It felt so good to run again, the wind in his fur left Roxil with an exhilarated feeling he could never describe to a human. He’d lost his prey yesterday; too many years without enough food, water, and activity left Roxil weak but he wouldn’t be evaded again today. Human. He ignored the scent in the air, sure the stag was on to him again. Out here so deep in the Wyld nothing was as it appeared, out here even a simple stag could be able to manipulate minds. There was no human, only Roxil and his prey. A mortal would never make it this far into the Wyld without a Lunar escort and if there were a Lunar nearby Roxil would have smelled them already. Human. He ignored that smell a second time, his own wives had turned him away and told him not to come back without dinner. Dian claimed Roxil was unmanageable and it was Artur’s turn to be a father. Unmanageable, Roxil huffed from his perch in the tree, silently lurking in the stag’s path. It was true she had that sweeter scent recently and it drove him mad, even Artur complained that it made him too amorous. He huffed a second time, knowing it was true. It was the same every time one of his wives was ready to have children. Human. His instincts finally got the best of him. He leapt from the tree sending his stag fleeing away but his mind was already elsewhere.
Human. It definitely wasn’t the stag. Roxil had encountered a few creatures here before that could manipulate minds but it was an entirely instinctive defense. A stag might have gotten lucky distracting Roxil with the scent of a human once, but twice was a stretch and four times was impossible. He followed the scent as fast as his legs would take him which was faster than any mortal could move. Even in his still diminished physique, his war form – the amalgamation of man and cat – allowed him to cover a little over two miles in a little under a minute and half. He was panting when he reached the source of the scent, his legs were tireless but not his lungs. He had seen a lot of things in the centuries he had lived, most of those years spent in the Wyld. Roxil had never seen anything like this strange metal bird before. It seemed to have fallen from the sky, one of its wings was broken and a thick plume of smoke billowed into the sky. It smelled more of metal than flesh, but he was far into the Bordermarches so it didn’t surprise him much. He moved a little closer to the bird, unsure if it was still alive or not but he knew the human was close. The transition back to his human form was instant. He didn’t like the idea of climbing through the burning remains of this creature without the extra resistance his war form provided, but mortals found it threatening and if the human was injured he didn’t want to frighten them. He dropped the leather bag from his shoulders to retrieve the pants mortals often insisted he wore and tied his long hair back with a strip of leather before crawling through an opening in the strange carcass.
He had been wrong, there were three near identical metal men inside. No, they were armored, but it wasn’t like any other armor he’d seen. The armor itself was starkly white but two of them wore blue pauldrons and belt-spats, the third wore green. One of the men in blue started stirring as Roxil edged his way closer. He groaned as he pulled himself upright and started pulling off his helmet. It wasn’t until he looked up again that he saw Roxil and raised some strange device toward him. The man’s eyes were wide, humans often wore that same expression the first time they saw Roxil. Maybe it was the feline ears, the slit pupils, his long-haired tail. Or maybe it was the fire glinting off the silver tattoos covering his body.
“Who are you? Where have we crashed?” The words themselves were unfamiliar, but the hearthstone embedded in Roxil’s chest translated for him. The man squinted at him, taking in the sight of his feline ears and long tail coated in long black fur.
“Anat Roxil, ochi ami Xylithippi so hiti ami Harakuema so Cherochybi. Kimwa wakar Rin-Ita?” Roxil cocked his head waiting, but the man shrugged and shook his head. He dropped his arm with another groan, clutching his side as though he were in a great deal of pain.
“Radio?” He tapped his helmet on the ground. “My bucket is malfunctioning, I need to signal the crash. This bird won’t be moving anytime soon and we’ve got a schedule to keep.” He was already started to move, carefully pulling the helmets off one of the other men. He bent down with his ear to the man’s mouth and sighed with relief before repeating it with the second. The one in green started to stir as well now.
Travel through the Wyld was easy when you knew how. Roxil found the weight wasn’t as much as he expected, most of his strength was returning. Still, he had to move slow to avoid aggravating any injuries the men had sustained, and the one on his feet was in rough shape anyway. They made as much conversation as they could, each learning as they traded words back and forth, identifying objects and telling stories. Every new word Roxil learned was translated back, and the man memorized them easily. By the time they reached the gates of Roxil’s nearest city they were able to communicate almost efficiently. It wasn’t long before Roxil understood how they wound up so far into the Wyld and why their armor appeared so strange to him. His heart broke for them when he had to tell them they would never go home and they would never again see their family. The man, Jaing, told him about the bright column of light that swelled around their ship before their engines failed and they were crashing. Roxil had heard of it once before, a friend had spent more than two centuries trying to find a way back to their own home with no success.
“Just tell me the name of the planet,” Jaing had asked him. He was so sure he would find it on the charts and they’d call for help.
“I don’t understand, what is a planet?” Roxil’s question elicited more swearing.
“The world,” It surprised both of them when the man in green raised his head slightly and spoke. “The big sphere in space you’re standing on…” Roxil actually laughed.
“Kageta, the world isn’t a sphere. If it were round how would anyone live on the sides or bottom? They’d fall right off.”
“J’ika, where do you find this di’kut?”
“He found us, ner vod. You do know what gravity is, yeah Roxil?”
“Of course, it pulls you down. That’s why everyone would fall off if the world were round, because gravity would pull them down off the world.” The moment Roxil stepped through the gates a dozen children ran toward him, more than half sporting thick coats of glossy black fur or puffy cat-like tails. Roxil scooped one up in his arms without even stopping, a young girl by the looks of it, but it was difficult to tell through the fur. He showered the children with affection in a way that reminded Jaing of his own father, a painful reminder; he desperately wanted to see his Kal’buir again. Roxil knelt to allow some men from the city to take the armored man and for a boy to climb up onto his back to start digging around his bag.
“You went to Shishimissi again, didn’t you papa?”
“I did.” He replied.
“And you brought sugar seeds from Miss Maaki?”
“Now why would I do that?”
“Because they’re my favorite!” The boy continued picking through the items in Roxil’s bag as he stood and continued walking.
“Oh, are they? I didn’t know.” He grinned.
“You did! You did know, I told you, papa!” The boy nearly burst into tears before he finally found a small box wrapped in leaves. When he opened it, he was grinning as widely as his father.
“Don’t forget to thank Miss Maaki when she visits next week. You know you won’t see her again in your lifetime. Would you like to share with my new friends?”
“No.” But the boy held the box in front of Jaing anyway. It was filled with little translucent spheres that appeared to be full of pink liquid. They smelled delightfully sweet, temptation made Jaing reach for the box but pulled his hand back. A’den wasn’t so shy, with one arm still wrapped over his brother’s shoulders to support himself he reached out and popped one of the spheres in his mouth. A few seconds later he grinned. He offered one to Jaing, but his brother was distracted staring directly at Roxil. The tattooed man’s nostrils flared repeatedly, his emerald green irises turned pure silver.
“Ellias, will you take the children to help prepare for the festival? Allodan, help my new friends get settled? They can stay in the upper level of the temple until better accommodations can be prepared.” He was looking straight toward the center of the city the entire time, his eyes never moved. “Papa has some adult matters to attend to so behave for Ellias.”
The man identified as Allodan stepped forward to lead the brothers away as the 3rd started moving finally. It was obvious Roxil was following his nose toward something, and it was leading him the same way they were going. After several minutes they came to a large stone building that looked like it had once been a ruin before these people moved in.
“Asaana! It’s such a pleasure to see you again!” Roxil stepped through the open doorway with his arms stretched wide and a huge grin across his face. Allodan lead the brothers through the same door. Inside a man covered in similar silver tattoos was sprawled across a pile of cushions on the floor covered in a sheen of sweat, completely nude.
“Silence, cat.” He nearly spat but there was a hint of a needy whine in his voice. “You know I hate you.”
“Not enough to stop coming back.” Roxil’s eyes narrowed but his smile was unchanged.
“You know what I need. Don’t waste my time.”
“Is that any way to ask for a favor?”
“It’s not a favor I just need you to fuck me!” He was almost pleading now, grinding his hips down into the pillows. His eyes were full of spite but he rolled over and silently mouthed ‘please’ as Roxil took a jar from a long table and approached him. Jaing raised an eyebrow and let his gaze linger for a moment before Allodan ushered them down a flight of stairs.
“Already prepared for me, you just couldn’t wait to have me inside could you?” Roxil’s laugh and Asaana’s accompanying groan could still be heard as they reached the bottom of the stairs.
“I apologize,” Allodan said to them as his friends set the third brother on mattress against one wall. A woman in a sheer white gown appeared moments later and started examining him. “Asaana visits monthly. She’s a wolf spirit, her urges can cause intense pain if they aren’t seen to. She said once she used to try to wait it out because she really doesn’t care for our god, but it can last days, even a week and he’s the only one that’s been able to satisfy them.”
“She? Wait, your god?”
“Roxil, our divine leader, Catman. As for Asaana, you’ve never met one of Luna’s chosen have you? They are almost never what they appear. She only meets with Roxil in a male adaptation of her true shape. She claims she’d die of shame if Roxil filled her with kittens but he would never do so without permission.” Allodan waited for the next question, but Jaing and A’den silently agreed it would be best not to ask.
The brothers waited for the third to wake, whispering quietly amongst themselves so the Allodan and the woman wouldn’t hear. It was nearly an hour before Mereel opened his eyes, rolling over with an expression of wide-eyed fear until he saw his brothers nearby. The woman beckoned them to follow back upstairs when she was sure it was safe for him to move. They were all exhausted, sore, and wary, but her promise of a full stomach had them moving quickly enough. Back up in the main room a woman slept in the cushions with tattoos matching the Asaana they had seen earlier but now there were two Roxils. One leaning on a wall sipping a dark purple liquid, the other lying flush against the woman running his tongue over the side of her neck. Another question they agreed not to ask. Most of them anyway, as the woman urged them out of the temple Mereel lagged behind just a little. He found it difficult to tear his eyes away from the sleeping woman’s curves. Eventually he snapped out of it, feeling in a way like he was intruding and catching up with his brothers.