• 3 Years Ago

    The sky was cloudless, letting the sun have this day and shine its warmth and light over the ocean. Waves were soft and few, rolling over the surface in a dance of moving hills of blues and frothy whites. The rumbling sounds were background to music off in the distance. Waves seemed to follow the joyous tunes of flutes and ominous booms of drums to a tall cliff with jagged, pointed rocks at the bottom. For a moment, the waves would hide the horrific teeth from view, but the cover couldn't last long enough.

    Atop the cliff, about thirty feet above the teeth, the grassy flat wrapped around a tribal village on a slowly declining slope. Just beyond this half-circle of cliff lay Miles of savanna and thick jungle that could just barely be made out over the horizon. Back on the cliff above the village, played the inhabitants of that village. They danced and played instruments on a circle of dirt littered with skins, said instruments, food, drink, clothing, and a large fire in the center; this party had been going on since nightfall the previous day, and it had only been light a few hours this day. Since early morning, the reason for the ceremony had been underway.

    The people of the Fanglord tribe were of a strange race, the Artemi, specifically Jaguar Artemi. Most of the males looked human with animal-like eyes, teeth, and claws; but the rest and all the females bore tails and ears of Jaguars that were not accessories, but part of the people themselves. They wore furs and skins taken from animals of the jungles, and jewelry made from teeth, bones, and colorful stones that were occasionally fashioned into decorative beads.

    One woman stood out from the rest, Yuga Fanglord, she wore layers of skins and a crown of feathers and teeth on her head over long black hair. She took the long, blond braid of a teenage girl standing before her, “Niana Byon, I stand before the tribe and welcome you into adulthood! With the removal of this braid that tied you to childhood, you become a respected member of the Fanglord tribe” And she put a knife, made from a tooth of some massive animal, to the point where braid met the back of the girls head tied with a string of leather. With one swift movement, the hair was cut through like butter; and short, straight hair fell about the girl's tanned, jaguar-spotted cheeks freely. Many roared out in happiness, and the girl smiled as she joined the rest. Yuga, the leader of the tribe, called out with a proud smile, “And finally, my own cubs; first, my daughter, Raven, who enters adulthood at the age of fourteen . A proud and skilled hunter!”

    Raven was a mirror image of her mother, beautiful with long black hair and stunning green eyes on tanned skin. She was lankier than her mother but just as confident as she walked up and stood before her, turning to offer her braid. Yuga gave the same speech and sliced her hair. Fewer people cheered. Raven held a feature that scared the tribe and differed from her mother, she was born with black ears and a black tail. Because of the solid color, she was seen as cursed, and was named not jaguar but panther. She shared this feature with one other in the tribe.

    “And my eldest, my son, Shard who enters adulthood at the age of eighteen. An elegant mage born of ice.”

    No one stood.

    Yuga blinked and looked about the party, calling louder, “Shard Fanglord!”

    Still, no one stood to answer her call.

    Yuga grew angry and lowered the knife. For the fourth year in a row, Shard dodged his adulthood and the formal removal of his braid. As she turned to join the crowd, prepared to finish the ceremony at that, Raven rose and ran to her.

    “Mother, forgive him.” the girl begged, taking her mother’s arm.

    “I cannot, he's done this for his last time!” Yuga growled with venom, stopping at the hands of her daughter, “He disgraces his tribe, and his name, for the last time; may he forever be just a boy!”

    Raven inwardly growled at the men behind her, who snickering at her beloved older brother's sentence. But she outwardly lifted a pleading face to her mother; two bright, almost glowing green eyes matching the leaders own begged Yuga desperately, “Let me talk to him, please. And if he does not come, he will have to accept his eternal title as a mere child... and let his braid grow endless...”

    Yuga glared at her daughter, standing in stubborn anger. But after just a few short minutes in those all too familiar eyes, she broke with a sigh, “Fine...” but managed to retain her annoyance, “Go on! Go!”

    Raven nodded quickly, and turned to run down the curving slope. In mid run, her lanky body morphed into that of an elegant black panther, still with those eyes. On all fours, Raven ran with grace and speed unusual for any normal non-Artemic panther. Yuga watched her daughter go; her heart tight in knowing her own tribe hated her beautiful cubs. She believed them not cursed; there was no reason to believe it. But she had no way to sway their beliefs... those same beliefs were shared by her parents and many grandparents before her... But why? Her tribe was healthy, her tribe was happy, and they had very few times of little food. Yuga shook her head and turned as her daughter became a black dot on the horizon. Her children were not cursed, her grandparents were fools, the color of a cub’s fur did not damn her tribe, the actions of the cub do. She took a minute to breathe in and close her eyes... One of her cubs was no longer a cub... and she would soon be in these arguments herself. Was Raven fated to take her rightful role as leader someday? Or would the color of her fur forever deny her that right? Yuga's heart sunk, but she shook these thoughts out of her head, returning her thoughts to her disrespectful son...


    Raven hurried down the slope, and toward the little village of huts and tents protected from the sea by the curved cliff, she noted the few guards playing a game near the ash-filled fire pit in the center of the village; it seemed if Yuga was away, her trusted guards would play. She slowed to a walk as she approached the village, moving to a cave opening in the side of the cliff, seemingly what the village was built around. The guards spotted her, but payed her no mind, only a scowl from one, then they returned to their game. Raven shifted into her human-like form, her long tail swishing as she crouched and slipped into the cave.

    Her careful footfalls made little to no sound on the cold stone floor of the dark cave. She drug one hand along the wall to her right, her keen eyes navigating the maze of tunnels hidden beyond the initial cave entrance. She moved confidently through forks, twists, and turns till a white light showed in the distance. Going further still, the cause of the light became clear, glowing white moss growing along the walls. Raven brushes her fingers over it for a quick moment, then pulled her hand away, smearing the slimy glow on her fingers as she continued down the tunnel, examining her hand as the light danced from her fingertips.

    Not too far from the first sight of the glowing tunnel, Raven came to a blanket of tiger-fur hanging over her path. She slowed to a stop and inhaled deeply, letting the breath out slowly before she spoke, “Shard”

    She waited a moment, no answer.

    Her panther-like ears flattened against her black hair and she sighed, pushing past the fur and into the chamber beyond. It wasn't small, but wasn't large, a round room about three people in from one wall across to another, covered in the glowing moss. The floors were covered in animal furs, tools hung from the walls in three quiver-like bags. In the center of the room was a pile of furs and a long, thin figure laying beneith them; only a long black braid escaped the lion fur the figure draped itself with.

    Raven growled and knelt, taking a handful of the fur blanket and ripping it off, “Shard!”

    The figure curled into itself, a tall boy with skin so white it glowed in the moss light. He dressed in a pair of leather pants strapped at his knees and a loin-cloth-like draping of gazelle skin. The boy, Shard, covered his face with his hand, “Damn it, Raven!”

    Raven roared her panther roar, “Get up!”

    He uncovered his eyes and worked to sit up, back toward his sister. The sight of the thick, bulging scar starting at the boy's left shoulder and disappearing under his pant-line on the same side of his back made Raven flinch and her heart ache, she'd never gotten used to that mark on her dear brother's otherwise flawless body. Shard stood and turned to her, his braid settling against his thin back, the end just about a foot under his knees, his left arm dawning the swirls of a tribal tattoo that marked him as a Fanglord mage, and the light blue outline around the designs marking his mage type as one born of ice. His eyes also glowed in the light, such a beautiful crystal blue with shards of violet stretching desperately toward his round pupil, the sight reminded Raven of their father...

    Shard interrupted her memories with a soft smile, “You're braid's been cut... congratulations.”

    Raven nodded softly, “You should be up there too.”

    He sighed and reached back to run a hand along the leather strap starting the braid at the base of his head, “You know I cannot.”

    “It's not that you can't, it's that you won't.”

    “The cliff...”

    “We're not by the edge of the cliff! Actually, we're a ways from the ocean.”


    Her brow darkened and her hands settled on her hips, “Shard.”

    Shard quieted and looked away, his own brow narrowed.

    “Your fear will damn you.”

    “Damn me?”

    Raven nodded, “Mother has said that if you do not come, you will be a child for the rest of your life. Do you want that?”

    His eyes returned to her, angry, “Of course not!”

    “Then come!” She snapped, her volume making the taller sibling take a step back. Shard may have been stronger and older, but Raven always seemed to be the more intimidating of the two. Her eyes bore into Shard's, daring him to argue.

    “The water-”

    “Brave it! Brave the thought that the ocean is just over the edge of that cliff that lies so far away from where you'll be standing. Brave it long enough to prove your respect for our family and earn your passage into adulthood. If you cannot do that, then you're no Fanglord! You are but a dull child with tha undeserved mark on your arm!”

    He quieted eyes furious.

    Raven snapped again, “Brother!”

    He hissed, “Fine.”

    The girl faltered, her eyes softened, “...Really?”

    He blinked at the sudden change in her demeanor, his gut tightened against his next words, “...Yes... Let's go.”

    She blinked wide, not expecting this to be the time he finally gave in. She nodded and regained her narrowed eyes, turning to lead him out, “Alright, let's go.”

    Shard nodded and followed. He kept a strong stride and an unreadable face. But inside, he shook with fear. Memories fighting to resurface, but he forced them out, locking them out of his mind. Could he do this? … It didn't matter, he had to. His pride would not let him be damned. With a sick stomach, Shard followed his sister, watching her back... watching her hair dance freely about her shoulders. When had his little sister quite hiding behind him and started blossoming into a fierce, independent woman? When had she grown? His heart felt as if it had deflated in his chest, and his brow darkened further, and who was he now? A coward? No! He would not let that happen, he was no damned coward! He would do this, and more... he had to prove himself to his mother... but how?

    Raven led him out the cave entrance and into the sunlight, both winced in the face of such stabbing glow, but their eyes adjusted quickly. They started around the village. Shard spotted the playing guards, and growled, “What are they doing?”


    “They shouldn't be. Look.”

    Raven followed Shard's eyes and spotted a group of hyenas walking boldly toward the village, not even caring to attempt secrecy. She looked to Shard, finding a smirk on his face. She frowned, “What are you thinking?”

    He turned to her, “They need to be chased off, right?”

    “...Yes. But not by you, the guards can handle them.”

    He eyed her, then became engulfed in unnatural shadows.

    Raven sighed as she watched her brother shift into his panther form, a form just as hansom as his other. The shadows dispersed and left the black-furred cat to stretch and yawn, large fangs glistening in the sunlight. He opened his blue eyes and looked up to his sister, “You staying?”

    Raven narrowed her eyes “Are you sure you didn't get dropped on your head as a cub?”

    “Suite yourself.” He turned away with a soft chuckled as he stalked nearer to the village. Raven rolled her eyes and shifted as well; following her brother as the shadows left her slimmer panther form. Both black felines traced the outline of the outer hut walls and slipped into the tall grass, drawing nearer to the approaching threat, haunches raised and heads low. Suddenly, Shard stopped, Raven came to his side, catching the scent that halted her older brother, “Artemi.”

    “Only one of them,” Shard confirmed, “The leader.” He watched the front Hyena, and noticed its hungry eyes along with a sink, blood-curling grin. Shard lowered himself in the tall grass, his sister doing the same, both laying in silent wait, massive heads hovering only inches the ground; one with green eyes, one with blue, both eying the front canine. Shard's eyes narrowed further and his furry brow wrinkled... When did these scavengers become so bold? “Stay here” He lifted his body from the dirt.

    Raven hissed softly, “What are you going to do?”

    “Talk to it.”

    “Talk? Shard, I doubt they want to talk. They're attacking at a time the tribe is away, they planned this. These aren’t normal Hyena's... With an Artemi leading them, I fear the worst.”

    “No, there has to be something going on. Or they'd be hidden. They're purposely out in the open.” He became engulfed in the shadows of shifting.

    “Don’t be stupid!”

    “I'll be back.” Now in his Artemic form, Shard stepped out of the tall grass, nearing the group.

    Raven yelled out, “Shard! No!” and jumped out of the grass, following at his heels.

    He raised his ink-free right arm, “Ho!”

    The trio stopped, all three sets of gray eyes darting toward Shard. Only the leader stepped toward him, growling; a raspy female voice rose from the canine's body, “What do you want, cub? You're in our way!”

    Shard blinked, the voice seemed strange... almost as if two harmonious voices spoke at once, but he stood tall, “And what, may I ask, are you doing our territory?” Out of the corner of his eye, he noted his sister shift back into her original form.

    The she-hyena cackled, “You're territory? Then I take it you are a child of the Fanglords’?”

    Shard said nothing, but backed a step when the two other hyenas joined their leader. Just then, Shard caught scent of something beyond foul coming from the hyena Artemi, something beyond even the scent of a rotting carcass out in the sun for too long. He blocked his nose with a raised arm. Raven roared, catching the same scent, “What are you?!”

    A voice, similar to the leader’s, spoke from behind the panthers, “The last thing you'll ever see.”

    Raven drew her twin daggers and spun on a heel, standing back-to-back with her taller brother, finding herself faced with a pack of seven Hyena, most of which smelled of Artemi and that foulness she could not explain. Why hadn’t she noticed their scents before? Shard's back pressed closer to hers, “s**t, Raven!”

    The initial leader started to grow, its bulk and size increasing dramatically. Both pairs of panther eyes turned to it, stunned at the transformation. The monster growled and wailed, its upper body starting to gather the muscles from its midsection, its legs growing as thick as the waists of Raven and Shard combined. Claws thickened, sharpened, and elongated, definition between leg and paw disappeared. Even as it lurched forward to support itself on now definite, thick arms, the mutated hyena still stood three heads taller than Shard, and three times his width. It's eyes, now white but for a greyish pupil, targeted him, and a grin grew, showing off a mouth of razor-sharp teeth, “Kitty meat, I'm excited.”

    Just then, an arrow stuck into the shoulder of the beast, but it only took it as one would a small bite, and turned on the new enemy, the Village guards were close and rained arrows over the area. With the leader of the scavengers distracted, Shard drew his own dagger and leaped, landing on a shoulder and burying the blade in its muscle, tearing it open with a quick downward pull. The beast roared and took Shard in a clawed hand, ripping him away and throwing him to the ground, the other hand diving at him in a vicious slash, one claw ripping across his face yielding a scream of agony from the boy. Raven ran and slashed at the clawed hand, ripping a trail of red across it. The beast roared again and pulled back, a guard took over with a flash of twin blades.

    Raven helped her brother to his knees, noting how he covered his gushing right eye... there was a gathering pool of blood from his face to the dirt in a matter of moments. Shard pulled away, standing on his own, crimson liquid streaming down his chest. His good eye grew hopeful, looking toward the cliff, “The tribe!”

    Raven turned, seeing the rest of the tribe barreling down the slope in an angry mob. But she noticed something else, more and more Hyenas rose from the tall grass, morphing into the bulky, hideous beasts; apparently only the Artemi morphed, for the simple animals still remained untainted. Raven gripped her daggers tighter, “We fight!” and started into a deadly dance of blade and blood, taking out the four-legged hyena, leaving the morphed Artemi for her brother and the rest of the tribe. Shard was one step ahead of her, his tattooed arm glowing with a light blue brilliance as he waved his arm across a beast before him, exposing his closed, bloody right eye; and froze the beast in place. He allowed himself a quick smirk, but it was crumbled as the beast easily broke free. His eyes widened, impossible!!

    It seemed endless; the day was swallowed by blades, claws, pain, screams, and blood... The savanna ran slick and red, the eyes of the Artemi grew frustrated, the hyenas cackled and grinned. So many died, so many tripped over bodies of loved ones; the cries of combat mixed with the cries of agony and grief... The Fanglord tribe was sure to die; when finally and suddenly… the hyena turned tail and ran... no warning, no reason, leaving the handful of surviving tribe members still standing with no intention of running after the enemy.

    Raven, burdened by a sprained ankle and open wounds, searched her remaining tribe desperately for her mother and brother. Her eyes darted from one survivor to another, one body to another until... a familiar cry froze her heart. It was a mourning wail of her brother. Her stomach thick with worry, the girl pushed through her own people to follow the cries of her dear sibling. Eventually, Raven came to the sight she had hoped she would not... The tribe was circled around, many falling to their knees and sobbing, many frozen in horror. In the center lay the decapitated, mutilated body of Yuga Fanglord, her son at his knees beside her. Shard sobbed and screamed in grief, taking the remains of his mother’s body in his shaking arms. Raven had never seen her brother so weak... so much like a child. She could not speak, she could not cry, she only neared her brother and laid a gentle hand on his scarred, trembling back. The entire tribe allowed the cured children their space; they did not call against the boy’s cries… Even the damned deserved their tears at a moment like that.

    The cries eventually died out, and the tribe became silent and still for a few longmoment. When they were able to gather themselves, the able carried their dead back to the village and, by noon the next day, buried over a hundred bodies; all this without a single word and plenty of silent tears. The silence went on for two nights. The tribe picked at food and feared the tall grass, taking to staying within their tents. But at morning one day, the mourning turned to anger and more tragedy struck the Fanglord siblings.


    “Cursed!” A tribe woman yelled, a finger pointed at the panthers, “They did this! They led them here!” She was only one of many with the same accusation, the two Fanglord panthers stood with only themselves as support. It had been going on for a good hour now, starting with the tribe dragging Shard and Raven from the fur beds by their hair; accusing them for bringing the monsters.

    “You've all gone mad!” Raven yelled out, tears in her eyes, “We fought as you did, we lost as much as you did! We did not start this bloodshed, as you did not!”

    Shard offered no words, just stood as silent as he'd been after the fight, as if his cries only a few days ago had drained him of any other words or emotions. Not even a sigh or grunt was offered in his sisters defense, only one defeated eye, and one empty eye socket turned toward the back of Raven’s head with a distant, dull look.

    A guard spoke, “Then why were you out there alone!? Why did you not call for help!?”

    Raven snapped back with venom in her words, “Because none of you would get up and do your job! So we tried to do it for you!”

    “Lies!” A man called, “She cursed their eyes!”


    “The guards could not see the monsters until it had been too late!”

    “Are you really so ignorant!?” Raven screamed.

    They all yelled, accusing, cursing, and screaming at the two panther siblings. Shard took Raven by the shoulder, turned her around, and pulled her into a protective embrace. Raven fell apart, sobbing into his chest, “It's all over! There's nothing left for us... They’ve all gone mad with fear…”

    Her older brother only closed his eyes and rested his chin on her head. He let her cry, she needed to. But their tranquility was shattered when a rock hit Shard in the temple. The boy's eyes opened and he hissed in pain, pressing his palm to his head and eying the man who had thrown the rock. Raven broke away from Shard to turn on the tribe to shout in protest, but someone else threw a rock that hit her in the chest. More were thrown, till the two turned away and ran off into the tall grass.

    They ran until they could no longer see the village, then slowed to a walk. Shard led, not sure where he was going, as his sister limped after him; her ankle still sore and now burning from the adrenalin-fueled run. Raven watched Shard's back, watching the long braid move softly in the crease of his spine, she forced herself to look over his scar, take it in, memorize it. Would he too be taken from her? No, she would not let that happen. Raven stopped, “Shard.”

    Shard stopped and turned slowly, brow raised.

    Raven fumbled, “Mother's... no longer here… that means, since I was brought into adulthood before you-”

    “That you are now the rightful tribe leader.” Shard finished softly, then closed his eyes, “It doesn't matter.”

    “No,” Raven protested, “It does!” and slipped one of her daggers free.

    Shard opened his eyes again, his good eye questioning her.

    “Turn around.”

    He did as he was told. Raven neared her brother and took his braid in one hand, she looked it over for a few moments before sighing, “Shard Fanglord... I bring you into your adulthood. With the removal of this braid that tied you to childhood, you become a respected member of the…” she winced, “Of the Fanglord tribe” and after a moment of hesitation, she cut through the braid. Her blade had to work harder to get through the hair, but it was done. Shard's severed braid fell into the dirt, and disappeared into a light cloud of savanna dust.