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Of Pure Intentions: Prose

Updated: Oct 8, 2021

Of Pure Intentions

A Collection Of Short Stories And Poems

Vol. I


A collaboration by Rosalie Thorne

With contributions by L.M. Smith and Z. V. Ezell



Welcome readers!

Of Pure Intentions is divided into three major sections.


The beginning will be short stories by:

Rosalie Thorne

L.M. Smith

Z. V. Ezell


The middle will be poems by:

Rosalie Thorne

L.M. Smith


And the ending will be a unique section of ‘unpolished’ works by:

Rosalie Thorne

Z. V. Ezell


Dear Readers,

Here is a very special selection of pieces, a rare glimpse into the mind of authors. From mind to keyboard to a document file, the following pieces are raw and unpolished. Only worked on by the authors themselves, no editorial staff has touched these words. Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and other things that may seem old are a possibility. But still, the stories shine through!




The Family Business

RT

A selection taken from her upcoming novel

I Write Sins Not Tragedies


Potentially still drunk from the night before, I wonder if I should get shutters for the entire cabin. If I did, then the fucking bright ass light from the sun wouldn’t be so blinding…. An empty thought, however, for it being too much work – too productive for my taste; I am going on five years as a human, complaining most mornings, and have made no such change.

Coming down from the latest high, I stare at my open refrigerator as if there are really so many things to choose from. But there isn’t… just scattered takeout from eating out every night of this week. Though it is viscously easy, the thought of the tiny bit of effort that it’d take to reheat the food is too much. And I really want warm food, so another delivery it was.

Earlier than anticipated, there is a knock on my door. Pleased and not giving a fuck about being in my underwear, I throw it open. But with one look outside, I click my tongue and shake my head, knowing what’s to come.

Walking back into my house I just start laughing. “Fuck no. Nope, just fuck no.”

And as soon as I get to my living room, there he is.

My brother.

My fucking brother standing in my living room, the asylum white feathers shimming as his wings close. Their image and that of his sword fade away as a plain black suit with pastel blue shirt phase in. Beach blonde, windswept, shoulder length hair bounce as he glances around the room.

Cigarettes are closer than alcohol (though that would come) and I don’t miss a beat in lighting up. “Get the fuck out of here.”

All his gestures are calculated, precise, but fluent like the wind. He speaks in our parent’s language. “Lucifer… your presence is requested, it would be much appreciated-”

In modern English, I scoff at him. “Appreciated? Ah-pre-chi-ated, huh? Fuck off. Just get the fuck out of my house.”

His lids lower ever so slightly. “Father has been reasonable with your little vacation-”

I twitch, my head shaking harder; time for the Scotch. “Nope, nope… not a vacation, fucker. This is my life. I’m not going back.”

His head tilts like a curious cat. The hands he’s had clasped over his stomach now make a sweeping gesture, “This is your life? The life you have chosen so carefully for yourself?” He steps around the room like running water, fluid but strong. “This life of ego and material, of selfish and superficial habits, of vices and sin. This is your choice? After all your time of loyal and honorable and voluntary service-”

“Voluntary? Is that what He told you?”

He isn’t fazed. “After all your time,” he repeated, “all your service…. After all your time punishing the wicked, the corrupt, the evil… this is what you choose - what you have become? You have fallen farther than-”

My glass shatters in my fist, shards digging into my muscle, blood running down my arm. “On the contrary, you fucking mewling quim, I have lived up to every single expectation made by our Father!

“There was this movie I watched and one of the characters said ‘I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way’. And that’s how I was - was! Was before I came here. I sucked it up, I did my job, and I suffered through my punishment. I ignored every single thing Father lead the world to believe about me. But - and, and now that I’m here? I say: fuck it. Let me be the man he always dreamed up me to be. Let me live up to that picture he painted so clearly. I have reached every single expectation he’s ever had of me. I am exactly how he’s drawn me.”

As my brother rolls his shoulders a flicker of his armor and wings sparked across my vision. “Lucifer, brother mine, bringer of light… your presence has been requesting and would be much appreciated-”

I charged at him, stampeding. “Fuck off! Just fuck off! Get the fuck out of my house! Now! Or I swear on mother’s life-” Then we was gone.

But he appeared in my dream that night, though only for a second and it was long enough to make me furious all over again. Destroying everything my dream self could reach, I burned the Earth to nothing. Breathing in ash and dust, I reveled in it.

Eventually, I closed my eyes, letting my mind wander… actually letting myself calm down. Eventually, I came to the last memory of Mom…

She’s been so beautiful, so happy and excited, so full of love and light. She had the softest smile just before the end of our interaction, her eyes shining with hope.

When I lost her, I lost myself.

I lost any sense of hope, of wonder. All I have left is myself and myself alone. And nothing can stop me now.





A Fire More Than Soul

RT

A selection taken from her upcoming novel

Devil’s Cut


In A Land Beyond Time:

Mist a flyte with the ever so lovely Freyja, a tankard of mead had been slammed before me. Following the dark skin to the man to my side, I smoldered up at him. “Heimdall, how kind of you! What do I owe the pleasure?” of the gesture, of his company.

“We need to talk.”

I did not look at his black eyes, turning instead back to the festivities at hand. “No shop talk at the table, that’s the rule!”

“As you know like the back of your ever changing hand, Loki, rules are meant to be broken.”

With a snort, I clapped the table, “Join us! Maybe if you pay your dues, we can fudge our way into work-related conversation.”

He sat, knowing it was best to play by my instruction. If you wanted my help, or even for me to simply cooperate, my way was the easiest.

I waved the beautiful, plenty well-endowed hooker-slash-waitress over, knowing a voice would be lost over the boisterous crowd. She leaned in, her bosom cleavage directly at eye level, her hand sliding across the slick table. “What can I,” a humming, deep breath, “do for you?”

Flicking my wrist to bring my fingers across the empty space where Heimdall’s drink should have been, sparks bounced in the air. Little smoke twirls came to the waitresses nose, her lips curling with pleasure. “What’ll you be having?”

I raised my pint, “I’m fine, dearie. But my friend here, will have his usual.”

Looking confused, she took a minute to look to Heimdall, actually shocked there was anyone else but me in the room. Not unusual, but not as amusing as it used to be. “Right, the usual.”

In the time between her departure and her arrival, Heimdall slipped into his serious face. “Loki, we really do need to talk.”

It was very tempting to think I could keep pushing off this conversation, but I doubted it. “Have a drink first, all right?”

Shifting, he touched my shoulder. I jolted back, flames levitating from any bare skin from the neck down. His hand lifted, “Apologies.”

Index finger released and contracting, “That’s one rule that no one can change, not even me.”

A smile appeared, a first - as far as anyone in this room was concerned. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

His effervescent drink was slammed in front of him. I paused for him to drink and then I simply squinted. “You want to talk about the no-touching or the fire or the cause and effect of one to the other?”

“None of that.” He leaned in, his tankard touching my chest, “You are meant for more than this,” he whispered.

“What did you see Heimdall?”

He leaned back with a deep laugh. “All good things, all good things.”

But then the waitress bitch came, dropping off another drink for another guy, but somehow instead of the cup firmly landing on the table, whatever dark, sticky liquid was now all over me. My hand whipped outward in disgust, smacking the waitress across the face, a scorch mark rising across her skin. Didn’t give two shits, she deserved it.

Heimdall’s hand hovered over my shoulder. Jaw clenched, skin twitching and not in relation to the fire. “You might have had good news. Maybe you will have good news. But I can’t right now.”

“It’s important!” he insisted.

My chin turned, my neck cracking, popping. I backed myself away from the crowd, who did not notice nor care. I’d done this so often it was nothing to them, nothing to be seen here… just another Loki freak-out.

I was a snarky, cocky bastard. An asshole with no shame. No shame in my actions, no care for the consequences. A drug addict - herbal, artificial, natural… pills, drinks, smoke, whatever I could get. I looked at every situation as what can I gain from this? I preferred the term resourceful to all else, but at the same time that make me sound like such a stickler. No, I was too passionate, too free-willed, there’s a reason the Devil was compared to me.

But then I saw Heimdall’s eyes. Not the black abyss, but the flash of iridescent opals. “Loki.”

I froze. “Fucker.”

“Loki.” And then his hand rests on my shoulder.

Teeth tight, but no further reaction. “What?”

“You have some Fate to attend to.”

The instant he said the word Fate, I snorted and backed off. Fate was bull shit. Just like rules were bull shit. Nothing can contain me… nothing I ever tried, nothing anyone ever tried.

Which I had to remind Heimdall, quiet vocally the next time he brought up with Fate business. He came to my home, which was not uncommon, but it was not poker night. No, it was very specifically a night that I always kept to myself. I raised my eyebrows, sweeping my bourbon glass, gesturing him to come in. I didn’t want to say his name, I didn’t call him brother or whatever else may slip from my lips. Because, I was more likely to curse at him or degrade him at this point.

“Thank you,” his voice low but honest.

“Mmm.”

We didn’t make it far before he called out the elephant. “There are consequences, Loki. You miss this appointment, and there’s an escalation.”

Skipped the pleasantries, skipped the small talk, no buttering me up, no sugar coating. So fine, right back at him. “I don’t need a fucking Therapist, you pompous jack ass.”

He ignored the insults, knowing it was just a tantrum. “This is not something to force you to change. There are rules for a reason… but there is an exception to every rule.”

I liked that… loopholes, tricks, abnormalities, deviations, oddities… those were my specialties. “Tell me about who I’m supposed to be meeting, then.”

His eyes flickered, the opal flashing like a shooting star. “I can tell you… some things about… her.”

At the word her, my heart thudded against my ribs, with a reverb. I grimaced, what the fuck was that?

Ugh, new drugs were not to be trusted. I waved my hand, “Sure, her. Go ahead.”

“I suppose you’d like me to be curt.”

“Short and sweet, that’s our relationship.”

He nodded, “She’s cursed, like you.”

“So what, trauma buddies? Keep each other in check? Do yoga together?”

With an open-palm gesture, he sighed. “Curt… short, sweet then…. She went to hell. She-”

I cut him off with a snicker, “What the bitch do?”

Heimdall smiled, but it was the softness that unnerved me. “She sold her soul to save another.”

I snorted, raising my glass. “So she is a psychopath.”

“Perspective,” which was his way of saying ‘agree to disagree’. He started pacing, “Listen, my friend, and listen carefully. This woman has been through Hell. She had been there, done that, and is someone The Fates seem to think you need in your life.

“She has the post-Hell plague, the curse, the attached demon - whatever way you want to look at it. But it’s a fucking blip to her, it’s nothing. She is in full control of her dragon, not the other way around. You… you can’t be touched, you will literally set yourself on fire at the thought of someone touching you. You can’t control your issues, your illness, your darkness, your punishment. That’s your rule.

“But she,” he smiled thoughtfully. “She chose Hell, she chose to go through the worst possible thing she could imagine and then some. And that’s how she got through it smelling like a fucking rose. Every time the soul was sucked from her lips, her thoughts focus on one thing - she was innocent, she did it for love.”

And then he continued with, “I’ll have you know she likes water,” as if that was some sort of cosmic revelation that was going to shock me into submission.

Deadpan, I stared, “So…? So what? So she’s water, not fire. So she’s so beyond psychotic that she doesn’t even feel anymore? It’s like when your nerves are so fried under hot water that you start to feel cold? Or the end of hypothermia when you take off all your clothes because you feel like you’re about to die from heat stroke? She’s not cured, no one can be cured. She’s just as fucked up as I am… just the opposite direction.”

His chin dips down in a single nod and he gestures slowly outward with one hand. “Exactly.”

But I could not ignore that it sparked my curiosity. If anything, this woman was fascinating. I mean, solely on the choice she made - to take another’s place in Hell, what the fuck was wrong with her? It could be interesting… it could be fun. “So what’s her name?”

“Cleo.”

My heart did the reverb beat, fuck this shit I was on; tripping my thought process up and not in a good way. “Right, okay… so what, I meet with this Cleo chick and? And what? It’s like we cancel each other out? Like if we’re around each other, we’re normal?” Not that I wanted to be normal, who in the right mind would want to be normal? But.. again, could be interesting, could be fun. “I have to say, I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all. I-”

“You think she has some sort of power over you, which makes you reject the even thought of her.”

I didn’t answer, but bingo!

“Loki… this isn’t to force you to change. This isn’t a reward, this isn’t a punishment. It’s just the exception to the rule. It’s just Fate.”

I nursed my drink, “She’s turned herself into some sort of mindless robot, that’s how she copes. I light up, she turns to ice. That’s not a life worth living.”

“You won’t understand until you meet her.”

“Which,” I point at him with a single shake of my head, “I never said I would.”

Heimdall’s expression is persistent. “Every thing that happened to her… every dark, demented, painful, soul-sucking thing… it built up. It built up and became it’s own entity inside her. She is… masterful with her flaw, her curse, her illness. She uses it to her advantage… unlike…” and he simply flicked his wrist at me.

“Prick.”

The corner of his lip lifted for a nano-second. “You know what I do, how I function, what I’ve been created for. You know I see… I see, hear, understand. Her life has never flashed before her own eyes, but it has flashed before mine. As you would be described as a functional addict - functional being used loosely, I insist - her functionality is all she has. Her will to live, her will to love, that’s her strength. That’s what she keeps fighting for.”

My shoulders dropped, my chest broadening, a snicker creeping out of my lips, as I sneered, “You son of a bitch.” He did not respond. “She’s a fucking mortal, isn’t she?” Again, he said nothing. “I’ve been Fated to a fucking mortal?

“Fuck.

“That!

“What is this? Zeus fucking bitches, making half breeds? That is ridiculous. I’m expected to learn breathing techniques from a mortal?”

I twitched. “My… what would you call it? An equalizer? My opposite? Is a -”a burst a laugh of ridiculousness, “ mortal….”

But the insincere laughter fades just as quickly as it came. My glass shattered against the wall, the table my hand fell to catching ablaze. “I am not to be disrespected in such a manner.

“Get.

“Out.”

He didn’t even still me that time, he didn’t even paralyze me. He left me to my fire, to my passion and dismay, to my disgust and hatred, to my darkness. I could burn the whole world down… say the word, just one wrong word, and it would be gone.


In A Time-ruled World:

… my only focus was Cleo.

And that is it wasn’t it? The only fault I could ever find with us. It is an addiction. Not an escape, no… I did not go to her, love her, because I needed a reprieve, needed a high, a shift from reality. No, she is an extension of myself, my other half, she completes me in ways I can’t understand. I was made for her yet I need her to function, to be whole. I had adapted every part of myself, instantly, simultaneously, when we met. The Fates had shown my true heart and from that moment, forever, I need her. She grounds me, she inspires me, she keeps me from doing something stupid, she gives me reasons to move forward, be clean, even have a family!

I could have torn this universe apart, but then she became my universe. If I had been Merlin, I would have slipped into that eternal paradise with Nimue and never looked back. This is my prison, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Sure, I could have chosen to not follow her into this human life, and it would have only been a blink of eye without her, but I had to do it. I couldn’t leave her alone, leave her without me. Selfish, possessive, controlling... she is mine and I don’t want one moment of her existence not have me in it. It would be insulting and wrong for her to live and grow without me.

I am her soul, her heart, she needs me.

And Cleo knows this. From the beginning, she knew the risks of being with me. She saw, felt, dissected, and thoroughly understood the darkness that came with this deal, this love, this fate.

Though our love is more than love, though it is blinding white and ever eternal, there is a price, there is a shadow, there is a weight to carry. Even still, even after she took the time to understand the risks, she agreed. She agreed and we loved and we lived.

She had made this choice as much as I had, which - in the eyes of the Fates, was no choice at all.




A World Not Their Own

RT

A selection taken from her upcoming novel

Pretty Reckless


Prologue:

“As we come into the year 2000,” the President’s voice echoed, “a new decade, a new century, a new era – it has been majority's ruling to go into the dawn of a new age.” He paused. “The wall that has previously kept our worlds apart, will now be torn down to start life anew. Please do not be afraid,” he continued, “we – as a nation – have been prepping for this moment for many years. There are rules and regulations, safe havens, and outreach programs in place.”

Static came through the speakers as he looked to someone beyond the camera, everyone silent, waiting. Quickly regaining focus, he cleared his throat. “We all have every opportunity to be the first nation to bring peace among races. We have the ability to make bonds and see each other’s strengths. As we go into this new age, as the clock strikes midnight, we are all equal. We are all starting fresh – our pasts forgiven, our future bright.

“As the countdown begins, our feed will switch to the wall. Please be safe as we step into this new world.”

He bowed his head and the camera cut out. After a moment of the black, the television screen showed the wall that separated the city. Split screened, each side could be viewed. Subs and Basics alike were watching from a safe distance – both sides showing celebrations and protests. The beautiful of it all, though, was that it was happening. Whether people liked it or not… tomorrow was a new day bringing us into a new world.

A world where the monsters came alive.


Introduction:

The air holds left-over humidity from Summer, but the rain cools it to comfortable warmth. The storm, worse than the reporters had predicted, halts my travel greatly. It’s been close to an hour and still I wait under the overpass. Sitting on the concrete divide, I play yet another game of solitaire on my phone. With a slight immaturity, I had thought I could out ride the storm, which is the reason behind the motorbike in the first place. But here I sit, like an idiot, as cars slowly crawl by.

It is becoming easier as the minutes pass to tune out all the background noise and just focus on the rain and the little clicking of the game in hand. With another win, a sound of sliding tires and a motorbike unable to steady came from behind me with the stomping of a heavy boot and metal on highway.

Only shifting my eyes to look, I take in all that is my single-serving friend. Female, human - medium height, athletic build - her little hands tearing off her helmet with a stream of swears. Her long, auburn braid falls forward as she lifts her bike off the highway shoulder. Then she shifts her belongings and I see the glint of a police badge under her jacket.

My jaw clenches and I run a hard hand threw my damp hair. Either this could go terribly or it could be another insignificant confrontation with the so called ‘law-enforcement’ on the city.

Being the better being, I take the still dry towel out of my bike satchel and reach across the wall. “It’s not much, but you are welcome to use this,” I say kindly, but shortly.

She looks up, eyes wide with shimmering tears. Coughing a little, she’s hesitant. Distractedly, she slowly makes her way over. She grabs it – her warm fingers brushing my hand – and takes it straight to her face. I think she gets more smudged makeup on the towel than actual rain, but her freckles are clear of mascara.

Her mind is static and I don’t care enough to try and decode it. Something is obviously wrong, though, as she takes a few minutes just to stare at the stained towel. Abruptly, she starts to weep.

Awkwardly, helplessly, I stand on the other side of the divide. Comfort is not my strong suit. Did I even know this one? Had I already run in with this officer? Or is it a human just being weak? Life is tough, things happen, I didn’t know the story – but I couldn’t help but be a little judgmental.

She stifles her crying as she wanders my way and hands the towel back to me, her gaze low, “I’m sorry.”

The woman is closer now - closer then when I had handed the towel off in the air between us. And with a whiff of her blood I know exactly who she is.

… And, I know exactly why she is crying.

“It’s just a towel, it’s alright.”

Her dread-filled face twitches. Her gaze lifts and then a weak smile brakes in reassurance. “It’s not – it’s ah, not that. … Just been a hard day.”

I’m very much aware. Such a hard day is exactly my business. “I’m sure the weather doesn’t help.”

Her eyes, green sea glass, squint past me into the rain. “Yeah…. Sort of fits though.”

There’s a pause but I don’t want to lose the opportunity – there is only so long to make a lasting impression on someone.

“I’m Drake,” I offer my hand.

She takes it, as firmly as expected. “Mila.”

Mila sits parallel to me on the divider that was once the wall between worlds. Funny now, how the thing that once kept Subs and Basics apart, now held the two – both hiding from the rain, sharing each other’s personal space.

Mila burst out, “I’m sorry! You’re really meeting me at the worst time. I am on the way to my mother’s funeral and now I’m late. I mean, it’s been delayed because of the rain, but still. I was supposed to be there with my grandmother and I’m sure she’s freaking out… and it’s just been a lot… and I hate that I’m not there right now,” fading out she just looks beyond them and sighs.

Out of character and in bad taste, the only thing that comes out of my mouth is “Well, it’s not like she’ll be going anywhere.”

Mila turns her head slowly, stares for a minute, her face twitching. And then she laughs - a full, hearty laugh. Her shoulders loosened and she leans back on her hands. “Well…. So how did you end up here?”

I give a shrug of non-commitment. “Had some work I needed to do across town. I was on my way but realized I forgot something. Usually I’d just have assistant bring it over, but it’s a rather personal case.”

Her eyes are slightly narrowed and I can tell her cop mind is at work. “Lawyer?”

I nod, again in a non-committal way. “To an effect. I’m a businessman, of all trades.”

Her lips pursed slightly, one corner upturned. “Well, you sound like one.”

Smirking, I cross my arms over my chest. “It comes in handy.”

The small talk starts about average things – more about the weather, about our bikes. We go on a while about movies. It is actually very pleasant and as her mind becomes clearer, I realize how much of a shame this is.

Cars start moving faster pass us and we both look to our relative roads.

“I guess time does move on then,” she exhales slowly before lifting.

“Indeed.” I hand her my business card before she gets too far, even though I know she’ll never use it. “If you ever need any help, feel free.”

She examines the black card – with only my last name and office number. In her glance back at me, her brows knot. “Yeah, alright.” She becomes aware that I notice her badge this time, and says “I’m sure you know where to find me, as well.”

A soft nod. “I hope everything goes as smoothly as it can, Mila.”

A thought in her head stuck loudly enough that I could hear.

My thought in response being only this: ‘So, that is the infamous Amilea Van Helsing’.


*


Whenever it rains at a funeral in the movies, the shot shows everyone with large black umbrella but the earth is open to the weather. Well, in reality, there’s a covering over the casket, grave, and a few seats. Yes, some – who are standing – have umbrellas, but they are of varying sizes and colors.

Grandmother’s face is stone. Tears have not fallen since she first heard the news. Apart of me feels as if she honestly thinks my mother deserved to be killed… but could a parent be so harsh to their child? If any parent could be, it would be that of a Van Helsing.

I hadn’t dared mention my change of career, though Grandmother has used my life as a distraction since the death. Only moments after that life-changing phone call, had she turned all of her attention to me. I wasn’t the last living Van Helsing, contrary to how she treated me, but I was her only grandchild.

As the pastor says a last few words before they close her casket to be lowered, I stare at my mother’s face – almost unseeingly so. It is so… soft. She is just sleeping… free of pain, of worry, of judgment.

Free to be happy.

Grandmother starts tearing away at the service pamphlet – a habit we both share when nervous or anxious. Slowly little bits of paper fell to the wet, but lively, earth. Shred by shred, moment by moment….

Time passes.

The world keeps revolving.

Life continues.

I raise my eyes to the clouded skyline when the casket is closed. A hymn is sung as the casket is lowered, I keep my gaze away. Everything fades to the background… noise muted, people blurred, colors lost. I just don’t know what to do.

A spasm spreads in my chest, breathing difficult, vision blurred. I kept myself as contained as possible, but know I won’t last. Nausea spreads through me and I start to slightly shake my head.

How could she have been so stupid? How could she have left us?

Grandmother places her hand on my knee. “Be strong,” she whispers harshly.

But why? Why do I always have to be strong? My mother is dead. Killed. If there was any time to be weak, I figure this is it. “Just tell me when I can walk away,” and I shut my eyes.

More time edges on. Grandmother lifts me up by the elbow. “We have to…” but she doesn’t have to say for me to understand.

I follow behind her and lower myself to grab some dirt the same time she does. After her, though, is when I throw my fistful in. My mind is blank, my soul quiet, I couldn’t even bring myself to say a final goodbye.


*


Across the city, beyond the old wall, stands a hovel of a dwelling. Many a creature gathered here, all in celebration. This particular fellowship rejoiced over my triumph; congratulating me over the murder of my wife.

Samantha hadn’t been my wife very long, just over a year. She’d taken my fake surname. But before that she was the ever powerful and glorious Samantha Darla Van Helsing, one of the leading descendants of Gabriel.

(Though she may not have followed tradition as closely as others – their marriage living, or rather dead, proof - any kill was a prized kill.)

As the bonfire rages and the alcohol is consumed, I think about my hit-list. Samantha’s mother would be easier to kill the older the woman got and in her elder years is becoming less vigilant. But, it is Samantha’s daughter that would be a challenge…. Amelia is currently very hard to find, though I was told she is working as an officer of the law.

Barking a laugh, I shoved my tanker to the sky. Thunderous applause and “To the Van Helsings - may they be easy to find, and even easier to kill!"




Of Jaguar And Men

ZVE

A muse writing.


The tower was a black mass against the starlit sky. The windows were lit up with the fires and candles within. Ri’Jode-Ka’s eyes narrowed, his night vision allowing him to see the outlines of the bandits inside the building. His left ear perked from its original flattened position and turned to his servant turned companion, Myra. She was lighter on her feet than most of the Humans he had encountered before, but the heavy armor she preferred still clanked together with every step.

“How many are we looking at?” She whispered, kneeling beside him. Only the horns of her helmet protruded over the rock they were hiding behind. He placed his hand on the top of her helmet, pushing her down to remain hidden.

His eyes stayed on the building as his ears flattened once more. “Hard to tell. Cat has only been able to see four, five different bodies. Need to be closer to see better.” He glanced up the boulders near the top, an idea forming. He crept further away, using the rocks as cover. There were several archers on the top of the tower, and he didn’t want to risk giving away their position.

“Should we sneak around the back?” Her voice drifted behind him. As he suspected, the heavy armor was slowing her down.

He circled around the largest boulder and stood to his full height. “No. You wait here. Cat will scout ahead.” He began to unfasten the buckles that held up his leather armor. “It will be faster if Cat do it alone. Shall not be long.” He kicked off the leather boots and let out an audible sigh as his bare paw touched the grass. The air was drier than his rainforest homeland, but he still missed the feeling of the vegetation beneath his feet. He quickly shed off the rest of his armor as Myra turned around the boulder.

“By the Gods!” Myra averted her gaze and turned quickly. Her body moved stiffly into position, her heart beginning to pound in her chest. A Cat, specifically one of his species, was not built like a normal human man. He easily towered over her, half the size of a giant at least, but she could see the animalistic power. She had never felt so petite, or so human in that moment.

Ri’Jode-Ka furrowed his brow in confusion. His ears focused on the thumping of Myra’s heart. It was quick, adrenaline spiking the air around her. “Why does your heart beat faster? Is there an enemy nearby already?” He willed magic through his blood and into his right hand. The flames felt cool against his hand, ready to be unleased into a fire storm at an opponent.

“No…” Myra replied meekly. “It’s just that… my Lord, you are not dressed.”

“Of course not. The armor impedes stealth.” He stated matter-of-factly. His hand closed into a loose fist, extinguishing the magic and the flame. He folded his clothes and placed them on the boulder ledge with his dagger and bow on top. “I am Cathay-raht, known as a Jaguar-Man by the Humans. I have a better ability to move on all fours if needed. Any type of armor is troublesome.” From his kneeling position, he glanced up and noticed that her neck and ears were a dark red under the helmet. He stood, worry taking over his features. He approached her back, placing his hand on the leather portion of her shoulder and squeezed gently. “Myra, are you okay? Your skin is all red. Have you contracted illness?” He knew he had been pushing her hard through their travels. Guilt swept through him for a brief moment.

“Just-fine-all-fine-here.” Myra rushed the words out, her heartbeat spiking high again. She turned her head away from where he gripped her shoulder.

“Myra.” His voice became firm. He stepped closer, his shadow towering over her small form, even in the armor. He hated to use intimidation tactics, but he hated using his title more.

“I promise that I’m not ill. I’m just… embarrassed. And I feel embarrassed that I am embarrassed to begin with.”

“Embarrassed for what?” His voice was soft, trying not to make the situation worse than he was guessing it had to be.

“Because you are naked, my Lord.” She covered her face with her hands, embarrassment washing over her more.