At the doors of the Long House a rail thin young man looked at his feet as he explained to the guards why he was there. “Um I am a courier and I was told that my client lives here in Long House.”
“And who would that be?”
The courier looked down at a small piece of paper that he held in his hand. “Um it says here Kristinai Belancourt.”
“Ah yes. She is a resident here, though she isn't a Long, instead she is engaged to one, I believe her beau is that fierce looking white tiger Oberon. That is one cat I wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of.”
The second guard chuckled at the first one's comment before saying, “You can go on in there kid, but watch yourself, ok?”
The courier nodded slowly and made his way into the Long Hall.
In a short time he found himself standing in front of a heavy iron bound door with a series of angular runes etched into the wood.
Inside the room Kristinai Belancourt was sitting in one of the heavy chairs that her fiancé kept in his living room, reading a book and watching his adopted son, Garen, play on the floor with a wooden toy. There was a heavy knock at the door and she placed her book on the table beside her, paused long enough to scoop Garen off of the floor before she opened the heavy door and answered.
“Yes.” She looked at the slender golden furred figure in the hall. “Who are you?” She asked while Garen tried to bury his head into her shoulder.
The visitor appeared to be mildly irritated as he said, “I'm the courier that you sent for, ma'am.”
“Ah! Sorry, please come in.” She said realising her mistake.
The cheetah smiled slightly exposing a set of sharp white teeth.
Kristinai stepped out of the way and then guided the cheetah to a large leather chair before she sat down across from him. “I need you to get a message to my fiancé… that is if you can find him.”
The smaller cat sat down in the chair provided, being careful of his long fluffy tail. “That really shouldn't be a problem Miss; I've found the smallest cottages hidden in this valley, so finding him shouldn't be a problem.”
“Well you see right now he is, as far as I know, relaxing somewhere southeast of the Keep. Though I don't precisely know where.”
“Right at this time he is using his full form, to let the stress of his jobs out in a constructive manner that won't hurt anyone.”
“I understand. I take it you won't be sending a package out?” Stealth asked.
She nodded, “Well I have this,” She pulled out a small ivory coloured parchment envelope. “But that isn't what he rea....” She got interrupted all of a sudden by a loud yowl from Garen. “Please excuse Garen he really doesn't know any better.”
Stealth nodded and flinched at the sound.
“I am really sorry that you have to be here right now. Garen is having a bad day. He doesn't like it when his father isn't here.”
“I understand.” The cat reached over for the letter.
At that moment Garen got free from Kristinai, went up to the strange cat and looked into his eyes. “Who you?”
Stealth flinched and stepped back. “...I'm Stealth.”
“You find Papa?”
“...yes.” The cheetah nodded. “I'll find your dad, lad.”
“You nice.” At that point Kristinai stood up and picked up Garen, “Ugh someone needs a change.” She then turned to the cheetah. “Stealth you can let yourself out now. I kind of have my hands full.”
“Yes Mamm!” Quickly the feline took the letter from Kristinai and promptly escaped.
Finding a lone house in the countryside was one thing but finding a single being was another. Stealth cringed at the thought as he disrobed in the brush outside Euper's southern gate. The courier didn't know exactly how he would find a prowling tiger. Then again he did have a working nose... perhaps this little endeavour will be easier than using typical directions.
Feeling cautiously optimistic, the cheetah carelessly stuffed his clothing into his backpack yet carefully placed the letter separately from the clothes and in a way it would be safe from crumpling or folds. After deftly putting on the pack and attaching the straps that would secure it into place in his full form, Stealth shifted onto four legs and began the run south.
In the spring, when he'd begun running about like an animal, the cat encountered snow in places though in piles that were melting in the warmer days. With this run, Stealth soon found himself encountering the first new snow of the season. In most places it only began to crop up but judging by the direction his nose led him, the cheetah realised his quarry lurked somewhere in a large field of snow toward the southern horizon.
Before too long, Stealth scampered through small mounds of fresh mush... it kinda stung his paws but he tried to ignore it. Just so long as his nose didn't become numb in the chill he would finish this task. After some more time he had trouble with the scent; Stealth knew a tiger prowled in the area, but he could make out nothing more precise. He considered backtracking, or perhaps just wandering.
Better yet, Stealth decided it would be best to shift and dress in warm clothing before searching the area. Besides, he would need the use of a muzzle capable of human speech as well as longer digits to get hold of the envelope. Before the thought came to fruition, the cat's eyes widened to movement in the snow.
He couldn't see what, but something in the snow moved. Stealth soon realised it to be a white-furried rabbit and it was already escaping him. A bit of play-hunting wouldn't set him back so the cheetah bounded through the snow after the moving thing. He did enjoy chasing moving things; there was no denying it...
Stealth experienced difficulty hunting in the snow, he soon realised. Limited traction on the forest floor was worse, but bounding through a fresh dusting still proved challenging as it hampered speed due to his lengthy legs getting more work out of gaining enough height to clear each stride in the snow, than gaining ground on his quarry.
The southern cat began to tire and it didn't help matters that his body felt numb. Out of luck he saw another bunny closer to the side, partially obscured by foliage jutting out of the snow. This time it was a cute, brown bunny. Promptly the predator changed targets and ran after the one closest to him.
This proved useless as the other lapin evaded him just as easily. Stealth made a last ditch effort by pouncing and crashed into another snow mound, the rabbit easily evading him. However at that moment, the feline had bigger concerns, or rather one big concern. Towering above him stood a fairly large tiger morph clad only in his fur.
“Why are you chasing rabbits in the snow?”
The full-form keeper chirped to the tiger. The morphed feline looked down at the smaller cat and then shifted back to full form as he saw a shiver run through his slender frame. Stealth instinctively sniffed at the big cat. The tiger rubbed its large heavy body against the smaller feline trying to share some of its body heat with him, since he was obviously not used to the cold weather.
Stealth flinched at the contact, though realised how cold he was. The snow cat watched the small feline for a moment and then turned around and indicated with its snout the direction of the Keep. When the big cat's back was turned, Stealth shifted to his morph form and reached into his pack for his pair of pants. Stealth didn't expect to encounter the snow tiger as soon as he did; the cheetah was caught by surprise.
Oberon swivelled his ears around and then turned to face the cheetah as he donned a pair of trousers before shifting once more to his morphic form. “Why did you come out here? Did you not smell my signs?”
“Your... signs?” Stealth raised an eye ridge.
“Is your feline nose full of cotton? I marked this region as my own.”
Stealth regarded the tiger for a moment, “What does the Duke have to say about that?”
“He has not complained to me thus far so I must assume that he is ok with it.”
“I see...” Stealth wondered at the state of this Oberon's sanity, even for a cat that is, “So what now, will you kill me for 'invading' your territory?”
“You may have entered my territory Little Cat but I don't take things quite that far. The only ones that I have killed up here for invading my territory thus far are Lutins.”
“Okay.” Stealth paused, “You understand most people wouldn't stake such a claim as their species might, it is interesting and unexpected.”
“I am more then I appear. I am Kelmar Warrior and I have merged with soul guide, who was the same species as I am. Hence I picked up a number of things from him including my enjoyment of hunting in my full form out here.”
The cheetah stared blankly with confusion across his features, “Kelmar? Ah...” Stealth struggled for a moment then remembered his purpose, “I have a message for you.”
“So you have a good reason to be out here then. I do not begrudge you that. Now who is this message from?”
Stealth pondered and tried to recall, “cristi or something, she was a snow leopard I believe. The name should be on the parchment...” The cat began to fumble about for the letter in his pack, as well as some warmer clothes.
“You mean my dear Kristinai?”
The smaller cat nodded, “Yeah that was it,” his paws were numb though he did manage to find the letter and held it out, “this is it.”
“Thank you messenger....wait didn't I see you at the autumn festival?”
“You probably did sir, and I am a courier.” Stealth corrected.
“Ah sorry. Do you hunt often in full form?”
“Hunt? I have once.” Stealth began, “Didn't go to well.”
“I can teach you if you want, though by looking at you your technique would be different from mine.”
“My technique would be fairly straight forward, but I try to think as a human when I go about it.”
“Ah. Well I meld techniques, from both sides of myself, the feline, and the human. I've found that it makes me a very good predator.”
“Aye, I've found that's what most morphed warriors strive for.” Stealth nodded.
“I hope you don't mind carrying this for me till I get to the Keep cause I didn't bring any clothes with me when I came out here.”
The cheetah nodded in understanding, “of course not, I'll keep it safe till then.”
“Thank you.” Oberon quietly shifted back into his massive tiger form before he stepped onto the trail, stopping once to look back at the now fully clothed cheetah to see if he was going to follow him.
Stealth looked to the full form tiger with mild irritation, “I'll catch up, don't worry.”
The tiger scout shook his head lightly and began to lope easily towards home with the oh-so young cheetah following in his tracks. When the snow tiger was far enough away Stealth pulled off his clothing once more and stuffed it back into his pack while managing not to damage the letter. With some difficulty he kicked off his pants but tied a thick top around his neck creating an unintentional cape. When he finally managed to get the pack back on and shift he bolted toward the departing Long, a warm fleece flowing over the slender cat.
When they reached Euper, Oberon went to the small house that he had purchased just before the Autumn Festival and got dressed. As the snow tiger stepped out of the door of the place, Stealth handed him the letter that he was to deliver and was about to go when the larger feline placed his hand on the cheetah's shoulder.
“You in a big hurry little cat?”
“Not really, I should get back to wait for more assignments.” He explained.
Oberon chuckled lightly and said, “You can come with me for a while, and I'll give you a little something for the trouble that you took in tracking me down.”
The smaller cat smiled. “I'd like that, Big Cat.”
The tiger guided the spotted cat to his home in the Long House and as he pushed the door open a grey form caromed into him, “PAPA HOME!!!” He picked Garen up and laughed, “He always knows when I get home before I even open the door.”
The spotted cat was startled for a moment and moved to the side.
Oberon gave him a bit of a silly grin. “You seen my son yet?”
“Aye, I met your family before.” Stealth answered.
“Well come in and take a seat. I will be a few moments.” He told the skittish looking courier as he headed for the forge. After a few minutes of searching Oberon located what he was looking for and came back into the living room. “Now I hope you appreciate this dagger, since I made it with my own two hands naught more then a month ago.”
“A dagger?” Stealth looked it over, awed at the thought of a gift.
“Yes, and a nice calming drink of Kelmar Wine from my homeland.” As Oberon said that he placed a crystal glass of the deep red wine on the table beside the chair that he was sitting in. The Long scout took his own glass and sat down opposite him. “Do you need anything else from this old warrior that I might be able to provide?”
“No sir. It was only a letter.” Stealth's ears folded and they blushed profusely.
“I know it was only a letter but my young friend I think you show some signs of promise...if you were to get the proper training as a scout...”
“I am training to be a scout.” He explained.
“Are getting training from a Long Scout?”
“No Sir.” The cat shook his head. “Regular scouts.”
“Well I am a Long and I can offer you some really good field tips if you would like them, I am also an experienced hunter and I can show you how to get the most out of your full feline form...when you aren't freezing.”
The cheetah blushed under his fur some more.
“You were shivering out there today, and don't try to deny it. I saw...and felt it.”
“I know, I know, you're right.” He sighed and turned his gaze down.
“What is it?”
“No, nothing, I would greatly appreciate the help. I believe the Longs do spend time training the regular scouts.” The smaller cat finally took up the offered glass in a paw and sniffed at the elixir.
“Well I can talk to that old Jackal in the Scout Hall if you want...”
Stealth smiled and looked up again. “Why do you wish to help me? These are very nice gifts too.” He noted and took a sip. Though Stealth didn't really drink, he thought this wine was a gracious gesture and wanted to show his gratitude.
The tiger laughed lightly. “Little cat I've done a lot things in my time, and not all of them good. However, since I got here I've found that I want to improve my fellow Keepers lives as much as I can. If that means teaching them what I know...I will do it. I've seen too many good people die from a lack of training not to do anything now.”
“Thank you, thank you for everything, Big Cat.”
Oberon nodded and finished his wine. “You like that...” He was interrupted by a light snore coming from Garen who was snuggled up in his arms. He smiled and looked up again. “Did you enjoy the wine?”
Stealth licked his lips. “I don't really drink to be honest.” He admitted, feeling it more respectful and courteous to his new friend to be open than blanching behind his back. “But it means a lot to me.”
“Ah...I should really have asked.”
“It's fine.” The smaller feline reassured, “I'm not opposed to alcohol or anything.”
“You would just rather not be drinking it.” The bigger cat said quietly as he took a sip of his wine.
“Well I don't think I'll ever end up under the table but I can still appreciate the taste of something different.” The cheetah offered and took another sip, measuring the taste. “Now if it were lamp oil or something I'd most likely be more reserved.”
“That wine is almost priceless here...comes from my homeland...and I only have six more bottles of it.”
“I understand Big Cat. This is no inferior drink. I can taste the quality, that's what I meant.”
“No worries little cat...just enjoy it...Kristinai always wants to try cooking with it.” Oberon put his glass down, “How is your training with the scouts going?”
“Ah...” Stealth began as he recalled. His face was a mix of discomfort and amusement, “I've been getting good advice from some evil scouts.”
“They aren't evil little cat. They are just trying to teach you the skills that you will need to stay alive out there.”
“I know but some of the females can be quite intensive and seem to enjoy it.” Stealth joked.
“Thank the Nine I didn't have to enjoy their tender lessons.” The snow tiger joked.
“Then how did you become as good as you have?” Stealth placed the empty glass down, feeling more at ease now though probably on account of the conversation rather than the wine. Unless Kelmar wine packed a punch he didn't anticipate.
"I trained from when I was 5."
“Oh.” He said softly. “Everyone I know seems to have started at an early age.”
“That's why the lessons seem harsh, little cat. As you learn, it will become easier. In time you may even teach your instructors a thing or two.”
The cheetah nodded in contemplation. Thus far he'd trained under a variety of instructors and thoroughly practiced their contrasting techniques, now he'd train under the eye of a giant tiger morph and one with far more experience then all others he knew of. It was a daunting thought but he somehow knew the big cat would be more restrained; Oberon couldn't be as bad as Misha, George or even worse, the malicious female lynx, Alia!