way. Stealth couldn’t help but follow the movement of Edmund’s tail; the tip swayed back and forth with each step. Though as fascinating as he found it, the younger cheetah would occasionally turn his attention away to ether side of the path and the foliage lining it.

Green leafy plants near the edge produced a cool, refreshing scent which served to counter the bitter, stinging smell of pine needles. Looking up, trees towered obscuring the light, though even in its northern wintery part of the sky, the sun still managed to find gaps in the canopy from which it could penetrate, appearing as amber coloured stars – not that he could currently see that colour.

Of their limited pallet in this form, the cheetahs could only make out the ‘greenery’. What few other colours they could detect as animals were all but absent from the forest landscape. Besides the green patches dotting the ground and the canopy, everything in-between only appeared ether grey or black. They might be able to spot some blue, if they could see the sky.

Stealth idly wondered how successful the hunt could be. These flighty felines were built for the open plains of Pyralis. As for the dense woodland of the northern midlands, let alone the northern parts of Metamor, that’s another matter. Their sight would aid them in the former, the later relied more on scent.

Right now Stealth could see nothing but the imposing pines, redwoods and oaks. Then the countless plants all around as well as dead build up and lastly the dancing tip of the paladin’s tail. He didn’t intend on nipping at Ed’s tail again, rather the cat turned his interest to the plant life once more.

Stealth thought about the taste of those small plants; he wondered if they tasted as refreshing as their scent had indicated. He could take a bite now to find out, though, he might just find out if such things are safe to eat first. The thought reminded Stealth once more of Teague’s training.

Some time later the coalition picked up the scent of a deer. As they trotted up another incline, Stealth felt satisfaction that as a cheetah he needn’t have to live up to his name since the fast cats weren’t known to stalk their prey, just chase them. He shook his head at the thought of spending an immense amount of time just watching and waiting followed by a few moments of anxiety and adrenalin.

Still, the duo stayed close to the ground as they neared the crest and peeked over the edge. A large stag just finished its grazing and jerked its head up at them. Predictably the beast bolted, Stealth’s instincts kicked in though before he could put them to use Edmund stoped him with a forestalling fore paw.

The paladin perched just ahead and to the side of the courier in his field of view. Edmunds gaze wasn’t cast toward the escaping stag; rather ahead to the area previously obscured by it. There, a wolf pack emerged from the tree line, fangs bared, hackles raised and tails between their legs. They snarled at the two creatures that didn’t belong in their woods.

Stealth turned from the wolves to the other cheetah; Edmund had puffed up, his own hackles rose and his tail thumped the ground behind him. He stayed in place yet rose to his paws and hissed at the menacing canines. His hackles reminded Stealth of the fur pattern of a hyena or wild boar.

The Knight’s animalistic warning seemed to forestall any attack from the wolves which continued with threats of their own. For the time being there was a stand off, though Edmund soon raised a fore paw and began the motion of flicking it up and back. Stealth understood the message and turned tail, sprinting back down the slope into the trees beyond.

After Stealth made his escape Edmund soon joined though he broke off in another direction. The two evaded the pack by scattering like real cheetahs abandoning their kill to a thieving lion. During his flight, Stealth wondered how they would make a kill and bring it back while avoiding such a confrontation.

Soon he found himself running out of steam and found a bush to hide in, though one not covered in thorns. Eventually Edmund tracked his scent and summoned the cat out with a soft chirp. When Stealth emerged, Ed shook his head indicating the all clear then tilted his head in a new direction for them to follow, one which would hopefully be free of any more predators.

The cheetahs walked casually on their long limbs through the forest. The path in places became void of small plant life and instead it was lined or even covered in the damp remnants of bark and countless fallen branches. The air felt cool and as always it held a strong pine oil scent. A forest is usually protected from the heat of the day as the sun is all but blocked out in many places and during this time of year it is especially chilly; Stealth chirped and nodded his head in the direction of an open field, urging the knight to take the warmer path.

However, Edmund wouldn’t have it; he picked up the scent of another prey animal and intended to follow it. If they caught said animal they could head home and warm up. Stealth made a passable human sigh and slumped his head down into line.

He began to slow and fall back gradually. The chill in his limbs and paws reminded Stealth to pick up the pace though Edmund still measured his own pace anyway. In his head, Stealth urged the paladin to move with greater haste. Though their coats didn’t suffice in the north they were still mammals and could make up for it with movement. Perhaps Edmund would soon find their quarry and that’s why he found no need to rush, Stealth thought.

Soon a rustle off to the side caught his attention. Many sounds came to both of their sensitive feline ears throughout the trip though this one caused Stealth’s ears to perk and his eyes to widen in concentration. He snapped his head to the side of the path where the plants and leaves shook slightly. Without another thought the cheetah pounced, he missed the target so began darting his head about till he found it again.

Stealth bolted further into the shrubbery, running between the trunks. Probably out of luck rather than skill he snagged a small woodland creature. The cat trotted out of the brush back into view of Edmund who was sitting on his haunches with the tip of his tail flicking slightly.

Stealth placed the kill on the ground where he too sat on his haunches and chirped in mirth and pride. On the ground before him lay a dead bunny; its pristine white fur began to stain from the blood oozing out of the wound in its mangled neck. Edmund nodded and continued on, Stealth took up the rabbit once more in his mouth and followed after.

Edmund didn’t follow a strait path; he strayed off the path and led his friend on a winding trail after the prey while making sure to avoid any predators. Though the ground felt less stable then anything he was used to, it wasn’t as bad as the streets of Euper. While city streets are paved they are often if not always covered in unspeakable things, fortunately his natural agility didn’t just serve him in winding around the crowds.

They were closing in but gradually feeling the cold more and more as time passed. At least the Knight didn’t lead the courier too far astray from where they had left his solders with their mounts. Rather they took an orbiting path around the starting point.

Apart from the satisfaction at catching something, the bunny rabbit warmed Stealth up and he couldn’t wait to turn it into rabbit stew. Although to be honest, holding something for a long period, let alone in his mouth for that entire time was an inconvenience and a draw back. When he delivered things to people it was in a pack on his back, he didn’t drool on it.

Soon they caught up with the quarry; another stag – it smelt different – grazed just ahead of them, or so the scent informed them. The predators approached it without any thought given to remaining concealed; hiding from and stalking their prey held no purpose for these cats, though their approach was all but silent as they moved with all the care and grace the curse had granted them.

Their quarry stood, for the time oblivious to the danger. Its head remained buried in the foliage searching for edible plant life as its menacing antlers danced above with the movement. Even with its head down, the beast towered above the ground. Such a creature was easily two or even three times the size of the ‘big’ cats which hunted it. It mattered little, Stealth told himself; no matter how menacing a quarry - ether in their number or bulk - they were still prey and acted as such. On so many occasions a prey animal could turn the tables on their hunter yet they gave in to their survival instincts and ran. It’s what separated the animal morphed prey species of the keep from real animals.

As soon as the cheetahs entered its wide field of vision the stag bolted and the two of them sprinted after it. Joy and adrenalin filled the cats as they thundered after the deer. The excitement, the thrill and challenge of the chase drove them. Stealth knew what to do; he would trip its hind leg with a dew claw and send it tumbling into a tree trunk, then pounce and cut the flow to the wind pipe. Yes, he – a small creature – would bring down an enormous stag! Oh, and Ed could help too...

Through the clearings and in-between the trees the animal kicked up dirt and snapped the fallen branches under its cloven hooves during its frantic flight through what moments before had been calm, tranquil woodland. It mattered little when you had a built in ‘rudder’, though it literally pained Stealth at times, it now served its purpose and he would put it to good use! Through the northern forests the cheetahs raced although they were at a disadvantage in that the ground had year’s worth of dead build up that moved about under their paws reducing traction to a considerable extent.

The chase didn’t last long of course; Edmund was the first to break off and almost instantly came to a complete halt without any difficulty. Despite feeling the strain, Stealth continued on, however he soon found why the knight had stopped and he too came to a complete halt. The deer’s hooves served it well as it evaded the predators by managing to trek over collapsed logs; obstacles the cheetahs had difficulty clearing.

At a slow pace once more, they followed after the scent. Edmund was at another disadvantage in that he was charged with leading and even protecting the younger keeper who had no experience hunting, ether in full form or as a human. He had to keep an eye out for Stealth and make sure he didn’t do anything dumb, ether hurting their chances at making a kill or hurting himself.

Some time later - much later in fact – they caught up with the quarry once more. Hopefully the run would have tired it somewhat where as the two cats had taken their time and saved energy. This time Stealth made sure to leave his small kill somewhere so it wouldn’t get in the way.

He hesitated and felt pained at the thought that another animal would surly take it and he blanched at the thought of what a wolverine would do to it; if not eat it, the glutton will surely coat it with something repulsive. None the less, it was best to leave it somewhere so he found a small grove near a large stone slab to place it.

Returning to Ed, he sniffed the air and looked to the paladin for instructions. Sir Edmund Delacot commanded over a hundred men and now woman. He led the combined armies of Metamor and the midlands into battle in the post Yule assault counter attack. He follows his duty as a Defender of the Faith as a true Paladin should. Even took part in the infiltration of the evil wizard’s very citadel. Not to mention, he brought his troops out of their slump when the curse took them and consoled Stealth in his hour of need. He’s a man whom many look up to for advice, however, now he had none.

For now Sir Ed was but an animal and hunting as an animal; he could give no advice or instruction to his friend. Stealth took the incentive and began to head off parallel to where the deer grazed. He intended to flank it and made a motion with his paw for Edmund to do the same.

Stealth trotted through the foliage with a careful paw. Occasionally he brushed past a pine tree and found himself rubbing his muzzle against some things. The cat came about and found the beast in the same spot though a few paces up from before.

The feline found a good spot from which to pounce, though he hesitated. Ether due to his human side clashing or because his cheetah side hadn’t kicked in – the animal hadn’t moved so he felt no urge to chase – or both. He sat and waited for something to happen. Stealth’s light brown orbs caught the shape of another creature near by.

Though difficult to tell; cheetahs have some colour vision however it did him no good, he caught the movement on the far side of the clearing. Stealth recognised the creature as Edmund and tried to signal to the knight to move to another location, lest he get trampled by the stag in its flight.

This translated into a waving paw that Ed had trouble understanding. Stealth realised the dilemma and wondered how to signal the other big cat. During his musing he noticed some more movement in the corner of his eye. The stag had moved on – probably just a bit further up or so – and Edmund made some movement that Stealth had trouble making out due to the various obstructions about.

His heart skipped a beat when he realised the knight to be giving the signal to cut and RUN. Edmund leapt into the clearing to hiss and draw attention away. Stealth snapped his head about with ears folded just in time to see the large prey animal charge and strike his side with its antlers, a crack resonating. The knight could do nothing but watch as the other full form cheetah was scooped up in those antlers and thrown behind the beast. He fell limply to the ground.

The cat knight pounced and bore his fangs into the animal’s fore hoof; it cried out and kicked itself free of the predator. Edmund’s jaw hurt a little with the dislodgment however he remained grateful to avoid a kick to the head. For the second time that day the stag eluded them and more than that; this time it had managed to injure one of them, yet, when Ed approached the other cat, Stealth stood on four legs once more.

Despite his apparent recovery the pain he suffered clearly showed in his eyes; even in this primitive form Stealth bore a grim expression. Though perhaps the form suited him for it; he looked like a grumpy cat. When Ed nosed about his ribs to inspect the damage, Stealth flinched. The courier snapped his head about and hissed.

Edmund rose once more to his morph form to inspect the animal’s side more accurately while ignoring any more objections. “A few of these are fractured,” he started, it was the first words spoken in some time, “at least one is broken.”

Making sure he’d be lying on his back, Stealth shifted to his morph form and grit his sharp teeth from the agony of his shifting ribs. Edmund shook his head, “unwise; now two or three of them are probably broken.”

“I don’t care!” The injured creature snapped. “Damned if I stay stuck in that form till I heal.” He mumbled.

“Then I hope the change isn’t terribly counter-productive.” Edmund scratched his chin in thought, “we’ll need to find out from the healers.” The knight tried to help him off the ground, “can you walk? I fear my men are out of ear shot and I dare not leave you here like this.” He explained.

Stealth grunted and tried to prop himself up, “I think I’m built to handle a bit of punishment, don’t worry.” He informed the paladin who scooped him up and supported him by slinging the couriers’ arm around his neck.

Edmund struggled to grip Stealth’s wrist as he held something in his paw and wasn’t in the best situation to adjust it. Stealth paid no heed to whatever the knight held as he was in too much pain and too nauseas to really care. Regardless, they began to shuffle off back in the direction where they had left their mounts.

Upon reaching the clearing, Edmund set Stealth down against the base of a pine and called out to his men. All three heard the call and made their way with the two riderless mounts up the incline.

“What happened here?” The dabble-gray stallion, Alwyn asked as he and Amanda led the two horses up.

“Gored by a buck.” Edmund began, “he has some broken and fractured ribs.” He indicated the precise place on the cheetah’s side.

After some more consultation the gender and horse morphs collected the cheetah morph off the ground. The last of them kept watch; being a bat and having wings built into his arms made the task difficult, not impossible but still difficult.

Stealth cursed and groaned but eventually they returned a form of modesty to him as well as helped the big cat back into the saddle.

Later that day the cheetah attempted to rest as ordered, with his chest bound. He had been lucky, he knew but the thought didn’t make the pain go away. He didn’t catch the stag; he screwed up and it hurt in more ways than one.

Stealth’s sensitive feline ears perked at the sound of foot steps in the corridor beyond his door. He lived in a place high up in the keep – usually – mostly out of the way and only ever really traversed by the guards to and from their shifts on the battlements or rarely an animal morphed keeper trying out their wings. Rare because they could do that wherever; climbing to this altitude on foot seemed un-necessary most of the time.

But then the footsteps ended at his door followed by a loud knock. Stealth hesitated a moment before responding so he could sniff at the air and try to discern the identity of the visitor, though he couldn’t through the door. “Come in.” He didn’t feel the need to shout; who ever it was just might be able to hear his breathing!

The door to his apartment creaked open revealing the lithe form of the Paladin Knight, Edmund. The visit wasn’t entirely unexpected, though the object held in his arms was. In his paws, Ed held a pot with wooden bowls resting over the lid.

“Greetings!” The visiting cheetah deftly placed the combined items on a writing desk near the bed. At first Stealth could only look on with an open muzzle.

“What’s this?” he eventually asked.

“It’s what we brought back from the hunt.” Edmund got out some utensils.

“But the deer got away; we brought back nought but my broken bones.” Stealth informed, pained to say it.

“And this,” The knight opened the lid to the pot.

The warm, delicious scent of boiled hare with vegetables his Stealth’s nose, “You found my Bunny!”

Edmund grinned, “I grabbed it just after we split up to flank the deer, and kept it near by. After leaving you at the healers’ and seeing to my men I dressed it and cooked it.”

“You can cook?” The bed ridden cat asked sounding impressed.

“Aye, clean and cook a catch.” The cat knight informed and handed him a bowl of steaming hot rabbit stew. “My father believed that a good knight was capable of taking care of himself.”

“Trained in sword and stew!” Stealth joked and gratefully took the hot bowl.

“Ironically enough we used to have cheetahs and hunted with them all the time. It's still feels odd to experience the hunt from THEIR point of view.”

“This was my first hunt; I’ve nothing to compare it to.”

Edmund nodded, “So what do you think of your first hunt?”

Stealth’s bowl sat forgotten. His eyes became distant, “I’ve never hunted anything but I always thought if I did it would be with a bow in my hand” he couldn’t help but feel a tinge of regret; his first hunt and he did so as a beast.

While Stealth did spend a great deal of time as an animal, it would always be for a ‘human’ purpose, even the game of predator and prey wasn’t real.

Edmund detected the slump in conversation and attempted to re kindle it, “you’ve experienced something few could. I’ve no doubt that many seasoned hunters would envy the use of tooth and claw over hoof and bow” he explained.

Stealth nodded, “I can’t describe the feeling, when I saw that movement I felt drawn to it, I just couldn’t help it.” The crippled cat stirred his stew idly, “Then when I caught it, when I actually caught something...” one hand held the bowl from spilling its contents on his lap, the other remained mostly free save the wooden spoon; he waived it in a small circle like a wand in an attempt to articulate the description.

“And I didn’t use any tools.” His gaze didn’t stray from the bowl, nor did he really appear to be looking at it yet he soon blinked back and saw it once more, “I caught this and you cooked it for me, thank you.”

Edmund nodded once again, “thank you for catching it.”

“Though the contrast seems almost unreal; like I should be eating it raw, out there in the field. But no, no that’s where I draw the line.”

“So do I. Speaking of which, don’t let it grow cold.” Ed pointed out. The Knight hadn’t taken a bite yet but waited for his friend.

Stealth took the paladin’s advice and began on the stew, at first in frenzied spoonfuls but soon hauled in his survival instincts and tried to savour the flavour properly as Edmund had the sense to.

Despite the pain and humiliation those cursed endured – at least for most at one point or another - it still proved not only useful but fascinating and intriguing. His feline tongue coupled with the human invention of cooking made for an interesting flavour the likes of which nether a human or wild animal could experience.

Edmund chuckled, “It looks like we’ll need to catch more hares.” His expression changed, “but I understand if you wouldn’t like to go out there again, Stealth.”

“Actually,” Stealth started before another spoon full, “I would like to try again; it was fun. I’ll keep it in my sights next time and I’ll just chase it; like I’m supposed to!”

“Indeed, the same planning and strategy which work in hunting will do good in your scout training too...” Edmund reasoned.

"Well you did say this would be part of my scout training. I just didn't expect to get a lesson in first aid too." Stealth pointed out.

“Think of it as part of your training for travelling the wilderness full form and catching food, but as for tactics always think like a human and never let your instincts take over. Your mind is your best weapon.”

The injured cat nodded to him with his face down at the empty bowl. “Things could have been a lot worse.”

“True.” Edmund agreed, “You could have been killed by that beast.”

“No, I mean I didn’t loose my mind; I didn’t give in to any feral instinct or primitive thought.” He balanced the spoon on a claw-tipped finger while the thought rolled about in his mind.

“That’s because you’ve adapted and learned to control it, not deny it,” Edmund finished his own bowl and collected the crippled cats’, “I told you, Stealth, you can control and channel the instincts and today you kept the cheetah in check.” He pat his friend on the shoulder then got up to leave.

“Hey, you left the stew.” Stealth pointed out with a claw.

“Aye, and extra bowls; I made sure to have your friends informed of what happened.” The knight smiled.

“What did you tell them?” The other cat asked timidly.

“Merely that you met someone but they took you for a ride.” Ed joked.

“What?!” Stealth spluttered and winced in pain.

“I only told them you were injured during an exercise, that’s all.” Edmund chuckled and opened the door once more, “Get well, my friend; I look forward to the next hunt!”

“We can try again tomorrow!” Stealth offered sarcastically.

“Get better first.” Edmund ordered, “Then we’ll have you up and running on four legs again, and I’ll still drill you on your weapons training.” He finished.

Stealth waived a hand in dismissal, “That wont be a problem, Alex is training me in archery.” He announced in confidence.

The knight nodded with a smile, “Good; Alex has exceptional skill in the use of a bow, you could learn a great deal. And she’ll be coming up; I made sure to tell her.”

Stealth nodded, “thanks” he tried to adjust his posture, “next time I’ll catch something big enough to feed an army.”

“Aye, WE’LL catch something.” Edmund corrected with a bemused grin.

“Yes...” Stealth began, “or we could both try to...”

Edmund barked a laugh, “Another challenge? Slow down, lad. First I’ll guide you, then you can challenge me.”

“Well, ether way, I look forward to it.” Stealth shrugged.

The paladin cheetah nodded once more and left the room.