A Heritage of Power 4: Jerik's Story 9.99:
Visiting Kin

by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for F/H and M/H
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

"So, ready to head into the village?" Tomar asked Jerik as they approached the small Rohr village, several weeks later.

"Yes," Jerik reached up to brush his fingers along Tomar's cheek. "Last time I met your folks, I hadn't met you yet."

"I know," Tomar chuckled. "Well, let's go then," he said cheerfully, heading in and looking around.

"Tom!" A voice called out cheerfully, Selar bounding out to meet him from one of the fields, the older Rohr woman clearly glad to see him.

"Hey sis!" Tomar called back, moving up to meet her with a hug that exemplified just how much growing he had left before he reached his full height and mass. "Good to see you."

"Is this your mage?" She looked at Jerik curiously.

"Yes," he nodded eagerly. "Jerik Clawson."

"I remember him when he passed through with Mage Melinda and her Defender last fall." Selar smiled warmly at the Kat.

"We figured out that he'd come through here a few days before we partnered up," Tomar smiled. "How are Mom and Dad? Did the pups come yet?"

"They are doing well, and yes, we have three new siblings always whining for milk from Father." She chuckled. "Come, everyone is looking forward to seeing you again."

"Just glad we managed to make it back in time for the planting festival," Tomar smiled, following Selar into the village. "And very glad they're doing well; I was worried that winter might be hard on them."

"It wasn't easy, but we got everyone through it." She nodded. "Mother is quite skilled and the harvest was good despite the harsh weather later on."

"I remember that too well." Jerik shuddered slightly.

"Very good," Tomar grinned as they reached the house, three young Rohr awkwardly pouncing at each other and figuring out how to move their bodies and balance. They looked up at Tomar, and quickly went into the house ... well, as quickly as they could.

"You are their first new face," Selar explained and poked her head into the building.

"Did I hear my youngest out there?" Jenra asked.

"Yes, Mother. His Mage is here too."

"Hey Mom," Tomar called, stepping in to see the cubs hiding behind their mother and father, peeking out at him over their lower bodies.

"Good to see you both again," Jenra smiled at her son.

"Good to see you too," Tomar smiled warmly, moving in to hug them.

"I never expected to be coming back with your son when you mentioned him." Jerik grinned at her, though most of his attention was on the three cubs.

"And who are they?" He asked, smiling down at the new cubs.

"Shela, Keris, and Richter," Ryk answered, indicating the female and two males. "I've been waiting for you to come meet them," he added with a chuckle.

"I've been a little busy," Tomar admitted, laying down and offering his hand to the cubs to sniff, and recognize as belonging to family.

"Just a bit," Jerik purred slightly and knelt, mimicking Tomar's offer to the cubs.

They crawled out a bit over Ryk's and Jenra's bodies, sniffing Tomar's hand first, then Jerik's, looking up at them, then at their parents.

"They're safe," Ryk told them reassuringly, reaching down to pet Richter's lower back. The cubs crawled out the rest of the way, sniffing and leaning up against the newcomers.

"So, how has the Academy been treating the two of you?" Jenra asked.

"Quite well," Jerik smiled up at her, though he was mostly interested in the puppies that had found his tail and were now chasing it around as he made the tip dance just out of their reach.

"*You are such a softie.*" Kaul laughed indulgently at her Mage.

"Very well," Tomar agreed, watching Jerik play with the pups with a fond smile. "Though I'll want to ask about a few of your potions before we go ... there aren't quite the same things at the Academy, and I'm getting towards the point where I'm probably going to need the recipes."

"I thought that would be soon," Jenra chuckled. "I'll make sure to write them down for you before you have to go. The two of you are staying for the festival, I hope?"

"Yes," Jerik nodded, then shot a look at his Defender, uncertain about bringing up the dress just yet.

"*It will be obvious soon, you know.*" Kaul pointed out.

"Actually, I wanted to mention that too," Tomar said, blushing a bit. "I know it's not really the usual way to meet somebody, but I would like to take the first steps towards officially taking Jerik as my mate," he explained.

"Do you know what's involved, and agree?" Jenra asked Jerik, looking over at the tom. "You would be becoming an unofficial member of our tribe. Given the Academy and everything else, you wouldn't be living with us, but that is the upshot of what it means."

"I understand as well as Tomar does," he nodded. "Yes, I agree to what it means, and it is what I want as well."

"Do you have a ritual gown?" She asked, considering his two-legged body. "There is a short rite, where we accept you into the tribe, but it is mostly a formality."

"Yes," he nodded seriously even as the look was ruined by his hand on his mate's lower shoulder and his tail dancing in front of the pups. "Tomar gave it to me at Solstice. Though it took longer to find out what it meant." He gave Tomar an indulgent look.

"Sweet of him," Ryk chuckled. "May we see it? It's been a while since we've seen Tomar's craftsmanship."

"I did my best," the young Rohr blushed, even as he pulled the pack off and pulled out the gown, one of the pups coming around and looking into the bag as Tomar handed the fine leather work over to his parents.

"Hey!" Jerik abruptly made a lunge for the open bag. "Bad puppy." He muttered to himself even as he caught one by the tail and pulled it out of the bag of holding it was half inside and grabbed the third with a bit of Force to keep it behind it's father. "One's inside."

"I'll fetch her," Tomar offered, reaching in and pulling out his youngest sister, handing her back to Jenra as the pup blinked and looked around, her fur thoroughly fluffed in mild distress. Tomar closed the bag, moving it around his back even as Jerik let out a yelp of pain that had Tomar on his feet in an instant, only to settle down when he realized it was only Richter exacting revenge for being pulled by the tail.

"Sorry," he said apologetically to his folks even as his attention was really on Jerik's hand and the tiny beads of blood that were forming under his fur.

"Don't worry; I doubt it hurt them, and they'll learn not to crawl into things they don't understand," Ryk chuckled. "I hope Richter did not injure you too badly."

"No, it was more startling than anything," Jerik assured them all as he licked the wounds clean, his tongue and saliva disinfecting it and sealing them closed.

"Dahk," Shela whimpered softly, huddling up against Jenra.

"Yeah, it probably is dark in there," Tomar observed, reaching up to pet her softly. "Don't do that again, okay?"

"Okee," the little one nodded and gradually settled down in her father's arms.

"Note to self, keep all objects of holding well out of reach." Jerik shook his head a bit.

"Or at least closed," Tomar chuckled. "Your hand okay?" He asked as Richter growled a bit and snuggled up against Ryk.

"It'll be fine." Jerik assured him and tested his fingers and movement. "See? He's just got sharp little teeth."

"*Your daughter is going to be worse.*" Kaul smirked.

"Okay, so now that we're not panicking or getting bitten, let's take a look," Ryk chuckled, spreading out the gown. "Well done, Tomar," he said approvingly. "All your own work?"

"I got a little help making sure the design was right for a two-legged wearer," Tomar admitted. "But the embroidery's all mine."

"Why the female top?" Jenra asked as she examined the work with various sounds of approval.

"Jerik is specializing in shape-shifting magic," Tomar explained. "He has a female form he adopts fairly often as well."

"Will you have a Rohr form?" She looked over at Jerik.

"Yes, when I have the skill to alter my form that much."

"Have you decided which gender?" Ryk looked at him with interest.

"Both," he chuckled and smiled at the older male. "We are planning on pups when we're older."

"I'll be the mother, at least for most of them." Tomar added. "And much older, once we've been established. I'll make another gown for that form when the time comes."

"Good," his parents both nodded.

"We will definitely want to meet them, when they are born." Jenra added with a smile.

"Of course," Tomar grinned. "Wouldn't imagine not letting you meet them."

"Rohr and other," Jerik nodded. "Some will be Cats."

"Well, we'll just keep hoping they're not too soon," Ryk chuckled. "I want these three mostly grown before I become a grandfather by anybody but Selar."

"Dad," the older Rohr groaned with a blush.

"You are old enough," Tomar snickered with a wink at her. "So are there any candidates?"

"Maybe," his older sister admitted with a blush.

"With any luck, you won't be the only person introducing us to a prospective mate at the festival," Jenra smiled, kissing her daughter and son both on the cheek. "So, where are the two of you planning to stay?"

"We were planning to pitch our tent, with your new pups and all." Jerik answered.

"Is it reasonably comfortable, and rain-proof?" Jenra asked.

"Yes mother, and warm enough," Tomar confirmed. "We've spent a fair amount of time in it already," he chuckled. "And learned some of its weak points, and fixed them."

"Sounds like somebody has stories to tell," Ryk chuckled.

"That storm that started winter just north of here," Jerik waited for him to nod. "We were a week out from the Academy when it hit. We learned a lot about our gear that week."

"That will do it," Ryk agreed. "What were you doing out that far?"

"I was enchanting Kaul," he nodded to the intricately carved staff at his side. "Where we were, it went from a nice fall day to a blizzard in a few hours. Tomar almost froze protecting me from the storm until I came out of the enchanting trance." He added with a look for his partner that managed to convey both his gratitude and dismay at it.

"Just my job, Rik," Tomar smiled, squeezing his shoulder lightly. "We ended up dealing with some goblins too, after the blizzard was done and we'd dug our way out. That was a heck of a fight."

"Yeah, it was," Jerik nodded. "Almost scared me to death when you went down."

"What's this about?" Selar asked her younger brother.

"Goblin that knew where to stab managed to nail my leg and take me down until we got a rescue team from the Academy," Tomar explained. "Why don't we give you the whole story," he offered, everybody settling back as he got ready to tell them about some of the highlights of his life since he'd found his Mage.

"So, think you can take being part of my family yet?" Tomar asked Jerik with a smile as they crawled into their tent a few hours later.

"I think so," he smiled and took the bag of holding from Tomar's back to pull out their grooming kit.

"Good," Tomar chuckled. "They were impressed by the mine mission, I could tell that much."

"Speaking of it, how's that axe working for you?" Jerik asked as he helped Tomar get his armored skirt off.

"Pretty well," Tomar said. "I've cleaned the blade up nicely ... probably going to completely replace the haft, or at least the outer layers of it. Need to pick up some darkwood on the way back to do that, by the way," he added, raising his arms to pull the skirt off. "Not sure what it is, but every time I practice with it, I could swear I smell seawater. If you think you can spare me for a week or so after we get back, I might take it with me, go fishing for a while ... I keep getting the feeling that I ought to do something like that, but there hasn't really been a good time for it yet."

"I think that'll be fine," Jerik smiled and began brushing Tomar's lower body out. "You want to go alone?"

"If you want to come along, you'd be welcome, but you do have your classes and a kitten on the way," Tomar pointed out. "It's up to you." He stretched out, his tail wagging lightly as he enjoyed the brushing. "But Quasma might like a little attention, or at least help getting the join room set up," he chuckled.

"True," he paused in his brushing to think, torn between wanting to stay with his partner and the very reasonable suggestion to spend time doing father-to-be things. "We just don't have a great record of coming out of trips without trouble."

"I know," Tomar smiled, turning to nuzzle Jerik lightly and give him a hug. "But the last trips have been supposed to give us trouble. This will be heading up river a bit, where the fishing's good, and seeing if I can bring us back some smoked trout. Probably not more than a good day's hike away from Academy City. If you want, I could bring a whisper charm."

"I'd feel better if you did," he nodded and hugged his partner back. "I know you can take care of yourself, but there's a lot of nasty things out there we aren't ready to face yet."

"Believe me, I know," Tomar nodded, pulling Jerik into the hug more. "Probably better than you do," he teased.

"Considering the first thing I saw on this world was the Blight and a half-dozen Hell Hounds, I'm not so sure of that." Jerik snickered and kissed him.

"But nothing nasty is likely to be that close to the Academy, at least not in the open near the river."

"True," he murmured as they separated a bit and he went back to the sizable task of grooming the Rohr.

"Mmm ... you want to do something a little different tonight?" Tomar asked him. "Quasma gave me a few pointers," he chuckled, blushing a bit as his lover blinked at him.

"Somehow, I really should have known she was serious." Jerik chuckled, then turned a bit more serious and leaned over to kiss him gently. "I would enjoy that."

"Hey, she wants to make sure you're happy too," the Rohr smiled, returning the kiss tenderly. "Besides, they're things I should've thought about already, if we're going to be mates," he chuckled. "You finish grooming me out, then I'll work on you, before we start playing?"

"Yes," he nuzzled him and made a bit more of a dedicated effort to groom out his partner so they could get to the fun stuff.

"Which means I need to behave a bit better now," Tomar chuckled, relaxing and laying out to let Jerik groom him out, occasionally rumbling or groaning as a particularly pleasant spot was worked on.

He drew a sharp breath as he felt Jerik's tongue caress his feminine sex.

"Mmm ... that's a new touch on grooming," he teased lightly. "Oooh ... feel free to put something else there once you're done?" he added, reaching back to rub Jerik's thigh lightly.

He shuddered again and spread his legs as the tongue dove deeper into his body, caressing the moist walls of his female body.

"I will, eventually." Jerik promised with a rumbling purr. "You smell so good."

"Oooh ... feeling good too," Tomar rumbled deeply. He raised his tail, wagging it some as Jerik explored his body with his tongue, rapidly getting wetter, Jerik's rough tongue delving into his sex until he was reduced to whimpers and whines and his lower body began to twitch even as his cock began to leak pre.

"Not long," Tomar whimpered, wrapping his hand around his shaft and stroking it lightly as his lower body was pleasured skillfully and enthusiastically until he could only howl and relish in the continued attention as his body tightened and twitched.

Jerik gently guided his mate the rest of his way to his back and slid up the powerfully muscled wolf body. Supporting part of his own weight, he slid into Tomar's still twitching body with a deep groan and began to lick the Rohr's hot, hard cock.

Tomar howled again, his cock erupting into Jerik's mouth as he reached down to wrap his forelegs around the young tom, squeezing down around his cock, instinctively trying to tie and hold his lover inside his body longer. When Jerik began to thrust and work his cock with hands and mouth, Tomar could only whimper and hold him tightly as the pleasure began to spiral out of control again and Jerik roared, pumping his seed into his lover's body.

He milked Jerik's cock, the new twist on sex feeling utterly incredible. His hind legs pawed at the air, his juices leaking out around the tom's barbed shaft, matting his fur along with his mate's seed.

"Oh, yeah." Jerik mumbled, rubbing his face along Tomar's still-twitching shaft and enjoying being deep inside a lover he couldn't get pregnant unintentionally. "Think you're up for playing with Ryka a bit?"

"Mmm ... after I'm done with you," Tomar rumbled hotly, reaching down to rub Jerik's ears. "Want to give as good as... oooh... I've gotten."

"I'm all yours," he smiled up and nuzzled the cock and sheath by his face.

"Then come up here," the Rohr grinned, letting Jerik pull out of him before pulling him up for a deep, hot kiss, reaching down to fondle his balls lightly.

A deep rumbling purr greeted the action, a vibration that echoed through Tomar's mouth until they parted and Tomar started kissing his way down Jerik's chest, licking at his furless nipples lightly.

"I love you, Jerik," he rumbled, looking up at his mate with eyes that showed just how completely honest that statement was.

"I love you," he reached down to fondle his ears, his own honesty on display. "Nothing that happens is going to change that."

"I know," Tomar nodded, rubbing Jerik's thighs and licking his navel lightly. "And I'll care for your kitten the same way I would for you, or a pup of my own," he promised.

"Thank you," Jerik whispered and let his eyes roll closed with the first contact between Tomar's tongue and his slick cock.

"Hey Terren," Tomar grinned as he noticed the familiar Rohr female through a crowd of new arrivals to the village. He made his way through the crowd to meet his old friend. "Been a while."

"Not since you went off to be a Defender," she nodded with a grin. "Is this your Mage?" She looked curiously at the only two-legged creature in the village, one wearing a fest-gown and comfortable around all the nudity no less. She could tell by the embroidered designs that it was from Tomar; it had several of the family designs on it.

"He is," Tomar nodded. "Jerik, this is Terren, one of my old playmates. Terren, this is Jerik; I've been his Defender for a few months now."

"It is good to meet you, Terren," Jerik bowed politely to her.

"Yes," she studied him a bit more. "How long have you been lovers?"

"About four months now; just a bit before winter started," Tomar admitted. "And it's a bit closer to mates after the first few," he smiled fondly at Jerik.

"Your folks know yet?" She kept her comment on the mushiness to rolling her eyes at them.

"They do," Tomar nodded. "And they approve. They met Jerik a little bit before we met, actually. He came through with Mage Melinda and Conner, her Defender."

"I heard about that visit." She regarded Jerik a little more closely. "Not many make such a good impression on the Chief and Shaman." She admitted with grudging respect. "But don't you want pups?" She looked over at her former playmate.

"I do, and we're going to have them," Tomar nodded. "Eventually. Maybe by a second mate, maybe use some magical help," he said, hedging around the fact they were already planning on the second method and the first had kind of happened already.

"Well, at least you're not likely to have pups too young," she nodded slightly. "It's good to see you again, and to meet your Mage-mate."

"Good to see you too, Terren; see you again, on the target field in the next couple days?"

"Of course," she grinned at him before trotting off.

"*No prizes for guessing she's not entirely sure about things yet,*" Kaul observed silently to Jerik.

"*I can't blame her, between our age and my race.*" He reminded her that it was a bit unusual.

"Good to see her again," Tomar smiled. "Village is getting big, isn't it?"

"It always seems to happen," he smiled fondly at memories of various colonies he'd seen start to grow up. "It's good to see."

"I was just thinking about the festival, but I guess you're right," Tomar admitted. "Most of these folks will move on after it's done though. A few will probably stick around ... and there we've got the one I think is most interesting," the Rohr grinned, looking over at a well-built male, probably a warrior or scout, walking around the edge of the village, looking for somebody.

"He's quite attractive," Jerik acknowledged, knowing full well that his mate would be build like that in time. It was an enticing thought.

"Actually, there's the reason I'm interested," Tomar chuckled, smiling as the warrior's eyes brightened up and he moved through the crowds towards Selar. "I think she's been sneaking out to see him at night ... remember those howls we heard outside last night?"

"Them?" Jerik guessed, smiling slightly as the pair greeted each other. "She has very good taste."

"Yeah... can't be entirely sure it was him, but I know it was her, and she's not the sort who'd get around like that," Tomar smiled as Selar hugged the newcomer. "Should we see if she wants to introduce him, or leave 'em be for now?"

"She's met your mate, let's meet hers." He grinned and began to work through the crowd.

Tomar was right behind him, but as they made it to a clear area in the middle, they were met by a female Rohr wearing a simple gown similar to Jerik's.

"Are you the mage from the Academy?" She asked him.

"Yes," he inclined his head to her out of respect for the rank her dress indicated. She wasn't strong in the Force, but she was strong enough to be a Mage of some kind, likely from one of the nomadic tribes visiting.

"Care to test your Academy magic against a mage who's learned in the real world?" She asked him, the challenge blatantly obvious.

"*She does not know what she just said,*" Kaul chuckled.

"*Understatement of the century.*" Jerik chuckled mentally, but kept his face serious. "Open your senses to the flow of magic," he advised her gently, "and tell me if you still wish a challenge."

She did as he suggested, and he could tell she was surprised. Still, she didn't seem to want to back down.

"You've got a powerful talent, but that doesn't mean anything without the skill to use it properly," she told him.

"*She's asking for it.*" Kaul said smugly.

Another Rohr, a young male just a year or two older than Tomar, about the same age as the young mage, approached her, a staff strapped to his side along with his own gear.

"You called, Nera?" He asked her.

"I may be needing my staff, if our two-legged friend accepts my challenge," she explained. "This is Krey, my Defender; I am Nera, Mage of the Hunting Wind. I would challenge you to a mage-duel, in the open field just outside the village," she said, formally making the challenge.

"This is my Defender, Tomar Farlander," he motioned to the Rohr that was taking their measure. "I am Jerik Clawson, Academy Apprentice. I accept your challenge."

"Let's go establish the circle then; ten of your paces, and then we begin the spell?"

"Acceptable," he nodded as they walked to the field, then measured out their circle and wove the duel circle spell together to protect everyone from errant spell energy, and to protect each other from their own spells.

He hadn't actually taken part in a real mage-duel before, though he knew the etiquette. Every Academy apprentice and mage did. He'd just have to remind himself that this wasn't combat training. Even so, he was sure he could handle her. She might technically be a bit beyond him, but his Force skills were still legal to use in the duel, and she wouldn't be prepared for them, or the tactics he'd developed from months of fighting full Combat Mages and more than a few real world adventures.

He knew it was driving both Defenders a bit crazy not being a part of this. It went against everything they were to stand by while their Mage fought. Only the fact that these duels weren't supposed to cause serious injury, and that interfering would cause them to forfeit, kept them out of the circle. Instead, Tomar and Krey each did their part; gathering onlookers to witness the outcome they were certain of. Their respective Mage's victories.

About a minute later, the spell was complete, and the protection circle glowing lightly on the ground, a faint yellow dome surrounding the dueling ground.

"Are you ready, Apprentice Jerik?" Nera asked him, gripping her staff confidently.

"Yes," he said, then opened with a spray of four magic missiles.

Nera countered the spell easily, returning fire with fire as she started a ball of flame rolling towards him quickly, launching another flurry of magic missiles to distract him immediately afterwards.

It didn't work nearly as well as she'd hoped. Jerik had far too much experience with such tactics and negated the magic missiles while he focused on the fire. He gathered its energy and guided it back towards it's caster with a combination of telekinesis and energy control.

He could tell she was startled by the action, but she didn't let it show any more than she could help. She immediately began to exert her own control on it, pushing back, the ball rolling back and forth, just above the grass, between the two mages.

The crowd was enjoying it, at the very least.

"*She's trying something,*" Kaul warned Jerik.

"Projetti corpus cryon!" The Rohr mage shouted, her staff pointed straight at Jerik as a javelin of ice launched at him, the ball of flame evaporating just before the projectile passed through it, heading straight for the younger mage.

He twisted and leapt up, not just out of the way but to catch it in a Force-protected hand and twisted to hurl it back at his opponent.

She dodged it smoothly, leaping out of the way and casting a spell he couldn't recognize. Nothing seemed to happen, but she shifted her staff to a single-handed grip and he took the opening the weaker hold gave him to try and rip it from her grasp with a bit of telekinesis.

She growled as the staff was ripped out of her hand, flying over to him, but raised her other hand, a mouth opening in the middle of it and beginning to chant a spell along with her normal mouth, earning a gasp from most of the crowd. Magic missiles erupted from both her hands, the projectiles created by the twin spells hurtling towards him.

Jerik was only half-cognizant of his reaction. Kaul went out in front of him, held like a sword as she began to glow with magical energy. With the speed of his early training each magic missile was struck down in turn, only one getting past his defenses to score a strike he barely noticed.

Nera was already coming towards him, casting another spell that caused her hands glowing a pale blue as he recognized one of Remys' most basic combat spells.

She was running out of firepower fast, without her staff to help her focus.

He focused, determined to end things the Mage way; by spell or exhausting hers. A paralytic bolt shot from Kaul's tip; Nera tried to dodge it, but it struck her hind body, and she stiffened in mid-lope, falling to her side on the ground.

After a moment to make sure she was fully cognizant of the situation, he cancelled his spells and waited calmly for her to twitch her toes and then stand up.

"You're good," she admitted. "What sort of mage are you, that you can take my Reyal from my grip twenty paces off and still be called an apprentice?" She asked, reclaiming the weapon.

"One who began his training with a very different kind of magic and has only been here half a year." He explained as simply as he could. "I had a decade or more with my first training left, and still have a few years with this one to be skilled enough with this one to be called a Mage. How did you create that double burst of magic missiles? I've never seen something like that."

"An old trick my grandmother developed," Nera chuckled. "He was a pit-fighter in Mysaphia a few decades back. I owe you something for the duel; if you'd like, I could teach you the basics before the festival is over."

"I would like that," he nodded in respect to her.

"Well, after we've had a little time to rest, I'll look you up," she smiled, offering him her hand as Krey and Tomar approached, Krey looking at Jerik with a very interested expression.

"Agreed," he accepted her hand and shook it firmly.

"I'll see you later then, Apprentice," Nera bowed politely, stepping back as the crowd cleared up a bit, returning to the business of the coming festival and their own private conversations and challenges.

"That was amazing work," Tomar grinned as he and Jerik started back through the village.

"We have been fighting full Mages at the Academy," he reminded his partner with a chuckle. "She's good, but not that good."

"Yeah, but I don't remember you doing something like you did with the javelin before," Tomar chuckled. "So, still up for meeting Selar and her boyfriend?"

"No one has shot at me with a solid object before either. I can catch arrows and bolts like that." Jerik grinned. "And absolutely."

"Great," Tomar grinned, quickly spotting his sister and her new companion and trotted that way.

"Hey Jerik," Selar grinned as they approached. "Saw you and Nera. About time somebody put her in her place."

"So she has an attitude towards more than just Academy Mages?" He chuckled. "Who's your handsome friend?"

"Any mage who isn't from her tribe, and that's only because her kin can twist her tail sideways and keep it there until she gives," the newcomer chuckled, earning a snicker from Jerik as well with the description.

"This is Lekk," Selar smiled. "Lekk, my brother, Tomar, and his mage, Jerik."

"A pleasure to meet you," Lekk smiled with a polite bow.

"It is mutual," Jerik bowed in return. "Do you plan to make official when everyone seems to already know?"

"That depends on Mom and Dad," Selar admitted, blushing a bit.

"I'm not exactly the sort of rank who'd usually be mates with a chieftain's daughter," Lekk admitted.

"They aren't going to care," Tomar said seriously. "Hell, my mate's not even a Rohr, and they didn't mind," he pointed out, reaching over to take Jerik's hand and squeeze it lightly. "Unless you were cast out for some reason, I really don't think it will bother them. They'll be happy just as long as Selar is."

"Not that extreme," Lekk chuckled, looking down at the somewhat younger Rohr. "But you're probably right, from what I've heard ... Selar's just not sure about telling them yet."

"They did ask you to," Jerik pointed out fairly gently to her. "Do you really think they don't know who you are seeing?"

"Actually, not yet; Lekk's tribe has only been in the area for the past few months. I met him on border patrol," Selar explained. "But you're right, I should tell them. Still don't know if we'll be joining you later though," she chuckled.

"*She doesn't give her parents much credit.*" Kaul mentally shook her head.

"*She's not used to an entire population than can read minds.*" Jerik pointed out to her with a chuckle. "Either way, I think it's the right choice to tell them."

"Right," she nodded. "Tonight, probably. You two enjoy the rest of your day, okay? This is the first chance I've gotten to show Lekk around," she smiled at her prospective mate.

"We will," Tomar promised and watched the pair move off.

The next day, Nera and Jerik were sitting near each other as they watched the spear-throwing competition. For now, it was the youngest warriors and hunters against each other; Krey, Tomar, Terren, and others each lined up, a target set five paces out.

Jerik knew that Tomar could handle this shot; if he couldn't, it meant there was something seriously wrong. A round target as tall as a goblin from this range ... Hell, he was pretty sure Tessi could handle this shot.

Down the line, each of the Rohr involved took aim, then threw their spears, one by one. Most of them managed to nail the targets near the center, though even the ones who hit near the edge stayed in until the next round. Not to anybody's surprise, there were no eliminations.

Next, the targets were moved out to ten paces, and they went again. This time, there were a few who were eliminated, though nobody Jerik knew well. They stepped back to watch, and help move the targets out to fifteen paces. From here, they would move more slowly, and each warrior would get two chances to hit the target. The Rohr reared up this time, hurling their spears almost fifty feet to their targets.

And Jerik wasn't surprised at all that Tomar still managed it easily, even as others were eliminated, Krey among them. Nera's Defender returned, sitting down next to Nera as she patted him on the back lightly.

"Are you feeling well, Krey?" She asked him with a concerned expression. "You could manage that sort of throw easily when we were practicing back home."

"Didn't pull back far enough," he shrugged slightly. "Think the ground's a bit uneven, and I didn't notice it. I'll make up for it in the archery competition."

"All right," Nera nodded.

"So, Tomar seems to be doing well," Krey observed to Jerik as his Defender put a spear straight through the center of the next target.

"Yes, he is." Jerik nodded with a warm smile for Tomar. "He trains hard, and he's in good form today."

"I'd say it'll either be him, or his friend next to him, that ends up moving on to the next group," Krey mused. "So, are the two of you close?"

"We're announcing betrothal this festival," Jerik grinned with a motion to the beautifully embroidered leather skirt he was wearing.

"That's close," Krey chuckled. "Is that normal for Academy mages? Being mates with your Defender, especially so young?"

"We are pretty young, but it's fairly common to be at least lovers by the time the Mage graduates." He nodded.

"I don't know, that strikes me as being a bit too close," Nera chuckled. "Friends, certainly, but lovers or mates and working partners ... it sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. Especially given the work a Defender and Mage do together."

"It could make things tricky," Krey agreed. "Especially if the Defender has to stay behind while their Mage takes cover."

"We'll take you on any day," Jerik grinned at the pair in a polite, if blunt, reminder that they had both fallen badly to the Academy pair. "It's not that hard when you train all your life with that in mind. That loyalty that can make it a hard choice can also make a much more effective team."

"Maybe, though it works well enough for us," Nera said easily. "And from what I've seen, it's not that strange. Maybe for Academy-trained mages it's different, but what would you do if you lost your Defender, had to start over? That sort of bond and training doesn't happen overnight."

"No, it doesn't," he agreed. "But neither is the coordination and understanding you have with anyone you work with for a long time, be it a Defender, mate, friend ... even an enemy. I expect you and Krey work better together now than you did the first day you met, and if you loose him after ten or twenty years, you'll be hard pressed to have that kind of understanding with another Defender overnight either. The Academy just gives us all a common culture to fall back on and an understanding of expectations on both sides. That does include that the worst thing you can do to your Defender is to be hurt while in their charge."

"Well, it seems to work for you, and for us," Krey shrugged slightly. "Do the two of you every stay apart for some time?"

"Not yet," he shook his head. "It's not on my list of great ideas."

"Well at this rate, you might end up finding out if they don't want to let him go again," Nera joked as Tomar and Terren ended up facing off, each alternating spear tosses at a target easily twenty-five paces away, seeing who was closest out of three final shots.

"I'm surprised they let him go in the first place," Jerik chuckled and grinned when Tomar came out the clear winner. "He's excelled at everything he's put his mind to."

"Just like you, I'll bet," Krey chuckled. "So, are you going to join the scouts when they get started in a few minutes?"

"Yes," he nodded easily.

"You should probably get going then," the older Rohr smiled as Tomar trotted over to Jerik with a broad grin on his face for a quick kiss and hug before Jerik walked off to join the scouts lining up for their competition.

"If he wins this one, I'm going to be surprised," Nera chuckled.

"Don't underestimate him again," Tomar pointed out. "Though you could well be right; he doesn't have the same muscle to put behind a throw." Spears were handed out to the new contestants, the targets moved in closer again.

Like with the warriors, no one was taken out with the first round, and only a few with the second.

The third round, however, was again a major obstacle for many and the field was narrowed to ten, including Jerik.

"See? He's doing better than most would expect," Tomar smiled. "He may not be Rohr, but he's got some pretty impressive training of his own, even without using all his skills."

"He's not using his magic?" Krey raised an eyebrow.

"No, he's not." Nera said. "That's just skill and strength throwing."

"Besides, if he was using his magic for this, nobody'd be anywhere near him," Tomar said seriously. "But he doesn't cheat on things like this; that's just his own skill. He was training to be a warrior before he became a mage," he explained.

"Quite a sense of fair play, hu?" Krey chuckled.

"Only when it's not serious," Tomar chuckled. "If it really mattered, he'd pull out all the stops in a flash."

"It's only sane," Nera nodded as Jerik only just managed to advance to the next round. "There are no rules when it comes to survival."

"With you on that one," Krey chuckled slightly as the targets were moved out to the next level. "Whatever it takes to make it from one day to the next."

"Sounds like you two've been spending time near the Blight," Tomar chuckled slightly.

"A little," Nera shrugged. "More near the borders. We finished a hunt in that area just a few days ago, actually, before we came here."

"Any luck or trouble?" His interest perked up, keeping in mind Jerik's interest in hunting there.

"A few hell hounds; if your Mage is looking for any hides, they should be properly tanned before we leave," Nera offered. "We'd be willing to trade. We found a skinned Reptan too, but no sign of the skin-thief, assuming it wasn't just another sick Blight-dweller who did it to him."

"I don't know about the hides, we didn't come expecting to trade," Tomar admitted. "I kind of hope it wasn't a skin-thief. Those things are freaky."

"Almost as freaky as what they leave behind," Nera agreed with a shudder. "Still, probably just one of those lunatics offing another and disguising what he did. That sort of thing happens all the time in there."

"All the more reason not to go close unless you can take care of yourself and have a friend or two as backup." Tomar nodded, then paused as he watched Jerik throw. While he hit the target, it was only a nick on the edge, not enough to join the three scouts in the final round.

"Pretty good, for somebody who mostly claims to be a mage," Nera mused as Jerik left the field, returning to Tomar as the Rohr settled in to give him his usual spot between his forelegs.

"I did spend my first thirteen years training to be a warrior-mage." He chuckled and snuggled in to watch the rest of the completion.

"So, do you think you've just about got it now?" Nera asked Jerik a few days later, after one of their lessons in using the twin-spell technique she'd used during the duel.

"Yes, I do." He nodded with a smile and the honest thrill he always got when he learned something new. "It's a very useful ability." He added with respect for the one who had created it.

"Grandmother came up with it for when he had to deal with two mobs in the pits, from what he told me," Nera smiled. "Your betrothal ceremony is soon, isn't it?"

"Noon," he nodded with a glance up. "About an hour. I should go and get ready. Thank you for the lessons." He stood and bowed slightly to her.

"You were owed them," she smiled, standing and getting ready to leave. "By the way; Krey and I wanted to give you this," she said, pulling out a small bottle with a dark liquid inside. "A betrothal gift, you might say."

"Thank you," he accepted the bottle easily.

"It's Quey'al wine, from some of the berries in our tribe's territory," she explained. "I hope the two of you enjoy it, and that the ceremony goes well."

"I'm sure we will," he inclined his head and headed off to his tent quickly. There wasn't much time to get ready for the ceremony and he was going to make the best showing of his life.

It was easy to tell who was part of the Whispering Wind tribe and who wasn't, that afternoon. Most of the tribe had gathered for the betrothal ceremony of their Shaman and Chief's eldest son, only a very few from other tribes attending, most of whom had recently found a mate from the tribe at the ceremony. It drove home the fact to Jerik that, while his ceremony was important to Tomar, it wasn't considered as much a requirement by many of the others.

Still, to their credit, nobody seemed to mind, and most even seemed interested in watching a rite they usually didn't bother with anymore.

The Rohr from the rest of the tribes were milling about the village, some of them helping to prepare the feast that would follow, others trading and going about their business as though the ceremony wasn't there, but was off-limits all the same.

Jenra stood in the center of the village square, wearing her best ceremonial gown, finely embroidered in numerous colors and with patterns that caught the eye where ever you looked. Ryk was sitting along the front row, along with Selar and Lekk, the three of them watching the cubs. Jerik couldn't see Tomar just yet, but knew he was there, probably behind the rest of his family just now.

"Tomar Farlander and Jerik Clawson, step forward," she announced. Tomar stepped out from behind his father, into the open square, wearing a gown that matched Jerik's well and set off his fine, youthful body wonderfully.

Jerik was so busy looking at this new appearance that he almost forgot he was part of things, but he got himself together and into the square with a reasonable amount of grace.

"Tomar has requested that we consider bringing Jerik into our tribe as his mate," Jenra explained to the tribe. "This would create a bond between our tribe and his, and would bind us in honor and by the Law of Marash. By our custom, Jerik has agreed to let us judge his worth as a new member of the tribe. Jerik; if there is anything about you or your kin you feel would give us reason to accept you, speak now," she told the young tom, inviting him to tell them all anything about his family he felt they should know.

Fortunately, he already knew that it should probably be the abridged version. The wedding, three ceremonies down the road, would no doubt be a very different story.

"I am a mage of some skill and power," he began with an even voice and the most understandable thing he had here, his words backed up by Kaul's presence in his hand. "I helped free the town of Silverils from a kobold tribe's raids, captured a Blight Mage trying raising the dead of the Academy's Necropolis and fought off a goblin horde with only Tomar's help.

"Many of you saw me best Nera of Hunting Wind three days ago in a mage-duel. Such power is common in my family line and likely to be passed on to our cubs. My family is far away, or many of them would be here to celebrate with us.

"My sire was Jamil Clawson, a gifted mage and builder of machines who died defending our people before I was born. His father is Jay Clawson, a warrior-mage and protector of great renown in the Republic where he lives. His parents were Radmin Clawson and Felishia Furlong, a warrior-mage and warrior team that led the exploration of much of the territory we now hold. His mother was Jessie Clawson, one of the first warrior-mages in recorded history and the head of our family until recently. Her father, Jake Clawson, and his mate, Chance Furlong, both warriors of great renown, founded the family and our traditions of protecting the communities we live among."

"If your family is so gifted and skilled, then why have none of us heard of them?" Somebody in the back challenged him.

"Because my family, and I, are not from this world." He answered honestly. "Our lands call different stars the sun."

"We have heard his story before, and know that it is the truth," Jenra said, cutting off a sound of disbelief. "Powerful magic brought him here before this. He is speaking the truth, and would have his kin here if it was possible. Are there any who feel he does not deserve the chance to prove himself to our tribe?"

Despite the murmurs and rumbles about such a fabulous story, no one actually challenged the word of their shaman.

"Tomar; as none have objected, it is your turn. Convince your betrothed that he should become a part of our tribe, your family, as he has no kin here to object."

It was strictly a formality, they all knew that. They wouldn't even be here if it wasn't, given the situation. All the same, Tomar stepped forward.

"I am Tomar Farlander, eldest son of Jenra and Ryk, Shaman and Chieftain of the Whispering Wind tribe," he said seriously, looking at Jerik. "Our tribe has built this village from the dirt, and held it for long years. My own adventures and exploits you know; you have been with me on them. My parents, before becoming the leaders of our tribe, were its foremost warriors and explorers. They and my grandparents are known among the friends of the Rohr as fierce protectors and champions. I am already these things to you, by duty and choice; I ask you, Jerik, to travel with me, with my tribe, and see if you truly wish to become a part of it, as my mate."

"It would be my pleasure," he smiled up at him.

"Then with the blessing of the Shaman and Chieftain of the Whispering Wind, you are welcome among us, Jerik Clawson," Jenra smiled warmly. The crowd cheered as Tomar stepped forward and drew Jerik into a warm embrace, holding him close gratefully. He was a touch surprised when Jerik claimed a gentle, lingering kiss as he returned the embrace, but quickly got over it and enjoyed the moment.

"Mmm ... love you," he murmured as the crowd started to disperse, his family staying to watch them.

"I love you," Jerik purred softly and rested his head against Tomar's broad chest.

"Welcome to the family, Jerik," Ryk smiled as he stood and stepped forward to squeeze the tom's shoulder.

"Thank you," he smiled at up him.

"So, why don't the two of you change, then we can all meet up at the feast?" Selar suggested.

"Yes, sir." Jerik grinned and turned towards their tent, more excited than he'd been in a long time.

"I don't suppose we can talk you into staying here for a couple more days?" Ryk asked Jerik and Tomar as they got ready to leave a few days later, at the end of the festival. "You'd be welcome."

"We can't abandon our studies much longer," Jerik answered. "Only our good progress so far got us leave for this long. It's not good to push it, or they might not say yes for the harvest festival."

"All right," Ryk chuckled. "Let us know when you've got the chance to visit; you're always welcome here."

"And let us know when I'm going to be an uncle," Tomar winked at Selar and Lekk, his sister rolling her eyes and swatting his head playfully.

"Speaking of pups, you do have the recipes you needed?" Jenra asked Tomar.

"Yes Mother," he nodded. "Thank you."

"Not that you'll need them for a while yet," Jerik winked at his mate in a reminder of their plans for his next heat.

"No," Tomar admitted with a slight blush beneath his fur when his sister giggled. "Well, we should get started back. I'll write once we get home," he smiled, hugging his parents.

"And don't forget this time," his mother said with a smile. "Good travels."

"I won't," Tomar promised. "All of you stay safe," he smiled, before he and Jerik turned, hefting their packs and setting out from the village, along with the large number of nomadic Rohr returning to their wanderings.

"I think everything went pretty well, don't you?" He asked Jerik with a smile.

"I do," he reached out to rub Tomar's lower shoulder. "Your parents are pretty relaxed about who their pups mate with."

"Mom's our shaman, but not particularly religious," Tomar admitted. "If we were in one of the orthodox tribes, there would have been problems."

"So how'd you end up so devout?" Jerik looked up, honestly curious where it had come from.

"One of the orthodox tribes was traveling through when I was a pup," Tomar answered easily. "I was curious, and snuck into one of their services. I saw something there ... it's hard to explain, but I felt drawn to it. Not all the parts of it; I'm not as die-hard as some of us are. But there are some things that just seemed right to me, and have since. Most of the tribe's more modernist, but I believe the legends, that Marash was more than just a mage ... it's a little hard to explain, I guess. But don't worry; I'm not nearly as species-centric as the priest who helped convert me was," he smiled down at Jerik.

"That didn't occur to me," Jerik smiled and scritched his lower shoulder. "Not with you making most of the first moves in our relationship. It's just unusual to be more old-ways than your folks, at least when you still get along with them. I was curious how you got there."

"Nothing dramatic," Tomar smiled. "And you're seeing it after a few years of extremely confident pup who was convinced he knew better than his parents," he admitted, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. "There were some serious arguments at first, but I got some sense knocked into me before I joined the Guild."

"Somehow, I don't think you would have been able to join the Guild if you couldn't handle different points of view. It's not like Rohr are common there, much less Rohr Mages."

"Probably not," Tomar nodded. "At any rate, that's behind us now. Let's get home, and see how Quasma and the others are doing?"

"Sounds good," Jerik purred softly.

Later that night, Jerik and Tomar had been making good time towards the Academy. The week spent in the village had both of them eager to get back home to some of the creature comforts they'd been forced to leave behind, but they still had plenty of supplies for the trip and the weather was pleasant in every way.

"Hey, want to try that wine Nera gave us with dinner tonight?" Tomar asked as he fished out the cooking supplies from the pack.

"Sure," he smiled and snuggled close to his mate, using a bit of magic to set the fire so he didn't have to move from the spot against Tomar's side.

"That is handy," Tomar chuckled, smiling as he started setting things out and got the bottle from the pack. "Did you have a good time?"

"Yes," he purred. "Your family is fun, and the pups were adorable."

"Even if one of them was traumatized by the pack," Tomar chuckled as he started cooking dinner for them. "I'm glad they made it through the winter well."

"Just how unusual is that?" Jerik looked up, finally pushed to ask by the repeated statement.

"Depends on the harvests," Tomar said easily. "If it was a good year, like last year, then there's a pretty good chance they'll all make it. In a bad year, we could end up losing a whole litter and it's not a huge surprise. It's a lot easier when you have more civilization around you, like at the Academy, but you try not to get too attached until the pups are about three or four."

"Damn," he murmured, about the only reaction he could manage to that kind of mortality rate.

"Like I said, magic and being close to a big city helps," Tomar said, reaching back to rub his shoulder reassuringly. "Your daughter's going to be in much better shape."

"It's just been centuries since we had losses like that," Jerik shook his head, trying to throw the mood off. "Loosing a kit ... it just doesn't happen. Hard to wrap my mind around it being normal anywhere."

"I'm sorry," Tomar said softly. "C'mon; let's not talk about this for now. Let's just eat, and get some rest?"

"Sounds good," he nuzzled Tomar's side. "Maybe fool around a little before bed?" He suggested with a light touch down his mate's side.

"Sounds good to me," he grinned, pulling their meat off the fire. "Why don't you pour the wine?"

"Sure," Jerik nodded and opened the bottle. "It smells like it'll go well with fresh roasted meat."

"Most Rohr wines do," Tomar chuckled. "Major part of the diet, after all."

"Despite being so heavy into farming." He grinned up, his tone playfully teasing as he accepted his skewer of meat.

"We've got at least as many hunters as farmers, and most scouts hunt when they get the chance," Tomar pointed out with a chuckle, taking a bite of his own. "Farming's just good sense, really. Tides over the bad hunting stretches."

"True. Good storage methods are a big help too. I'm kind of surprised you don't do livestock." Jerik nodded and took a test swig of the wine. "Good stuff." He rumbled and offered it to Tomar.

"Livestock?" Tomar asked, taking the bottle and taking a large drink from it. "Mmm ... not bad, though there's something a little off about the flavor. Probably just not the best year for the grapes."

"Animals you tame and raise for meat, milk, hides. It's the meat half of farming."

"Ah, the way the Old People raise them," Tomar chuckled. "Maybe some day we will, but for now it's too inefficient, really. Hunting's good, we don't use much leather, and the young nurse for the milk they need. Why use bushel after bushel of grain to feed a single animal that would feed half the people the grain would?"

"True," he nodded after another mouthful of juicy meat. "Not all domestic animals are that inefficient, but most probably are if you're only after meat."

"And we don't need as much of the rest," Tomar nodded, pausing to eat and take another drink. "Eventually it could get better, just not right now."

"That's kind of what the future is all about," he nodded and washed down the last of his meal with a long drink of wine.

Krey hid in the bushes near Jerik and Tomar's camp, watching silently. It had taken the two of them long enough to get into the wine he'd prepared for them ... he'd expected them to get into it at the village yet. Instead, they'd waited, forcing him to ditch Nera and the rest of the tribe so he could stalk them.

Though, in retrospect, this was probably a better choice. Nobody would see what was happening ... nobody could help them. They were vulnerable, and that suited Krey's needs perfectly.

He watched as the half-drunk Rohr and Kat mated, rutting like hell hounds in heat. Jerik had changed into a female, something he hadn't been expecting. Normally, he supposed the display would have been erotic ... but to him, it was merely academic, more information on his prey.

When they finally slumped to the ground, the drugged wine making their natural exhaustion even stronger, Jerik was a male again and laying on Tomar's belly, the position of their last rutting.

Krey waited a bit longer, to make sure they were truly unconscious, then walked forward silently.

He nudged them both, making sure they wouldn't wake up ... then worked Jerik's exhausted, drugged, sated body out from inside Tomar. It turned out to be a bit of a trick as the Kat had a knot that was still a bit swollen. He rolled the young Rohr off to the side and slung Jerik over his shoulders, his body twisting unnaturally to hold him properly. Without a look back, he ran off quickly, leaving Tomar alone as he made off with his prize.

Jerik groaned slightly as consciousness, and the awareness of Tomar's absence from the area, kicked his sedative and alcohol addled brain and body into gear.

"I was beginning to worry you wouldn't wake up," Krey's voice chuckled from just outside Jerik's line of sight.

"Why?" He managed to mumble and tried to twist his well-secured body to see the Rohr. While he was coherent enough to be aware, he wasn't coherent enough to do anything.

"Well, it's no fun if you're already dead when I start to work," Krey pointed out, stepping into Jerik's view. "Or do you mean why I kidnapped you? Maybe this will answer your question."

Krey reached around his back, his arms cracking and popping with sickening sounds as the reached around him, twisting to angles the joints simply were not meant to be in. He turned his body to let Jerik watch as he slipped a claw in at what looked to be the base of his spine, piercing the skin and starting to slit his back up the middle, revealing powerful, raw sinew and muscle beneath it, surprisingly little blood leaking out of the wound.

He knew he should understand what he was witnessing. The part of him tuned to danger was screaming. It was as far as his comprehension went as a biped without skin emerged from the Rohr's body.

It turned towards him, slick muscle rippling as it stretched out and let Krey's skin fall to the ground.

"You have no idea how much I've been looking forward to getting out of that hide," 'Krey' grinned, revealing a mouthful of long, needle-like teeth and flexing its hands, razor-sharp, scalpel-like claws at the end of its fingers. "And now that I've got yours, I'll be able to slip into the Academy and find some plump merchant to replace." The creature stepped towards him, rolling him onto his stomach and tracing those sharp claws along his shoulders, almost like it was mapping out the contour of his muscles beneath his fur and flesh.

"Stop!" Jerik managed to get out as his body shuddered at the touch. As desperate as he was to move, to escape, his body wasn't cooperating and even the most basic of Force-uses seemed beyond him. He'd meant it to be a Force-command, but it didn't come out that way.

Instead, it was far weaker, more like a plea than a command.

"Don't worry," 'Krey' crooned softly. "I'll take very good care of your hide. Not like that Rohr; he isn't anything special, not worth taking care of. But a mage like you ... you'll be worth saving afterwards. Of course, I'll have to slit your partner's throat before I go back. What do you think he'll look like, as I tear his throat out with our teeth and claws?"

It was a mental image that came all too easily, but Jerik refused to give voice to it. Instead he focused inward, turning all his attention to burning off the drugs that were hampering him so effectively.

"Mmm ... I can tell you're thinking about it," the creature chuckled. "I can smell it on you. I'm going to enjoy this, Jerik ... but before I work, I need to make sure you can't fight." It ran its sticky fingers along his neck, applying pressure skillfully to several different nerve bundles that left Jerik's body limp and numb again. He could still feel, barely, but he couldn't move anything, not even as well as he could before.

Fixing that now became the top priority.

'Krey' slipped one of its claws beneath his skin, slowly, expertly starting to cut through fur and separate the skin from Jerik's back. That he could feel, along with the warm flow of blood that he knew he'd have to focus on stopping before he could worry about the poison or whatever this thing had done to his nerves.

He whimpered, a low, nearly silent sound that the scream that wanted out became with so little control left.

Too many things to fix; no way to get time to fix them.

He desperately pushed the sensations from his mind and worked on the poison. If he could clear his mind, he could keep this creature at bay.

Even as he worked, he could feel 'Krey' beginning to peel his skin back, the cool night air washing over exposed muscle and flesh that wasn't meant to be exposed.

"*Tomar! Tomar! Damn it, wake up!*" A vaguely female voice screeched inside his skull well before he could convince his body to move, or even be sure he was awake yet.

"*Get up Defender. Your Mage is in trouble.*" She kept trying, a constant litany of demands, insults and desperate pleas until he groggily growled at her and pushed his forebody up a bit.

Once he was aware, he realized that it was Kaul who was screaming at him ... and that Jerik wasn't there.

She wouldn't be yelling at him like this unless she knew Jerik was in trouble, and that meant he wasn't just using the bushes nearby or up catching fish for breakfast. Tomar stood quickly, stumbling about a little bit.

"What the ...." His body was groggy, not wanting to react properly, and it didn't feel like he was still drunk. Whatever it was, he'd worry about it later; he would make his body behave.

He grabbed CrestRider and Kaul, not bothering with any of the rest of his gear, and sniffed the air. He quickly picked up Jerik's scent, and started running in that direction. He picked up another scent too ... a Rohr scent, though now that he wasn't surrounded by Rohr scents, he could tell that there was something strange about it.

The back of his mind wondered just what a Rohr could possibly want with Jerik, and just what was strange about this one.

He didn't even notice the way brushes and branches tore at his fur as he crashed threw them, headless of anything but the scent of his mage and the Rohr he was chasing.

As he got closer, he began to realize what was wrong with it ... the scent was old. Not just old like the scent had gone by before, but old like the scent of a deer one could get from sniffing its hide, even days after it was dead. He remembered what that scent was supposed to mean, and it made him run even faster.

A skin-thief had Jerik.

He could tell he was getting close, and just a few moments later he reached the clearing. It only took him a fraction of a moment to process what he saw, the skin-thief filleting Jerik's back and the tom wasn't even twitching. He didn't even hesitate as he barreled into it, letting his full weight slam into the monster just as hard as he could to carry them both away from Jerik's still, bleeding form.

It was the last thought he could afford his mage after slamming the skin-thief into a tree with his own body. His own survival was at stake now, and his opponent was an experienced one who knew how to fight Rohr.

He winced as its razor sharp claws raked through his hide, hammering its jaw with CrestRider's pitted haft. He knew that skin-thieves were assassins, stealth-killers, but this one was good in a face-to-face battle. He took a step back, getting himself some room as the monster staggered back a bit, regaining its feet and trying to close the distance again, to get in closer than the Rohr could handle.

Tomar didn't give it the chance. He brought his axe up, the scent of sea-water mixing with blood and fear in his sinuses as he brought it down hard. The gleaming silvered edge cut deeply into the monster's sinew and bone; for a moment Tomar was afraid the haft would break with the force of the blow, but it endured.

More than he could say for the skin-thief, roaring with pain as he pulled the axe out and struck again, and again, just swinging the blade until the monster stopped twitching, ignoring the shallow, painful cuts it managed to score against him.

"*Jerik's alive!*" Kaul demanded his attention again now that the battle was over.

He was already turning to check on just that, and Kaul's assurance helped him focus on what he needed to do. He knelt over Jerik, his stomach churning at the large amount of blood his mate had lost. He folded most of Jerik's skin back into place, trying to hold it there and stop the bleeding ... but he was well and truly out of his league here. He needed a healer with magical skill, especially since Jerik didn't seem to be able to heal himself yet.

"*Get help. I'll live.*" Jerik's mind-voice was weak, disoriented and distracted, but a solid assurance in the order it gave.

Tomar put Kaul down next to Jerik, not sure if it would help but feeling like he needed to do it. A brief moment passed before he was sure what direction he'd have to go in to reach the village, and he started to run.

It would take hours to reach the village, longer to get back ... too long. He threw back his head, cutting loose with a piercing howl, calling for help from any Rohr that could hear him. He kept running, praying that it would carry far enough for somebody to hear.

Terren yawned at her post, not far from the village. It was late, and she hadn't been planning on being put on watch duty for the shift during the end of the festival. Still, just an hour or two more, and she would be able to get some sleep, let somebody else take over for her.

Just as she was considering dozing off for a few minutes, she heard something faint in the distance, a loud howl. She focused; it was probably just one scout talking with another, but she couldn't be sure. As she translated bits from the long, faint howl, she murmured it out loud.

"Whispering Wind ... help ... ambushed ...." She scowled, not able to make enough of it out to tell anything more than that it was important. She ran out on top of the Listening Hill near the village, answering the howl with one of her own, calling for whoever it was to repeat.

Another howl interrupted her own, closer. Somebody was already relaying the message.

"Whispering Wind member needs help; ambushed. Mate dying."

There was only one member of the Whispering Wind tribe far enough away to have made that first howl, and knowing that Tomar and Jerik were in trouble sent a shiver down Terren's spine that stood her fur on end.

She spun back towards the village, howling for Jenra as she loped down the hill, snatching her bow from the ground and shouldering the quiver. Jenra stepped out of her house with a bewildered expression.

"Terren, what in the name of Marash is -"

"Tomar sent a distress howl," she explained quickly. "They were attacked in the wild, Jerik's hurt badly."

"I'll follow you; tell them we're coming," the Shaman said quickly, ducking back into her home to grab her spear. Terren hurried back up the Listening Hill, and howled back to Tomar.

"Call received; help coming. Where are you?" By the time she was back down at the base of the hill, Jenra had already met her, the two of them galloping off down the road Tomar and Jerik had left by earlier as they listened to the response and its relays. Another howl replied, as well.

"Scarlet Fang responding; lost member while leaving. We help you; you help us?"

Jenra howled back an affirmative of her own, knowing that Nera's tribe wasn't closely bonded to them, but their help would be welcome all the same.

As they hurried to Tomar's aid, the night air echoed with howls back and forth between the Rohr in the area, information and offers of assistance being passed between whatever tribes that were close enough to hear.

It was almost an hour at a full run when they nearly crashed into Tomar, a scout and Nera from Scarlet Fang skidding to a stop a moment later as the three Rohr of the Whispering Wind turned to go the way Tomar had come from with a howl for their new location and direction.

"What happened?" Terren asked once they'd sent out the alert, still running, taking a deep lungful of air when she got the chance.

"Skin-thief attack," Tomar said, breathless. "Drugged us, stole Jerik. It's dead now, but Jerik's hurt bad."

"How did it drug you?" Nera asked, her need for air keeping the incredulous tone to a minimum.

"Your wine," Tomar panted, keeping the venom out of his voice mostly for the same reason. He knew, logically, that she didn't know Krey was a skin-thief ... but the fact that the thing posing as her Defender had almost killed his mage didn't help anything. She should have been able to tell the difference; that his scent wasn't right even if she didn't know his personality well enough.

"What?" She almost stopped in her tracks as she realized what that meant ... and why Krey had disappeared. "Sweet Marash...." She took off again, almost managing to overtake Tomar as she rushed to follow him.

They were joined by two scouts from the Crescent Falls tribe before their headlong rush through the forest was over in a clearing splattered with the blood and guts of the skin thief, almost overshadowing the Rohr hide and very still bound Kat next to his unique staff.

Tomar knelt next to Jerik, untying him and looking back at his mother with a desperate expression. It was a moment that he manage to miss how much Jerik's body relaxed, but he didn't miss the sound of relief that came with it.

"Can you help?" He asked her, sure only that Jerik was still alive as Nera knelt by her Defender's discarded skin, disappearing into the woods a moment later to empty her stomach in solitude.

"Some," she answered absently, most of her attention on the tom under her fingers. "Terren, howl for the village to send Camin to the Academy for one of their stronger healers and for a group to come with a stretcher. I can keep him alive, but not much more this far from the village."

"*He can heal himself some too, but this is bad.*" Kaul added in a general broadcast to everyone there.

"His staff," Tomar explained quickly, Terren nodding slightly before she ran off to send the call.

"Can you speak?" Jenra asked Jerik softly, working her strongest healing spell, though it wouldn't do much more than stabilize him right now. His skin slowly began to seal around the edges, stopping him from losing anymore blood.

"Yeah," he mumbled, still a bit out of it and focused internally to deal with all the things wrong with his body.

"What else is still wrong?" She asked him, inspecting his body.

"Drugged, mostly gone. Nerve touch paralyze." He let out a soft sigh of relief as her magic cooled the pain and stopped the bleeding so he could focus on other things.

"Does this help?" She asked him, using another spell to try and correct the paralysis, letting him control his muscles. If Tomar had been able to run out to meet them, and Jerik could talk, the drugging couldn't be that big an issue now.

"Ohhh," he moaned gratefully and carefully shifted his body and head to look up at her. "Yes. Thank you." His gaze flicked around until he found Tomar and assessed the Rohr's condition. As he expected, he'd been wounded, but not that badly. "And thank you." He patted the ground, hoping to have his mate's warmth and support. "You took a few hits too."

"They look uglier than they really are," Tomar said simply, sitting down next to Jerik and carefully helping him up against his body when Jenra indicated it was okay. "Thank you, everybody, for coming."

"Don't mention it," the Scarlet Fang scout said softly, looking over at Nera as she returned to the clearing. "We had to find Krey anyways."

"The rest of his body would be near the path he and Nera traveled." Jerik told him, his voice soft as he rested against his mate. "The Reptan had been taken only two days before Krey."

"It won't be anymore," Nera said softly. "I'm very sorry; we didn't know he'd been taken."

"I know," he nodded, his tone remarkably even. "At least you have some proof of his fate now."

Tomar could feel it, in his mate's body, that Jerik wanted to give her a 'I told you so' response about this being a risk of not knowing your companion well, and that he just didn't have the heart or hate in him to say it out loud.

"*I think she got the point anyway.*" Kaul commented to Jerik and Tomar, but not the others in the clearing.

"Camin is on his way; should I get a head start, in case something happens?" Terren asked as she returned to the clearing.

"Yes," Jenra nodded after a moment's thought. "You can give them first-hand information as well, should they have questions. We will be in the village well before either of you get there."

The hunter nodded, then turned and took off back for the main road to the Academy, leaving them behind again.

"Since things are under control, we should be returning to our tribe," the two scouts from the Crescent Falls said. "Unless you need help returning them to your village?"

"I'll be able to walk," Tomar said softly.

"I can provide a stretcher, after a fashion," Nera offered. "It's the least I can do."

"It will allow us to move before aid from the village arrives," Jenra nodded. "The aid is welcome."

Nera cast her spell, a broad disk of magical energy forming. Tomar helped move Jerik onto it, rubbing his cheek lightly.

"I'll be right next to you," he promised his mate softly.

"I know," he tried to relax on his stomach and soon sank into a healing trance, Kaul firmly gripped in one hand while the small group walked at a much more reasonable pace towards the village he'd departed barely a day before.

Prelate Raphael quietly led a small service for the few mages who numbered among his followers, the Bear chanting softly as incense curled about the room, following the air currents.

"Merciful Lady, watch over us and guide us through our -" He was interrupted by a guard opening the door of the small chapel and rushing in.

"Forgive me, Prelate, but two Rohr just barged through the city gates and up to the Academy; they're saying they need a Healer for one of our mages."

"The work of the Lady comes before simple thanks," he inclined his head slightly. "Coran, you will need to complete today's service while I see to this."

"Yes, Prelate," the young priest nodded, moving forward and taking over where Raphael had left off as the Bear left the intelligent young Wolf behind. He wasn't much of a spellcaster, but he was one of the most knowledgeable young men he knew when it came to the ways of a priest.

"Did they say who was injured?" The Prelate asked.

"No, but I didn't stick around to ask questions; they looked like they'd just run a marathon," the guard explained.

"They likely have," he nodded and followed the guard towards the Academy gate. "It is not common for them to ask our help."

He reached the gates shortly, the two Rohr runners bowing respectfully to him, their lower flanks working hard as they breathed, their tongues hanging out as they panted. He wasn't offended in the least; even though they could sweat some, it wasn't nearly enough if they'd been running any appreciable distance.

"Who is injured, and how far away are they?" He asked easily, getting straight to the point.

"Apprentice Jerik Clawson, Prelate." The male of the pair answered. "A skin-thief had begun its work before his Defender could reach him. He is resting at the Whispering Wind village now. Our Shaman sent word that he is no longer likely to die from his wounds, but they are beyond her skill to heal."

"His back was flayed." The female added, her eyes slightly glazed over in exhaustion well beyond her companion's. "It is a three or four day journey normally, we made it in a little over a day."

"Impressive," the Prelate murmured, knowing that this was serious, even if Jerik wasn't in immediate danger. "Come in; we will have food and drink brought to you while you rest. I will need to have one of my Healing apprentices prepare for the journey."

"Thank you, Prelate." The female bowed, her breath just beginning to level out.

"Will there be time to rest?" The male asked softly with a worried look at the way his companion's tail was tucked down and her paws trembled slightly as they followed the Bear inside. "I think we may slow you down."

"We can catch up. The first many miles is on the main road north." She added. "It is not until the Blight-Voldar fork that you leave the main road."

"There will be time to rest if you need it," the Bear said easily. "I can also use magic to help you recover, if you wish."

The pair glanced at each other. It would let them leave with the group, but they didn't want to waste magic either.

"If it would not be a trouble, Prelate." The female bowed her head. "It would be good to leave with the others."

"The food and drink will refresh you then," he nodded, turning to walk back in. "Follow me, please."

Jenra poked her head into the room Tomar and Jerik were sharing in their home until the Academy folks arrived to retrieve them. She couldn't help but smile at the scene. Her son was sprawled out on his back, a relatively awkward position to sleep in at best. The reason for it made the scene very sweet to her. Jerik was laying along Tomar's lower body, directly on top of him where they could have almost complete body contact without anything touching Jerik's back. She was sure that all the shifting she'd heard the first night had been figuring this out.

"Good morning, mother." Tomar cracked one eye open to look at her even as he absently moved a hand up to slowly caress Jerik's ears and skull. "Any word from the Academy or Camin and Terren yet?"

"They will be here later today, if all goes well." She settled next to her son to gently examine Jerik's wounds. "He's healing nicely."

"He's strong," Tomar smiled softly, rubbing Jerik's ears and earning a mumble of appreciation for it. "He has magical talents that I don't think even he fully understands, from before he got here. I just wish I'd gotten to him sooner," the Rohr sighed.

"That you got to him at all is a credit to you," she reminded him gently but firmly. "That you managed to kill a skin-thief with only an axe is even more credit to you. As I'm sure he's told you, he chose well in you."

"It's just not easy to remember when he's hurting like this," Tomar admitted softly. "Especially when I think back over my track record. He's almost ready to become a mage ... another year or two, tops. I'm not sure if I'll be up to the task of being his Defender."

"Now just what makes you think that?" Jenra looked at her son seriously. "You have successfully defended him from zombies, a kobold clan, a giant spider, a blizzard, a goblin horde and saved him from a skin-thief. All in less than a half year. I bet there are many who envy the quality of his Defender."

"He and the other mages had more to do with taking down the kobolds and spider; I was just keeping them far enough away they couldn't reach them. He drove off the goblins while I was trying to figure out why my leg wasn't working. And if I'd been more on guard, I would have realized what Krey was while I was sitting not a foot away from him, not given him half of what he'd have needed to take Jerik's place." Tomar sighed softly, shaking his head, trying to remind himself that it was more Nera's fault than his that this had happened, and even then she didn't have too much of the blame.

"And he didn't tell you about the fact that he'd still be dealing with a Blight Mage's wither-strike if Prelate Raphael hadn't been strong enough to heal him properly. I should have been at his side, not half-way across the battlefield."

"You keep up that kind of stupid-talk and I'll whack you." Jerik mumbled before Jenra could start in on her son's statements. "You're your own worst enemy, you know that?" He looked up slightly, affection and worry on his face putting the sharp tone in a very different light.

"I didn't mean to wake you up," Tomar apologized softly. "How are you feeling?"

"Tired, worn out and like my entire back is one big scab." He sighed. "It's really disturbing when you get in one of these moods."

"Well, your back is, though it is healing very quickly. I suspect the first two are from healing so much." Jenra nodded.

"Probably," he murmured and let his head rest on Tomar's lower breastbone again.

"You can probably afford to let it rest for now," Tomar told him softly. "They'll be here from the Academy soon, and we'll be able to get you back home. And I'm sorry about the mood ... it's just hard not to feel like I've screwed up when something like this happens. You're not the one who's supposed to be getting hurt out there, especially not when we're supposed to be somewhere safe."

"I'm a Clawson," he murmured, his eyes closed again. "We have exciting lives. It's not likely to slow down anytime soon."

"Don't think I really want it too either," Tomar reassured him gently, scritching his ears. "Shh, now go back to sleep. I'll let you know when they're here for us."

"Just try not to be so hard on yourself." He insisted before he relaxed a bit more, purring lightly at the attention.

"I think he said it best, son." Jenra smiled gently down at the pair and stood. "I will come get you when they arrive, or breakfast is ready."

"Thank you, mother," Tomar smiled gratefully. "We'll see you then. If there's a Lynx with the group when they get here, make sure you tell her Jerik's okay?"

"I will." She nodded in promise and left them to rest in peace.

Jenra stepped into the room that Jerik and Tomar were in, picking up Richter as the cub trotted over to her. The three has been in the room a lot once Jerik said they were welcome. Unlike the other adults, Jerik and Tomar had little to do but entertain them from ground level.

"The group from the Academy is here," she told them, smiling at the way her son was so careful about embracing the injured tom laying on his stomach. "They've brought a cart for Jerik to return in. Lady Tella was glad to hear that you're doing well," she added.

"Lady Tella?" Tomar lifted his head slightly. "I don't think know her."

"Well, she's a Lynx woman who came out with them; I think she's the healer with the group."

"Must be new," Tomar said with a slight shrug. "Jerik? Think you're up to moving a bit?"

"Yeah," he nodded and carefully edged himself off Tomar's chest and to his feet. The flex of muscle, scar tissue and scabs made him wince, but he stood on his own and accepted Tomar's help getting a simple robe on; one the Rohr had just made to minimize how much Jerik had to move to get dressed. The back of it was cut away to avoid having it pull on his wounded back as well.

"Now be careful about how you move," Tomar cautioned him. "If it hurts too much, let me know and I'll carry you if I have to."

"I know," he smiled and gently scritched his lower shoulder before the small group went outside.

"Good to see you can walk, Apprentice," the Lynx, probably five or six years his senior, said respectfully, bowing slightly. "I am Lady Tella, a recent arrival at the Academy."

"Thank you for coming, Lady Tella." Tomar put a hand under Jerik's chin to stop the near instinctive returned bow. "Four days have healed much, but it still looks pretty bad."

"I'm sure it does," she nodded, moving around behind Jerik. "Scar tissue and scabbing beneath the healed skin?" She guessed. "Not uncommon with unskilled and rushed use of healing spells."

"It was that or bleed to death." Jerik managed not to shrug as she lifted his tunic up to examine his back with a healer's eyes. "I think having my hide put back on instead of healing back might have made it worse."

"True," she consented the choice and unusual circumstances. "It's going to be unpleasant to fix, and most of the work will need to be done at the Academy. Now that your life isn't threatened, don't try to accelerate the healing any more."

"Yes, ma'am." Jerik murmured in absolute acceptance.

"Good," she nodded. "We'll get you back as quickly as we can; your friends are worried about you."

"If we aren't needed anymore, we should probably return to our homes," Terren said softly.

"Go ahead," Jenra nodded to her and Camin.

"They should be excused from whatever duties they have for at least a day," Lady Tella warned Jenra quietly once they were out of earshot. "We used some magic to help refresh them, but they've run far harder than is really healthy, even with the spells to help. They might well need help they wouldn't accept from me on the trip."

"I know," the shaman nodded. "Believe me, I know those two," she chuckled slightly. "We'll take good care of them; they're tribe."

"I'm sure you will," the Lynx smiled slightly. "Thank you for your help; you might think of it as something that was your duty, but we are still grateful."

"You are welcome," Jenra said easily as Tomar carefully helped Jerik into the cart, and onto the cushions there. "Take good care of my sons."

"We will," Lady Tella bowed respectfully as the small envoy turned around for the long trip back. "You will never know this happened by fall."

A Heritage of Power 4: Jerik's Story 9.99: Visiting Kin

NC-17 for F/H and M/H
Het Level is None
Slash Level is
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is MediumHerm Smut Level is Medium

85 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Finished
Written February 3, 2006 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Karl Wolfemann

Setting: Herath, Star Wars (Furry)

Primary Races: Enchanted Item, Feline, Kat, Rohr (Herm Wolftaur)

Contents: Furry. Herm. Violence

Pairings: Jerik/Tomar

Blurb: When Tomar and Jerik visit the Whispering Winds tribe in time for the planting festival, they meet new family, a mage duel and take the first step towards becoming mates in the eyes of the Rohr. It's what happens when the festival is over that everyone will remember the most.

Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.

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