A Heritage of Power 4: Jerik's Story 9.99:
Birthday in the Blight

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

"Hey Jerik; why don't we spend the night in town?" Tomar asked, the two of them starting out of the shop they'd just picked up their supplies in.

"Ur?" He blinked up at his mate. "Sure, if you want to."

"It beats sleeping in the middle of the Blight," Tomar pointed out as he and Jerik turned towards the one, mostly empty inn that Kareptis supported, the dying city no different than it had been seven years before. Merchants still sold their wares, salvaged and shipped through the wastelands surrounding them. Razor-grass still grew in patches, some of them cultivated, most of them allowed to live through simple neglect. If anything had changed, it was only that the buildings were a little more run down.

"Okay, so maybe not by much," Tomar shrugged after a moment. "But a little bit ... and besides, tonight's special," he smiled down at his mate.

Jerik couldn't help but chuckle. "There are years you care about that a lot more than me."

"And you make up for it other times in the year," Tomar chuckled. "You at least deserve a night with a roof over your head for your birthday. One that you didn't create." He added with a smirk, knowing from previous years that Jerik was likely to bring up that their tent was more comfortable than most inns after nearly a decade of improvements to it as ideas occurred to them.

"You're going to spoil me, you know."

"Of course I do; it's my second job," Tomar teased as they entered the relatively quiet inn. "Hey Jerik; is that who I think it is?" He asked, nodding towards a dark-robed figure sitting in the corner, a familiar staff leaned up against the wall.

"Yes, it is," Jerik smiled and casually walked up to greet their old friend. "Hey Remys."

"Jerik?" Remys asked, looked up and pulled his hood back. "What are you doing here?"

"Just the usual, passing though to collect a few bounty-fees after a hunt." He chuckled. "What's up with you?"

"The usual," Remys chuckled. "Working with the locals, looking for answers I can't find back at the Academy. Making some progress too, I think."

"So, where's Kennara?" Tomar asked.

"Grabbing supper," Remys explained easily. "Care to join us?"

"Sure," Jerik nodded with a grin, then glanced at Tomar who was already trotting off to collect two meals for them. "So any great mysteries solved yet?" He asked conversationally, pleased to have a chance to catch up with an old friend.

"Great mysteries, not necessarily," Remys admitted. "But I think I'm on my way to a treatment for the Plague. It's just been mercifully difficult to find test subjects lately. You?"

"That's great, on both counts," Jerik nodded, honestly pleased with the news, even though the back of his mind was itching, like something was wrong. "We've taken six skin thieves, three dozen hell hounds, a small nest of wight-rats, and sold nine slaves back to their families since we met last. It's been a good few years. After the next slave run, we've talked about take a break at the Academy to start a family."

"Good luck if you do," Remys said sincerely. "Are you sure you're up to it again yet, though?"

"This time it'll be Tomar carrying them," Jerik said softly. "And we're going to take precautions. Part of what happened before was mixed blood. I'm close to the local felines, but I'm not one. This time I have the magic to make sure I'll be as much a Rohr as one born to it, and we're going to do everything we can to make sure he's taken care of for it before we even try."

"Well, don't forget that charm Quasma gave you," Remys suggested. "I'm afraid I don't really have much I can do myself, unless you're looking for a quick infusion of cash before you take a few years sabbatical."

"We've been saving up for it," Jerik smiled his thanks for the thought. "The Academy is happy to have us as teachers as well, so we'll have some income. Even if it's not as good as out here, they're paying a lot of the living costs too. I'm happy to listen to it, though. Most jobs out here are worth it just for what we take out."

"Well, especially if you ask Tomar, I imagine this will count," Remys said easily. "I have some contacts among the Salvagers; they've got a Fleshwarper they want taken out, but for some reason they can't handle it themselves."

Jerik let a vicious grin spread across his face for a moment. "I'm definitely interested," he purred as Kennara and Tomar returned with their meals.

"What are we hunting?" Tomar asked easily, knowing the look on his Mage's face.

"A Fleshwarper, and it's on commission too." He grinned up and accepted the plate of hot food. "Thanks."

"So you found somebody else willing to take the job, huh?" Kennara asked Remys with a chuckle, giving him his plate, a small covered tray in the center of it.

"I said I'd try, didn't I?" The Gila Monster chuckled. "How long have you two been eating in the Blight?" He asked them, not lifting the lid yet.

"I'm guessing that's still moving," Jerik chuckled. "Not really my thing, but I've eaten kenal and ylari."

"This is something similar," Remys nodded, lifting the lid to display a small tray covered with small, wiggling animals of various description. "Glaki. I know that many people who aren't used to Blight dishes get disturbed by some of them."

"We've gotten used to it by now," Tomar said easily, taking one of the heavy rolls that he had and dipping it into his soup while Remys started eating his own meal, eating slowly.

"At any rate, we'll give you the contact for that job later," Kennara said. "Glad you're willing to take it."

"Any excuse to take out another Blight monster." Jerik grinned at her. "Looks like you've had some exciting times too," he nodded towards a few visible scars.

"Yeah," she chuckled, looking down and self-consciously adjusting her sleeves slightly. "Not all of his research is particularly safe out here," she chuckled with a fond smile for Remys. "I've gotten quite the workout at times."

"They're nothing to be ashamed of then," Tomar pointed out, nodding towards his own arm, not very scarred but clearly bearing the marks of the last seven years. "No Defender has flawless skin."

"Especially not when they have Mages like us who just insist on being out where things are interesting," Jerik chuckled.

"Instead of hiding at the Academy where it's safe." Tomar smirked at their oft-repeated exchange and how many times Quasma had heard it.

"Hey, some days I think Tim and Rainbow are the lucky ones," Kennara chuckled with a fond smile for the absent members of their group. "Research at the Academy and helping run Tessi's folk's holdings, not bad jobs."

"To hear Tessi talk, she'd rather be out here with me." Jerik shook his head.

"Until she realizes the offer is serious." Tomar added with a snicker.

"Then she suddenly remembers she has to finish some magical device, probably going to take her the better part of a month, hmm?" Remys chuckled, shaking his head. "Cat was meant to stay at home, I think. So, what are Lina and Keil up to, if you know?"

"Traveling even more than we do," Jerik smiled. "We meet up sometimes, go hunting together. I think they're with Lina's folks about now."

"Well, I hope they're enjoying themselves," the Gila Monster chuckled, finishing up his squirming meal. "Probably bored half to tears, knowing them."

"That or so busy showing off, swarmed by kits and dodging 'where are the gradkits' questions that they haven't noticed." Jerik snickered. "Tomar's folks have already commented on how they're expecting us to spend a season when the pups are old enough to travel."

"That and to please have pups first." Tomar chuckled.

"Ah, the troubles of having parents," Remys chuckled, shaking his head. "Eager to end up grandparents at the first opportunity. I'll admit, most days I don't think I'm missing too much. But then, family's an odd concept around here anyways."

"I've noticed," Jerik nodded. "Though it makes sense to me, given the environment."

"Definitely," Remys nodded. "I'm just lucky to have good friends, in the sense it's used on the outside," he smiled and got one in return.

"So how long are you planning to be in the area?" Jerik asked as dinner wound up.

"Probably for the next few months," Remys said easily. "Barring getting a lead on a research trip. The next time you guys hear about a nest of wight-rats, try to drop me a line; they're not easy to find, and it's a lot easier to capture some of them than the big ones."

"Sure," Jerik nodded. "You do kill them when you're done with them, right?"

"Usually before then," Remys chuckled darkly. "My processes aren't exactly healthy for them. What I need is the energy that keeps them animate, more than the creatures themselves. The extraction usually destroys them."

"Good," Tomar nodded sharply. "They are a major pain."

"We'll let you know when we run across another nest." Jerik promised.

"Thank you," Remys smiled. "Well, I imagine the two of you will be wanting to get a room for the night; good hunting while you're still here."

"Thanks," Jerik nodded and stood. "We'll see you around."

"Is it just me, or has he changed in the last few years?" Tomar asked quietly as they went to check out a room. "Can't quite put my finger on it, but something's different."

"He's darker," Jerik nodded. "I'm not sure how much is just living out here. We are too, just from surviving."

"True," Tomar admitted. "Only in our twenties, and already thinking about our innocent youths," he chuckled as they paid for their room and started up the stairs to it.

"So ... what did you have in mind?" Jerik raised an eyebrow, hoping for a better topic.

"An evening of pampering from Shanna?" Tomar suggested with a deep rumble as he led him into the room.

"Ohhh, you could make me want birthdays more often." Jerik shivered in anticipation, but waited until the door was closed and the room given a cursory check-out and Tomar undressed before casting the transform others spell. Though he didn't need his hands, he used them extensively to shape his Defender into the well-endowed and curvaceous dark brown on brown tabby shekat with a white front.

"That is the general idea," Shanna purred, sauntering up to Jerik and slipping her hands beneath his robes and kissing him hungrily as they fell to the floor.

Jerik could only moan softly as she went to work on his light leather armor, more than willing to surrender completely to the night of fantasy that had been several years in the making. His partner knew all too well how to manipulate it and him, especially in the sexually aggressive mindset that Shanna exemplified.

The parts of his armor soon joined his robes, and the light undershirt that Jerik wore beneath it, leaving them both naked as the Tabby explored his body with her hands.

"I love you, Jerik," Shanna murmured between heated kisses as Jerik was drawn to the simple bed.

"I love you, Tomar." He moaned deeply, intentionally using his real name.

"On the bed," Shanna purred, pressing him back towards it. "On your back, while I get the grooming kit out."

He rumbled in anticipation and did as he was told, his body sprawled out and relaxed as he watched the sensuously rounded female feline. For as rarely as Tomar walked on two legs, he moved with an easy grace in it. Of course, he hadn't been doing it so well at first. Jerik chuckled to himself as he remembered the first time Shanna had tried walking around, and managed to plant her face in the floor firmly each time.

Now, Shanna retrieved the grooming kit from their pack, opening the ornate case and setting it down where she could reach it easily, pulling one of the brushes out.

"Now, would Master Jerik like to be brushed out?" She purred, crawling up on the bed and straddling his hips shamelessly.

"Yes," he rumbled, reaching up to fondle her breasts, taking some care to run his thumbs around her nipples slowly, teasingly.

Tomar may not ever really understand what it meant to be a telepath, but he understood that his mate got off on his pleasure almost as much as his own, and that he enjoyed a demonstrative lover in bed almost as much. As Shanna, he played to that, moaning happily as pleasure tingled through her breasts, reaching down and starting to brush out Jerik's fur.

Every time she reached up, she slid her body up to the top of Jerik's stiffening shaft, sliding back down along it, teasing him with her hot, moist slit, shivering at the feel of his full barbs along her flesh.

"Such a tease," he rumbled hotly, running his hands down her sides even as he arched into the brush and her expert touch. Exactly where and how to touch was one thing that professionals never quite knew as well as a long time lover who cared.

"But you love it," she grinned, finding each of his pleasure points and teasing it carefully, working him towards the edge of an orgasm and keeping him there.

It was all part of the game, and Jerik was quite willing to go with it despite his moans, whimpers and cries of not playing fair. Neither had any doubt he was enjoying the attention tremendously.

Before long, Shanna had finished grooming his front, and she shifted to take the tip of his shaft between her lips, squeezing his balls lightly with one hand and stroking it with the other.

"Ohhhh," Jerik let his head fall back and let go, rewarding her efforts with a spray of hot seed.

She swallowed it all down, purring around his tip as hot, sticky cum poured down her throat. When he was done, she licked him clean, and moved up, smiling down at him seductively.

"And we've still got most of the night left," she grinned.

"And I'm sure you are going to take every advantage of that you can," he chuckled and wrapped his arms around her before claiming a deep kiss.

"Mmm ... you know it," she purred, returning the kiss hungrily before rolling him over and starting the next part of his 'grooming' that would probably take them until close to dawn and leave them both in serious need of a freshen spell.

"Have you worked with the Salvagers to any serious degree before?" Remys asked Jerik as they started down into the catacombs and sewers beneath Kareptis, Kennara leading the way, Tomar bringing up the rear.

"No," he shook his head. "We don't do much work for hire for anyone."

"Well, you'll probably be meeting ones who can speak trade anyways," Remys explained. "Don't ask them to show their bodies or faces if they aren't already; they have superstitions against doing things like that. It's the main reason they wear the robes all the time."

"Understood," he nodded, his mind and eyes taking in everything even as he tried to ignore his nose for the most part.

"Through here," Kennara said, tapping on the wall of the sewers. It sounded hollow, and she reached down to grip a handle near the floor, passing the torch to Remys before she groaned and lifted it up. "The smell's not so bad on the other side," she promised.

"We're almost there," Remys reassured him as they walked through, the tunnel on the other side winding down for a short distance before opening out into a larger area. "They actually have a massive village deeper down, but they haven't even let me in there yet."

"Probably the safest way to live in the Blight," Jerik said thoughtfully. "It's not a nice place up there."

"No, not really," Remys agreed, leading them through a network of tunnels. Tomar couldn't help but notice the smaller holes in the wall, or the varied scents that gave him an uneasy feeling about what went on down here.

"Smells like a morgue," he said softly.

"I noticed," Jerik nodded, his voice just as low. "*Remys doesn't think it's a trap. He's comfortable here.*" He added silently.

"*I know,*" Tomar admitted. "*Still not comfortable ... smell too much old blood.*"

"*We won't be here long,*" he promised softly.

They continued down, the winding galleries eerie in the flickering torchlight.

"Here we are," Remys said easily. "They have a city further down, but they haven't even accepted me that far down. I sent a whisper ahead, so they should be here shortly."

Jerik nodded and settled against the wall nearby to wait. He didn't like it, but he knew it wasn't a trap either.

A few minutes later, three figures in dark robes approached them, their eyes glittering beneath their hoods as they paused at the outside of the torchlight.

"Death-Ender and friends?" One of them asked.

"It's me," Remys agreed. "These are the ones I told you about, who will hunt the Fleshwarper."

"Good," the spokesman said, the three of them coming into the light. "Not safe these days; many trick us."

Jerik regarded the three, not pleased with how secretive their minds were, but not surprised by it at all. Still, if their gold was good, it was as good a lead as he'd likely get on a Fleshwarper anytime soon.

"What do you need to know?" The spokesman asked him, looking up at Jerik. "About the Fleshwarper, and the job?"

"Any information you have on the Fleshwarper; what it's done, where it might be found, how powerful a mage it is and such, if you want the body as proof, and the pay." He said simply.

The three of them chittered between each other for a few moments before nodding.

"He exists," the spokesman said simply. "That is crime enough. Worse, he places burning signs near his lair that hurt our delvers and hatchlings who wander. Many delvers have disappeared ... we believe he has taken them for parts."

It wasn't unlikely; anybody who could disappear and not be missed by the authorities, such as they were in the Blight, were fair game to a Fleshwarper, a convenient source of parts and test subjects.

"He is very powerful," the second one said. "Our leaders have not fought with him, but he has great shadow-hounds that stalk and hunt; nothing we've ever seen before."

"*I have my own theories about them; I'll explain afterwards,*" Remys promised Jerik mentally.

"We do not need the body," the third explained. "Only the head and right hand, the one with the sign on it. He is a Fox with the skin of a hell-hound and a skin-thief's left hand. The pay ... we offer one hundred slips of gold, and whatever you claim from his lair, so long as you leave his books."

"Yes, must leave the books and papers," the spokesman agreed. "Evil things, must be made pure and burned, ancient rite of our people."

Something about their manner and words made Jerik seriously doubt that last part, though they were clearly truthful about the rest. Once again he was grateful for being a telepath. It made it so much easier to know who to trust and who not to.

"Acceptable," he nodded. "We will bring his head and hand back."

"Good," the spokesman nodded, reaching into his robes with a gaunt, blue-skinned hand and pulling out a piece of parchment. "That will guide you to his place Above from where you came Below."

"How should I contact you when we return?" Jerik asked as he accepted the parchment.

"Death-Ender will know how," the spokesman told him simply. "He will be here yet, when you are finished, we are sure."

"I will be," Remys promised.

"Very well," Jerik nodded, though he wasn't the happiest about it.

"We await your news then," the second Salvager said easily as they started back towards the darkness. "Good hunting to you."

"They're very cautious about letting people know where they are, beyond their shops," Remys explained apologetically.

"It's okay, though I could make my way here again if I wanted to." Jerik nodded as the foursome headed back towards the surface. "So how'd you end up as Death-ender?"

"The Salvagers usually get hit hard by the diseases around here; I helped them out during one of their epidemics," Remys said with a slight smile. "They gave me the name as a sort of badge of honor, I guess."

"It's a pretty good way to earn a name," Jerik smiled at him. "Sounds like you've put your skills to good use."

"I like to think so," Remys nodded. "The energies of death can be manipulated like anything else; you simply have to see how to do it."

"Something you have a real edge to, hearing the Requiem and all." Jerik agreed. "Maybe we can spend some time trading new spells after the hunt?"

"Sounds good," Remys smiled. "I should have enough time. Though before you go, I should warn you about the shadow-hounds. I don't know what they are, but I think that the Fleshwarper is stretching his bounds. I've heard rumors that a book disappeared from the Library near here, the Thread of Life and Death. If he does have it, then he may have created hybrids of monsters or animals and the undead; be very careful. I'd appreciate it if you could see if he does have the book; it should be returned to the local libraries if possible."

"We'll be careful," Jerik promised as they reached the surface. "And I'll see about the book."

"Thank you," Remys nodded. "Good luck," he said as Jerik and Tomar started off, following their map.

"Is this the place on the map?" Tomar asked Jerik, looking at one of the more modest homes in Kareptis. "Looks normal enough ... even smells it."

"Yes," Jerik nodded, extending his mind cautiously as they continued to walk, so they wouldn't attract attention from those inside. "This is it."

"So, how do we get in?" Tomar asked quietly, glancing around without moving his head too much. "And are there any guards?"

"There's a back entrance into the basement," he pointed to the note on his map as they casually continued down the street. "There will be traps, but it should be easier to manage than a frontal assault."

"Here's hoping," Tomar nodded. "So, down that alley?" He asked, nodding towards one.

"I think so," he nodded as they made the turn and prepared for the battle and traps that were sure to meet them.

"We're lucky the guards around here usually have to be paid to show up," Tomar murmured as they worked around the nondescript building. "Don't need outside trouble. You have a lockpicking spell handy?"

"Yes," he nodded and began working it even as they approached the heavy stone door radiating protective magic.

"That's going to take a bit of work to open," Tomar observed, pulling off his pack and reaching to pull out a pry-bar as one of the local crows noticed them and cawed.

"*Silence,*" he used a little power to make the animal obey before turning his spell on the door.

It stopped in mid-squawk, seeming to be surprised by it as Jerik dispelled the locking spell, and Tomar set to opening it with the pry-bar.

Tomar looked up as the door opened a crack, then left it to knock Jerik out of the way as the crow swooped past them, striking the door with a sickening crack, leaving the tip of its beak buried a full inch in the heavy stone.

It kept it still enough for Kaul's sword to be drawn and severed its body from its head. Without thinking about it further, Jerik gathered the Force and ripped the stone door out of the way.

"That works too," Tomar murmured. "Can you put it back in place once we're in?" He asked, looking around for more of the crows, not seeing any.

"Yes," he nodded, setting the stone down as they cautiously entered the basement and Jerik set the door back in place, the crow's head removed from the outside of it.

"Wonder what he took that beak from," Tomar asked uneasily, looking around the entrance. It was dark, and hard to see; even with magical lights placed throughout the hallway, it was designed to cast shadows everywhere, making it almost impossible to see clearly. It was, ultimately, a very eerie effect.

"Nothing I want to meet," Jerik nodded and created several orbs of black light that only illuminated things for the two of them.

"That's better," Tomar said approvingly, drawing CrestRider as he shouldered his pack. "This is more like what I'd been expecting."

"This way," Jerik headed into the building, tracking the three strongest minds in the building. That two were absolutely terrified urged him to move faster than was strictly careful.

"You're watching for traps, right?" Tomar asked, moving along behind him, watching out for anything that might try to ambush them from the many cubbyholes and corners they passed. The deeper they got, the more the smell of fear and pain and blood saturated the air of the tunnels; it was putting the Rohr thoroughly on-edge, and reminded him of the Salvager's tunnels ... only about a dozen times worse.

"*Trying to,*" he admitted his failing in being fully alert. "*We have two people to rescue with him. Still alive and terrified.*"

"*Shit,*" Tomar responded mentally. "*I think we're safe from behind then; I'll take the lead, you tell me where to go. If anything goes off, it'll catch me instead.*"

"*Right,*" Jerik stepped to the side, unhappy as always to have his Defender between him and danger when all his instincts demanded the opposite, but socialized to the local standards enough to usually let him. "*We're facing south now; it's to the south and west, about a level down.*"

"*Right,*" Tomar nodded, starting off down the hallway, watching his step even as he hurried as much as was safe.

"Think we might have a pretty easy time of this," Tomar murmured quietly as they neared a corner. "At least until we get -" He was interrupted by a long eyestalk that slipped out around the corner, sighting the both of them.

"Down!" He said sharply, turning to cover Jerik as another long appendage joined the eye, aiming towards them and spewing a thick, green fluid over the two intruders.

The bulk of it covered Tomar and quickly dried into an elastic, sticky substance that seriously hindered the Rohr's ability to move.

"Ice Shard." Jerik growled, his eyes glowing briefly with his anger as the spell's power flowed through him and focused on its target, which stepped around the corner. It was a long, lanky thing, the eyestalk extending from its head, the long tube stitched to a shoulder. It looked like it was at least part goblin, but the disparate, unnatural body parts marked it as little more than an abomination now.

The icy javelin flew towards it, impacting it squarely in the chest and impaling it on the opposite wall. It squawked and twitched a few times, but died quickly.

"Pack," Tomar said, his hands glued to the floor. "Need to get this crap off of us before his friends show up."

"The Endless Waterskin should work. Set to a wine." Jerik nodded and quickly found the item. He pulled it out, pouring a bit of the mild wine over his hand to wash off the gunk he'd gotten on it while he was fetching the waterskin. It washed off quickly, breaking down and dripping to the floor, leaving his hand smelling faintly of grapes, but clean.

"I'm going to end up smelling like a winery, aren't I?" Tomar asked dryly.

"I'll give you a tongue bath when we're done," Jerik promised with a warm, teasing smile as he worked as quickly as he could without missing anything. He wasn't about to leave his Defender any less than fully mobile.

"Tease," Tomar chuckled slightly. "Let's get this over with first," he said, stretching out and making sure his fur was gunk-free before he moved to the twisted goblin. "Damn ... this guy's good," he murmured. "Brain-fish esophagus, if I'm not mistaken."

"That is good," Jerik nodded. "Let's get to those prisoners before they end up the same."

"Right," Tomar nodded. "This way?" He asked, nodding down the hallway the direction he thought they were going.

"Yes," Jerik nodded and moved quickly behind his Defender, his steps laced with urgency he couldn't completely control.

They made their way through the rest of the underground complex, disarming traps as they found them, killing the handful of rogue experiments they came across. By the time they reached the heavy wooden door their quarry was behind, Tomar was beginning to worry that they hadn't run into more trouble than they had.

"This should be it; any traps?" He asked Jerik quietly.

"Yes, and yes," Jerik examined it with a touch of magic, then weaved a Disarm spell to deal with it.

They heard a soft 'click' from the door as the trap inside was disarmed, then a low growl behind them. Tomar turned, facing a lean, black-furred wolf that hunkered down low in the shadows and growled at them.

"I think we've just met the shadow-hounds," Tomar warned Jerik, not making a move but ready for anything the wolf did.

"Flame Strike," Jerik twisted around even as he threw the spell at their opponent. It disappeared before the pillar of flames reached it, fading into the shadows and fleeing from the battle.

"Something tells me we're gonna regret that," Tomar murmured.

"We'll have to hunt it down, but later." He turned his attention to the door and stepped back, giving his heavily armored Defender his desired place between him and danger and ripped the door clean off the hinges as the terror and evil glee from beyond it got the better of him again.

Two of the Salvagers were strapped down to operating tables, stripped of their robes. It looked like they'd already been through a few 'operations,' limbs not matching with the rest of their bodies.

More important though, was the Fox who greeted them, one of his hands the skinless, scalpel-claws hand of a skin-thief, his fur the rich, lustrous red of a well-kept hell-hound, and one of his eyes disproportionately larger than the other.

"So you're the ones who broke my door down," he said disapprovingly. "Leave, unless you'd like to be on my operating table next."

Jerik didn't even bother to reply, he simply hurled another Ice Shard at his target. Even if this wasn't a commission, the aura of this creature made it very much worth killing.

The Fleshwarper's large eye shifted, independent of his focal one, and the javelin fell to the ground, shattering, the magic that propelled and created it completely dispelled.

"Really, I'd hoped you could do better," he said dryly.

"I'll show you better," Tomar muttered, charging forward to face him. The stolen eye flicked up, and the Fleshwarper raised his own hand.

"Enervos re," he said crisply, a black beam of light striking Tomar, the Rohr wincing and staggering a bit as the weight of his heavy armor seemed to double.

"Dispel Magic," Jerik countered the Fleshwraper's effect on Tomar, then focused on its mind and one of his more devastating skills in tearing the sentient mind apart from wherever it was weakest.

Unfortunately, that meant he had to confront that mind. The Fleshwarper was completely insane, his concept of himself a twisted mix of minds; the Fox's more familiar way of looking at things, blended with half a dozen different species that made it like staring into a shattered mirror with six other people and trying to make out a single reflection.

The Fleshwarper's reaction was largely what Jerik expected, and to some extent counted on. With a howl of outrage, he charged at Jerik, his wickedly clawed hand outstretched and grasping before Tomar spun and ended it, sinking CrestRider into his back, the silver blade piercing through the front of his chest with a spray of blood.

"Perfect shot," Jerik grinned at his partner. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Tomar nodded, wrenching his axe free. "You?"

"Head's a little rattled, but I'll be fine." He nodded and walked up to the two prisoners to free them.

The Salvagers gibbered to each other, then at Jerik, rubbing their wrists in a mix of gratitude and fear as they were released, glancing between the two warriors.

"I think they're not sure if we're rescuing them or going to be trouble for them again." Tomar said softly as he beheaded the strange Fox, then took its right hand.

"Your kin hired us to kill that thing," Jerik explained after a quick Tongues spell, motioning to the very dead Fleshwarper. "Are your robes around?"

"We make them," one of them said, the spell translating as he moved to take the nearby sheets laid out under the monster parts that, presumably, had been intended for them. "We will tell our people of you; thank you for arriving when you did."

The second one flexed its arm, looking down at its new hand and shrugging slightly.

"Heretic did good work though," it observed, taking one of the sheets and quickly fashioning it into a mix of a toga and a set of robes.

Jerik nodded and began a quick but thorough ransacking of the place with Tomar for whatever was worth taking with them, and the book that Remys had mentioned. They spotted the book quickly, but Tomar put a hand on Jerik's shoulder briefly.

"*Wait until they're gone,*" he thought hard, hoping that Jerik would pick up on it.

He got a subtle nod and the book was left untouched in favor of finding more traditional goodies a Mage would have.

Before long, the Salvagers had left, leaving Tomar and Jerik to collect what they were looking for. Their target had a good collection of research equipment, though they couldn't find too much in the way of cash or normal wealth. It seemed most of his wealth was in the form of research they wanted no real part of.

"Think we can grab that book for Remys now," Tomar said after the Salvagers had been gone for a bit. "We probably want to take the shadow-hound before we go through the rest of the house then."

"Agreed," Jerik nodded. "And stage a bit of a fight to explain why the rest of the research and items have been trashed."

"Not much of a fight necessary," Tomar observed. "A quick fire spell should do the trick, make sure one of his critters is in here when you set it off. You're a little leery of that 'purification ritual' too, aren't you?"

"Yeah," Jerik nodded and cast his mind about for a suitable target. "Especially after that one's reaction to his new hand."

"Don't suppose you'd call it a defense, but it's not like he had many other options," the Rohr observed. "I'll just be glad to see the place torched. Should I grab that goblin we ran into?"

"We need to clear out his collection anyway," Jerik shook his head slightly, but he regarded the room. "On the other hand, that would mean we don't have to leave the papers alone. Yes, go get it. We'll hunt things down afterwards."

"Okay, we've got everything we're going to take out of here, and the library should be going up in smoke promptly," Tomar summarized for himself as much as Jerik about an hour later, checking his pack before they headed out. "You find any notes about that shadow-hound while I was fetching our scapegoat?"

"Unfortunately no," he shook his head. "Let's torch this place and go nail it before it causes any more problems."

"Look on the bright side; with a little luck, Remys might have already been able to nail it," Tomar said hopefully, hefting the door out of the way as they left.

Jerik stood still in the open as he focused his mind and magic to search for the beast of shadows.

"No," he shook his head after a moment. "It's still alive. This way." He took off at a fast walk that Tomar barely had to stretch his legs to keep up with.

"Hope we can catch up with it before sundown," Tomar observed, looking at where the sun hung low in the sky. "Any thoughts on how we're going to kill it? It dodged your spell ...."

"Shadow creatures tend to be weakened by both absolute light and complete darkness. It has a physical body, so you should be able to kill it, and I've got spells that aren't so easy to dodge to slow it down."

"Okay," Tomar nodded, his ears flicking as he heard somebody scream in the direction they were heading. "Damn it, think it's already hunting," he swore under his breath.

"No surprise," Jerik took off at a run in the direction of the scream, preparing several spells in his mind for the first moments of the battle.

Tomar was right behind him, then ahead, loping through the streets and pushing his way through the crowds that were in the way. He grabbed CrestRider and whirled around a corner as another scream was interrupted by a wet, gurgling sound as whoever the prey was died.

Jerik caught up with Tomar just in time to see the shadow-hound, the limp body of one of the local urchins dangling from its jaws as it jumped into the shadows, seeming to disappear into them.

"Damn," he muttered and tossed a Locate spell out. "This way." He ran down the ally, aiming for the one next to it. When they were just about there, it disappeared again, reappearing further away, almost like it was trying to bait them back towards the house.

"Any way you can ... get rid of its shadows?" Tomar asked, panting.

"Maybe," Jerik paused and focused on the effects he wanted. "Catro Litast!" He pointed at the hound.

The hound was about to leap through the shadows again - but when the bright light Jerik summoned began glowing from its fur, it quickly found it had no shadows to go through. Whining as its nose impacted the wall, it turned and started to run, leaving its prey behind.

"We've got maybe half an hour," Jerik said as he took off at a run after it, summoning his favorite flame spell and wrapped the beast in a cloak of sticky liquid fire.

It howled in pain, and they chased after it, following it into the most run-down parts of the city.

"*Jerik we've got to get it out of town before it starts a blaze,*" Tomar warned him.

"*Right,*" Jerik nodded and focused his mind on guiding the panicked animal out of town and into an ambush he guided Tomar to.

It tried to dive into an open trough, but the water wasn't enough to put out the napalm-like magical flame Jerik had enveloped it in. With a series of yelps, howls, and snarls, it fled towards Tomar's location.

The Rohr leaped out of his hiding space as it passed by, attacking the creature, trying to put it out of its misery as quickly as possible. It wasn't going to give up that easily though, turning and biting down on his arm before Tomar sank CrestRider into its spine, killing it and pulling his arm back, swearing loudly as he dropped his axe, stepping back from the burning shadow-hound and putting pressure on the deep bite-wounds.

Jerik was there in a heartbeat, even before he'd completely cancelled the spells on the hound. He turned his full attention to healing what he could so Tomar wouldn't be laid up by the injury for long.

"I think we should plan on staying in the tent for a few days." Jerik said softly but firmly. "We both sleep better in there, and the auras on it do help the healing."

"And nobody can ask if this was our fault or not," Tomar murmured, sitting down. "Damn ... this is the second time today I've felt like this ...."

"Probably something in that thing's bite," Jerik murmured and turned his attention to his mate's aura and the flow of Force in and around him, a pattern he was intimately familiar with. "Whatever it was merged with. Let's get your armor off and into the bag. Remys is probably better versed in these things than I am. It kinda looks like an undead effect."

"Shadow venom," Tomar guessed as he started to work out of his armor carefully with Jerik's help. "We heard about it during training, but we've managed to avoid the damned things until now. Takes the strength out of your muscles; if that thing wasn't already on fire, it would have bit me until I could barely move."

"Definitely Remys' field," Jerik nodded and sent a quick whisper to the other Mage. "I can probably blunt its effects so it wears off in a few days. Hopefully he knows something better."

"Thanks," Tomar said, standing a bit as Jerik wrapped the hound in a waterproof sheet and stuffed it into their bag of holding as well. "He going to meet us here, or at our camp site?"

"At camp, unless it's going to be a difficult walk." He looked at the shaky Rohr critically.

"I think I can handle it," Tomar said, picking CrestRider up off the ground. "That thing wasn't that strong, just irritating. If it was an emergency I could probably handle it anyways."

"We'll just see to it that there won't be an emergency," Jerik said firmly. "Let's get out of here."

Remys looked around the small camp, really only their small appearing tent, that Jerik and Tomar had set up outside of town, Kennara at his side.

"They don't make much of a camp." She murmured, motioning at the lack of even a cooking fire.

"They didn't have much time either," Remys observed before ducking into their tent. "You know, there are ways to take out Fleshwarpers without letting their pets loose," he observed dryly, seeing Tomar laying on his side, irritably being taken care of by Jerik. "Sorry it took me so long, I had to make sure the street-rat had been killed by its jaws, not its poison."

"I understand," Jerik nodded. "And I know. It seemed more important to rescue its prisoners first."

"Agreed," the Reptan nodded. "Actually, you did pretty well. He only killed the child and stole a side of roast meat."

"Still wish it was just a side of roast meat," Tomar pointed out.

"Nobody blames you for what happened. And, in all likelihood, nobody's going to be missing the dead involved. Now, let me see your arm; somebody is going to miss you if something goes awry because of it."

"Very much," Jerik said softly with a nod, even though Tomar had already complied and offered up his arm. "I've got its body, if you want to look at it too."

"Thank you," Remys nodded, undoing the bandage and inspecting the bite. "Definitely a shadow-infected wound. Fortunately, it's not too deep, and Jerik knows enough to keep it from settling in ... you'd probably be fine in a day or two, at worst. But I can keep that from being entirely necessary." He put his black-scaled hand on the wound, saying the words to his spell in a crisp, measured voice beneath his breath, closing his eyes and gripping Whisper tightly in his other hand as black, inky fluid flowed out and down his hand, around under his robes to be absorbed by the black finial of his simple staff.

"*That hurt her,*" Kaul observed silently.

"There, that should take care of it," Remys said, standing and shaking his hand out after replacing the bandages. "Feeling better?"

"Much," Tomar nodded, flexing his arm experimentally. "That stuff takes a lot out of a guy," he chuckled slightly.

"It's designed to," Remys said simply, then glanced towards the small object that Jerik had pulled out of their pack of holding.

"I shrunk it to make it fit." He explained and handed the package over. "Will the morning work to meet your friends and turn over the remains?"

"It will work fine," Remys nodded. "I noticed that there was an ... accident ... at the lab," he chuckled. "I do hope it was after you found the book I mentioned, if he had it?"

"Yeah," he nodded and fished it out. "We didn't clear out the place before we found him."

"Well, it's cleared out now," Remys said easily, taking the book and flipping through it quickly. "The house is a total loss. I give it a week before it's filled in by a wryth-weed operation. Yes ... this is very good. He kept it in excellent condition, aside from a few more blood-spatters."

"Well, maybe the building will have to suffer from an 'accidental' fire." Jerik chuckled softly.

"Are you serious?" Kennara asked him, raising an eyebrow as Tomar sat up a bit more and took Jerik in his arms. "It's never easy to tell with you."

"Yeah," he shrugged and snuggled back with a content sigh. "If it's just good for a wryth-weed operation, it's better off turned to char. Just didn't think of it before we left to chase that hound down."

"I was half-joking," Remys shrugged. "It's good for more than that, I just mean that, a wash for normal housing or not, the city won't let it go to waste. Sometimes I almost think there's a spirit to the place. It doesn't like change."

"Wouldn't be surprised if there was one of some kind," Jerik nodded. "The city is a bit ... odd."

"So's the Blight, in case you hadn't noticed," Remys chuckled. "It's home, but I've never pretended it was normal. Whole place is twisted ... wasn't always, but it has been as long as history remembers. Maybe one of these days, that'll change."

"We've noticed," Tomar chuckled.

"Considering what created it, it'll have to be something pretty impressive to change it." Jerik mused, though he was hardly dismissive of the idea.

"We're mages, Jerik," Remys said with a faint smirk. "Impressive is what we do."

"And we're only mages." Jerik chuckled. "Gods did this, or extra-powerful Elders at the very least. Care to stay for dinner?"

"With pleasure," Remys said with a smile.

"I'll even help cook," Kennara offered, heading out of the tent to start the cooking fire.

"You know, I have the distinct feeling we're not going to be getting any more job offers from them," Tomar observed as they worked their way up out of the sewers after collecting their pay.

"Anybody who wants the notes from that guy we can do without the work from." Jerik shook his head. "I have a feeling they'd be on the bounty list if the truth was any better known."

"Probably, though they haven't gone and tried to take over the world or anything. Always a benefit," Tomar mused. "Not as creepy as that Fox was either. That was a fucked up mage."

"I'll give them that much," he nodded. "You have to be seriously whacked to experiment on yourself like that."

"Even if it did work," Tomar agreed. "So, we grab some extra supplies and head out again?"

"We have enough now to make a good slave-run, then pups," Jerik grinned up at him. "So pick up a flew supplies, whatever Kelar has to offer we want, and take the long way home."

"Sounds good to me," Tomar rumbled. "Always good to get a few survivors out of this place ... and I feel better about it now than before," he chuckled slightly as they made their way towards the shop.

They made a brief stop of it, picking up enough supplies to keep their slaves fed on the trip back in case of bad hunting. That done, they made their way down the familiar back-alleys to Keral's Shop. The grey-scaled Reptan wasn't at his stall, so they headed back, familiar with the path after a half-dozen visits over the years.

Reaching the warehouse, they made their way inside, heading back towards Kelar's private space, the others in the building glancing back, but paying no attention once they recognized them.

"You two, here?" Kelar asked them as he walked around the corner, literally bumping into Tomar. "Hadn't expected you for months yet."

"We got a big bounty from taking out a Fleshwarper, so we're headed home early." Jerik grinned at him. "What's in stock?"

"Well, it's lucky for you," he chuckled, turning to lead them back. "I just got in fresh stock." As they rounded the corner and saw his stage, they saw the slaves available. A young Rabbit girl, clearly new to her collar and bonds, cowering in the corner behind a Wolf who was just as clearly used to his, two black-furred tom-Cats, an emaciated Bear female, and a handful of Reptans.

"The Bear's a fighter," Kelar pointed out. "Quite a warrior, it looked like. Just not ready for the Blight. Can't fight starvation."

Jerik looked them over, making a few mental notes. Something about the Rabbit bothered him, but he couldn't quite place it yet.

"So who wants out of the Blight?" He began with the first round of questions that he used to narrow his choices down. "*Can you tell what's off with that Rabbit?*" He asked Tomar silently.

"Who doesn't?" The Wolf asked with a barking laugh.

"*Not sure,*" Tomar said. "*Something doesn't smell right though.*"

"Some don't," Jerik smiled faintly at him. While the Wolf was unlikely to have family, he could likely be sold for a profit, or commissioned for his price and freedom price at one of the major arena. The felines ... thieves he was sure. Likely here as punishment. Again, no likely family, but a Guildhouse might pay for them, or he get barter for their skills. His gaze fell on the she-Bear. "What about you?"

She raised her head, looking at him. "That depends on what you'd use me for," she said simply.

"That would depend on how difficult it is to get your price out of you." He considered her. "If you don't have kin or friends to pay, once you're in condition, I expect you could make short work of it in a major arena or work it off as an extra sword on our travels. Same as him." He nodded towards the Wolf. "We will make a profit off of you, but most of our slaves end up free when we part company."

"Then yes, I do want out of here," she said simply.

"How long ago did you get her?" Tomar asked Kelar.

"Not long, I assure you," the Reptan said easily. "I only just now finished placing her here. I have been feeding her as well as her health permits, but too much would do more harm than good."

"It's true," Jerik nodded, both to the timing and the statement about feeding her. "Cats, how would you pay for your price?" He focused on his almost-kin, cautious of their answers but not willing to turn away from them just because he thought they were thieves.

"We have friends who would be willing to pay for our release," one of them said after they looked at each other, considering their answer.

"Once we are out of the Blight," the other said. "Well paid, and quickly."

Jerik had to admit privately that he was pleased with their level of honesty. He nodded and focused on the Rabbit girl. Something was very much not right about her and he took a step forward to examine her. If he was wrong about her, she might make a decent nursemaid to the pups. They'd need one at least a couple days a week anyway. "What about -"

Before he could finish, his pendant flared with blue light beneath his tunic. The Rabbit's eyes grew wide as she seemed to recognize him, and she lunged for him, her fingertips sprouting the scalpel-sharp claws of a skin-thief as she tried to get what surprise she could on him.

Jerik didn't recall casting a spell, but Kaul flared with energy as his early combat training and life since kicked in and she was cracked down hard on the Rabbit's skull, crashing the body to the ground as Tomar rushed forward.

"Skin-thief," Jerik flattened his ears as he backed up and pulled his full combat arsenal to the fore, focusing on the effects that would help Tomar.

The 'thief rolled off to the side, slashing for Tomar and diving back towards the slaves.

"Halt!" Kelar shouted, the collar around the Rabbit's neck flaring bright blue and sending her crashing to the ground, stunned by the magical discharge.

"Kill it?" Jerik turned towards Kelar, since technically even a skin-thief was still his slave and they didn't have the right to kill it without permission or a direct threat to their own lives that no longer existed.

"Feel free, but I get the body and minimize the damage to the skin," Kelar shrugged. "Worth more than what I've spent on her already."

Tomar nodded and lifted CrestRider to behead the skin-thief in a single stroke.

"All right," Jerik shook his fluffed up fur out. "Let's get back to business. Any of the Reptans from the outside?"

"No," Kelar said easily, indicating three of them to come forward. "But these three were stonemasons who had a few bad runs at the card tables."

"A good set of skills, if they want to try to live on the outside." He looked at the three for a yay or nay.

They each nodded, looking forward to the chance to get out into a better living place.

"Then down to business," Jerik turned to Kelar. "I'll take the three Reptan masons, the Cats, the Wolf and the Bear."

"Sixty gold, and you can have the lot of them," Kelar said after a moment to think it over. "A bargain; they'll all be fine slaves when they're healthy again."

"That Bear is going to take a Healer and months to recover before she's worth full price." Jerik pointed out calmly, at ease with the negotiations and his own assessment of a fair price to pay. "The Cats have no skills to speak of. Fifty gold."

"Bah, the Cats have plenty of skills, just not legal ones - and besides, you sell them to friends, who pay a good premium," Kelar snorted. "Fifty-eight."

"Fifty-five." Jerik suggested. "We did just save you from a skin-thief."

"Mmm ... you are a good customer," Kelar said, faking a grudging acceptance. "Very well, fifty-five."

They shook hands. "Tomar will organize them while we finish business." Jerik said as he headed towards the main shop with Kelar.

The emaciated Bear groaned as she sat down, the rest of the camp mostly set up, the Reptan slaves settling down as well. The invisible mount spell that her new owner had cast for her to ride while they walked had been a blessing, but Freyr was still sore all over.

"Thank you," she said as Tomar and Jerik relaxed, letting the two Cats, Ren and Irra, set up the cooking fire, and the Wolf, Tony, put up the last of the four one-person sized tents that would serve as their home for the next several months.

"You are welcome," Jerik inclined his head slightly. "For all we need to make a profit, we do like helping folks out of there."

"I can tell," Freyr smiled slightly. "At first I was worried you might be looking for somebody to be a pleasure slave, once you had me back in shape. I'll make sure you don't lose money on me; I wouldn't mind an arena, or sellsword work, if none of my friends in Marek can afford to buy my freedom."

Jerik nodded. "I can tell. Even if you'd been in full condition and top price, you would have been a good investment. There are days where the extra sword would have been welcome." He smiled slightly. "And I get the feeling you like young ones, something we hope have this time next year."

"How could you tell that?" She asked him, startled as Tomar pulled some of the fat-rich food they'd picked up for her to help bulk up again on and passed it over.

"It's a talent I have," he glossed over the details. "Same way I know that none of you plan on running, so I didn't need to leave those collars on you. I'm a little more sensitive to that interest because I've been keeping half an eye open for a nanny recently.

"Not long before I ended up out here I was bodyguard for the Mayor's cubs," she smiled with fond memories, starting to eat slowly, pacing herself and drinking what she could of the cool, clear water despite her body's urge to just down it all as fast as she could. "He fell on hard times, so I had to move on. But I do like children, just about any species. Which of you is going to be starting a family?"

"Both of us," Tomar chuckled. "Long story. But they'd be Rohr pups you'd be caring for, if you stayed with us for that. And given how long it could take you to get back in shape, it's a good chance."

"We can work out details later if it appeals to you, but freed or paying off part of your price, we will need a nanny for them." Jerik said as he worked it out. "We'll be staying at the Academy, teaching and working there for five or six years while they grow up enough to travel and be tested for magical talent."

"I certainly wouldn't mind," she smiled slightly. "We'll have to sort out the details over time ... probably easier than making the trip all the way back out to my home," she mused. "Especially in this shape," she admitted.

"That is true," Tomar nodded. "Have you ever dealt with Rohr, or magically inclined young before?"

"No," she admitted. "But I imagine the basics are still the same. I haven't heard of cubs, even ones destined to be mages, using magic all that young before."

"These might, because of the kind of mage I am, but what you really have to look out for is that they will be intensely curious. Most young are, but Clawsons tend to take anything apart that we can get our paws on and stick our noses into everything. At least one is likely to be a telepath as well, a mind-reader." Jerik explained simply.

"And Rohr cubs get up and about very quickly," Tomar added. "They're going to be up and into trouble quickly."

"Rohr cubs with you as the father," Freyr said, glancing between Tomar and Jerik. "Magic, I guess. Well, cubs are handfuls no matter what they are or who the parents are. It's a matter of finding out how to deal with them, when you have to."

"I specialized in shape-shifting magic," Jerik nodded. "And good. I only felt it fair to warn you they were unlikely to be normal or passive at all. You will earn your pay most days."

"Rohr also have litters," Tomar added. "Two to six, but three is most likely."

"I helped raise four cubs, twins and two older ones who felt the only person who should be able to tell them anything was their mother, and she was the sort who didn't like to be disturbed for unruly cubs," Freyr chuckled. "I think I can handle it."

"Good," Jerik nodded, quite pleased with the arrangement.

"Dinner's ready," Irra called to them. "You've got great supplies for cooking." He added to Jerik and Tomar.

"We like our comforts, even out here." Jerik chuckled as everyone gathered for their meal.

"Mmm ... dinner was good," Tomar rumbled as he slipped Jerik's robes off of his shoulders once they were on their own in their tent, everybody else settling down on their own. "This was a good run, I think."

"A very good one," he claimed a heated kiss and ran his hands down Tomar's broad chest. "Feel like playing with Talessi tonight?"

"Mmm ... we'll be home before I'd have to stop traveling if anything happens, so -" They were interrupted by the sound of somebody scratching at the flap of their tent. "Well, not the worst timing," Tomar murmured. "You want to get that?"

"You're not quite in season," Jerik kissed him soundly and went to answer the Cats he could sense on the other side of the flap.

"Good evening, Masters," Ren and Irra said in eerie unison as he opened the flap, both of them just as naked as he was, glossy black fur flickering with the firelight behind him.

"How are the two of you?" Ren asked him, Irra glancing down shamelessly towards Jerik's nether-regions.

"Well," Jerik nodded. "What do you need?"

"We were wondering if you'd like us to start paying off our purchase price on the way home," Irra purred, his bright eyes glittering.

A bewildered look crossed Jerik's face for a moment before he put it together and flushed a deep red under his cinnamon fur. "Umm, I'm really not into guys."

"You're with one now," Ren pointed out with a chuckle. "And we're willing to go with both of you," he added, glancing back at Tomar with a wink, the Rohr blushing a bit.

"Umm," he glanced back at Tomar, then turned to the toms with a more critical eye. "Not tonight." He decided.

"Very well, Masters," they said, nodding their heads in acquiescence.

"I hope you won't object to us playing together ourselves?" Irra asked, knowing that they technically needed Jerik's permission before doing anything with another of his slaves.

"Not at all," he smiled slightly. "Have fun, just try not to keep Tony awake longer than he wants to be."

"Yes Master," Irra grinned, grabbing Ren by the wrist as they headed off.

"Have to give them points for enthusiasm," Tomar chuckled, shaking his head.

"Might take them up on it," Jerik smiled as he returned to kiss his mate eagerly. "But not tonight. I want you."

"You know I'm never going to argue about that," Tomar rumbled, returning the kiss and running his fingers through Jerik's fur. "Now, where were we?"

"Choosing forms," he chuckled and stepped back a touch to give the transformation room. "And I believe we decided on Talessi." He added as his form flowed into the sleek Rohr female that Tomar had helped him craft years before. Tall and well-muscled, she slipped up alongside Tomar, who kissed her hungrily. The male Rohr reached up, fondling her full, round breasts, covered in light, cinnamon-colored fur.

"I love you, Jerik," Tomar rumbled deeply. "Whatever form you're using."

"And I love you," she moaned softly, the large canine cock between her back legs already slipping forward from it's sheath. "Extra forms are just fun to play with," she grinned and slid her hand down to gently fondle his sheath. "And you are even more handsome to these eyes." She added with a soft rumble.

"So, want to practice making pups, or something else first?" Tomar rumbled, reaching down to rub Talessi's pussy with his strong fingers.

"Well, the best way to get you all hot and bothered back there is to get you off up here," she grinned and lowered her forelegs so her muzzle was on level with his crotch. With a hungry rumble she slid her tongue up the half-exposed shaft, earning a low moan of pleasure. Tomar reached down, rubbing her ears, reaching up with one of his forepaws to massage her back lightly, rubbing it as she licked at his quickly hardening cock.

Soon she took it into her muzzle, rubbing his lower shoulder with one hand while the other fondled his balls.

Tomar whined low in his throat, flexing his paw against Talessi's back, fighting not to thrust too much into her mouth.

"You are so good at that," he moaned.

"*I love how you feel, taste, so much.*" She rumbled in his mind, the passion and adoration she felt for him in every form shining clearly between them.

"Mmm ... if you're not careful," Tomar groaned, "I'll start to get a swelled head."

"*No more swollen than mine,*" she chuckled affectionately. "*I feel every moment how much you love me.*"

"Good," Tomar rumbled, pre dribbling from his tip. "'Cause I'd run out of ways to show you otherwise. Mmm ... not gonna take long, Tal'."

"*Good,*" she grinned and continued to bob her head along his shaft. "*Sooner I can sink into that hot body you have.*"

"Oh yeah," Tomar panted, thrusting up against her bobbing motions, then howling, spraying his seed down her gullet, his tongue lolling out of his mouth as it was swallowed and he was licked clean with far more attention than was needed.

"Love you," Talessi whispered before claiming a deep kiss and shifting her hindquarters to rub her long side against his.

"I love you too," Tomar whispered back, returning the kiss and the affectionate rub, licking her muzzle submissively. "Take me, lover."

"Anytime," she shivered in excitement that was as much his as her own and backed up to mount him. While still a trifle odd feeling, the rush she got from Tomar and the intense physical pleasure of sinking into his body with a cock that was meant for it in every way more than made up for it.

Tomar moaned, his eyes rolling back in his head as he eagerly pressed into her attentions, reaching back to rub her flanks and stroke her pussy as it dribbled lightly onto his upper back, her long, thick, lupine shaft sinking deeply into his sex.

"So good," he moaned lustily, shuddering as she began to thrust hard, driving into him deeply with every moment.

"Meant to be," she whispered, the pleasure washing through her body far more than just hers and more than just physical.

"Uhm ... Master ... Mistress ... what do you want me to call you?" Tony asked, scratching his head as he sat down opposite Tomar and Talessi when they broke for lunch in the middle of the night. He knew that the female Rohr was Jerik ... but that only made it more confusing.

"Some variant of Master, Jerik or Clawson will always work," she chuckled softly with a smile. "It's the same person inside. If you know the name I use in a form, that works as well. I'm not very formal."

"All right, Master," the Wolf nodded. "The two of you wanted to talk to me?"

"We'll be on the border in two days. Do you have anyone who would buy your freedom?" Talessi asked easily as the twins began cooking and Freyr slowly worked on her extra rations and water.

"Most of my friends are slaves themselves, and my family sold me off when I was about eight," Tony admitted. "Kelar told me not to say anything about it if outsiders came in to buy, unless he did himself. I can still turn a profit for you though," he added, knowing he could and not wanting to upset his current Master.

"You'd think he would have mentioned that to us after everything else," Tomar muttered, shaking his head. "Courtesy to good customers, if nothing else. It's not your fault, Tony, it just means we're going to have to come up with a different setup than usual."

"So what are your better skills?" Talessi asked evenly, not really perturbed by it. "We've got a fairly good network of contacts willing to play by our rules."

"I'm good at just about everything I've done," Tony said easily. "Carpentry was where I started; sort of a strange apprenticeship, but it worked. Anything that involved working with wood I was pretty good at, really; wainwright, carving, detail work, that sort of thing. Had a stint or two as a bedslave, pulled one as a bodyguard ... that's where I ended up out here, actually. Owner sold me off to one of the 'nobles' in the Blight, who lost a bet with Kelar just a week or two before you guys showed up."

"Fighting would be the fastest route to freedom, but carpentry can pay well enough to earn it too." Talessi said thoughtfully. "As could bodyguard work or pleasure slave if you pick the right brothel."

"I haven't really thought it through too much before," Tony admitted with a chuckle. "Done all of that before though. It's usually been pretty well out of my hands; whatever they sold me as or my new owner wanted me to be. If I do end up in an arena though, I don't want to end up on the death-match lists," he said seriously.

"I've never allowed that and I don't intend to start." She said very firmly. "Most arena fighters are out in three years, the poor fighters in five, though it does depend somewhat on the price your contract is for. If you want to go that route, we can work on your fighting skills until we get there. This kind of route tends to take a few months."

"Three years sounds like the best deal I'm likely to get, given I figured I'd be a slave the rest of my life," Tony admitted. "So, when do we start?"

"After lunch," Tomar grinned at him. "It'll be good to have a new sparring partner for a while."

"One who doesn't cheat?" Tony asked with a chuckle, glancing back at the two black Cats cooking their meal. "Those two are life-long crooks, you know."

"We know," Talessi nodded. "Even if they didn't have a stash near the border, we could make a good profit on them."

"Just making sure you -"

"Blight cats!" Ren shouted, diving for the tend he shared with Irra and Tony, coming out with both of their short-blades.

"Damn," Talessi cursed under her breath and took Kaul from her back to send a small storm of magic missiles in the direction of the very large black and red tiger-like cats that were swiping at the smaller of the two black-furred toms.

As the spells hit them, it refocused their attention entirely. With a snarl, they both started into the main camp, realizing that the two Rohr were the biggest threats. Tomar ran out towards them, grabbing CrestRider and getting ready for the fight, knowing there wasn't time to get his armor.

"Damn it," Tony swore under his breath, bolting for the tent the three Reptans were hiding in, coming out a moment later with a heavy stone-maul in time to see shimmering energy envelope Tomar and solidify into translucent full plate armor.

He rushed into the fray, Tomar holding back one of the big cats as Ren tossed Irra his dagger, the two Cats starting to work together with practiced ease as they lured one of the two cats off and away from the main fight, splitting them apart to make them easier to flank.

Talessi worked another spell, sending a glowing green bolt of energy into the cat that was attacking the twins. It froze stiff, the paralysis bolt freezing its muscles in place. The two Cats didn't waste a moment; Ren and Irra quickly drove their knives into every vital spot they could reach, the Blight Tiger falling to the ground lifelessly, blood still spurting from the many veins and arteries that they had severed.

"One down," Ren shouted. The other tiger, realizing this, turned and bolted, bleeding from a cut to the back and limping from where Tony had cracked its hip with a heavy blow from the maul he was wielding.

"Chase?" Tomar asked, turning towards his mate.

"Yes," she nodded even as she stated after it at a lope herself while working up another spell as Tomar quickly fell into step just a bit ahead of Talessi. "Tony, Twins! Stay and guard camp." she yelled back.

"*What's the plan?*" He asked mentally.

"*Lightning.*" She answered simply as the fairly powerful spell was woven and cast. In an instant, the hot, dry air of the Blight was filled with the scent of ozone, a blue bolt of crackling electricity shooting down out of the sky and frying the Blight Tiger where it stood ... or, more accurately, where it didn't stand anymore.

Its heavy body fell to the ground, fur smoldering, and Tomar drew up short.

"Works for me," he blinked, surprised it was over so quickly.

"Happen to remember if these things have a bounty, or are decent eating?" Talessi looked at him as they slowed to an easy trot up to the kill.

"No bounty, but Tessi'd probably like the hides," Tomar mused. "Good for cloaks of invisibility, that sort of thing. Lousy eating, like most pred's."

"Figures," she nodded and lowered her body to begin skinning it with his help. "Never hurts to get on Tessi's good side, though." She chuckled softly.

"No, it doesn't," Tomar chuckled. "Besides, she might be willing to pay for them ... and it's not like we did this as a job," he winked, leaning over to lick Talessi's cheek as they got to work.

"So, Master, how much will it cost our friends to buy our freedom?" Ren asked Jerik as they made their way into the much healthier looking grasslands at the outside of the Blight.

"Twelve gold each," he said easily. "I'm quite sure you can afford to pay them back that much from your stashes." He added with a slight smile.

"Speaking of which, anybody have a shovel?" Irra asked sheepishly. Tomar chuckled, pulling his pack off and pulling one out.

"I take it you've been navigating us near one?"

"No offense, but we really don't like being anybody's property," Ren said seriously as he took a second shovel and both of them started digging under a patch of shorter grass.

"None taken," Jerik chuckled and let them dig. "We do buy with the intent to sell into freedom."

"Always a nice change," Irra chuckled. "We were just hoping we'd be able to get out of our collars and free during a bath or something before you guys showed up."

"It helps me feel a bit better about all the misery I can't change in the Blight, to help a few folks out as I can." Jerik said softly, silently counting back through all the faces of those who had passed through his hands into freedom, be it directly like the twins, by contract he'd check up on like Tony, or through service to him or the Academy like Freyr would be doing. Of all the slaves in the Blight, and the occasional one outside it they felt the need to help, it was a bare handful, but for seven years of effort and making a profit on every one, he'd still changed almost a hundred lives this way.

"Hell, nobody can change that place," Ren grunted, turning over one last spade-ful of dirt before they hit wood. "Here we go ... hey, you guys," he called, looking over at the Reptans. "Think you can help us with it?"

"Sure," one of them nodded, heading over along with the other two. "We do have names though," he pointed out, leaning down to help Ren and Irra pull the small chest out of the earth.

"Figured you do, but you haven't used them around us." Irra pointed out as the chest was hauled onto level ground.

"You've never asked," the Reptan grunted as they set it down. "Ryein," he added.

"Haarin," the second said, dusting his hands off.

"And Teirk," the third, and youngest, concluded.

"Noted," Ren nodded, looking up at Jerik and Tomar. "Twelve gold apiece, right? No more?"

"Twelve gold apiece for yourselves," he nodded. "Supplies are negotiable if you need them."

"No, we shouldn't; there's a settlement near here we can stop off at if we have to," Ren nodded, reaching down and carefully manipulating the lock on the chest with his fingers. "Didn't want anybody in the Blight to know about this, while they could still order us to turn it over," he admitted, popping open the chest and pulling out a small gem, tossing it to Jerik. "Here you go; should be worth about thirty. Consider the extra payment for our supplies, and the trouble in converting it."

Jerik gave the stone a cursory inspection, the same he'd give one a merchant gave as change or that he'd found. With a pleased nod he slipped it into his pocket and Tomar pulled out their slave contracts from his pack and handed them over.

"Good luck staying out of trouble," Jerik smiled at the pair.

"Now what fun is life if you stay out of trouble all the time?" Irra smirked as he and his partner split up the rest of their haul and the gear stowed inside, quickly starting off for the nearest settlement.

"Well, this is a pleasant surprise," an aged Marten said as he came out to greet Jerik and Tomar outside the Grand Arena of Kerrepesh, where they frequently sold their slaves. The three Reptans and Tony were with them, clearly up for sale to Jera's well-trained eyes. "And I see you're here for business, rather than pleasure."

"As usual, unfortunately," Jerik grinned back and shook his hand firmly in greeting. "The end of another run in the Blight. A warrior and three masons."

"Masons, hmm?" Jera asked, looking at the Reptans. "The lot of you, I assume ... well you're in luck. We've had a bit of trouble with the shakes lately; we need more masons to keep this place in top shape. Wouldn't do for the Grand Arena to have cracks in it."

"Not at all," Jerik agreed seriously.

"Come in, we'll settle on the details and all that." The Marten waved them into the arena and led them to a fairly nice office space crowded with papers and the other implements of managing a successful arena. "So what are you looking for those three?"

"The usual contract for freedom, and forty gold." Jerik began easily.

"Well, it wouldn't be our usual contract, for the obvious reasons Jerik," he said easily. "Please, take a seat, both of you. Masons ... well, what do you know about their skill?"

"I had the local mason's guild test them," he pulled out the papers and handed them over. "Even the youngest is quite skilled, and the eldest would qualify as a Master within a year or two."

"Hmm ... is the Guild willing to accept them, with sponsorship?" Jera asked, inspecting the papers, pulling out a reading glass and carefully inspecting the seal at the bottom. He trusted Jerik from years of purchases, but it was part of his duties to make sure such papers weren't forged.

Particularly not when dealing with a known mage.

"They are," Jerik nodded.

"Well then ... do the three of you want to be under the same contract, or individual ones?" Jera asked the Reptans, looking at them seriously.

"Individual," Ryein said easily. "We're not that close, we just had the same bad luck," he chuckled.

"Well then ... I think that seven years for you, eight for ... Haarin," Jera said, checking the papers again, "and ten for Teirk, with sponsorship to the Mason's Guild of Kerrepesh, is reasonable, yes?" He asked, looking at Jerik.

"That is reasonable," Jerik nodded, "and agreed."

"Well then, we'll have the papers drawn up before you leave," Jera smiled, the Marten taking down the salient details for his scribe. "Now, as to your warrior, I assume it is him?" He asked, indicating Tony.

"Yes, Tony. He's not a lifelong warrior, but he can handle himself in a fight, and Tomar's been coaching him the last couple months."

"Well, let's see him in action then, hmm? Krav is our new trainer; if he can last a few rounds with him, it would be a good sign."

"He decided to stay?" Jerik asked, a touched surprised that the slave-warrior he'd sold five years before would fight in the arena any longer than he had to.

"Indeed," Jera chuckled. "He wanted to make a bit of money ... and I think he's fond of the perks," the Marten winked, standing and moving towards the door. "What weapons are you most skilled with, Tony?" He asked.

"Sword, axe, and great-hammer," the Wolf said easily. "And I've trained with light armor."

"Very well; go down the corridor to the left, you'll meet a Bear three rooms down who will outfit you for a round with each. We'll be watching you."

"Yes sir," Tony nodded, heading out and down the hall.

"I assume you'll want to watch?" He asked Jerik and Tomar. "The three of you can come along as well," he added to the Reptans.

"Yes," Jerik smiled slightly. "I rarely make it to a good arena when I'm not selling."

"Well, you know you're always welcome here," Jera chuckled, leading the way out to seats near the battlefield. "Particularly if you ever are looking for more stock. Not that we'd be thrilled to lose our performers, but you do seem to have good taste. Our main matches aren't going to be starting for a few hours, so you have good timing too."

"I'm content to supply you with good stock for now." Jerik chuckled as they settled in to watch and he got the opportunity to relax against Tomar. "Though I probably won't be back for a few years. We're taking a break to start a family."

"Understood," Jera nodded. "I wish you well. Your slave should be out there shortly ... anything in particular I should look forward to?"

"Not really," Jerik admitted. "He's seen a lot of practice against larger, 'taur opponents recently, but overall he's a passable fighter, not a skill warrior."

"Understood," Jera nodded. "That will change over time. Has he ever fought in an arena before?"

"He fought in Abrix's arena for less than a month some years ago."

"I'll have to have a messenger contact them," the Marten nodded as Tony and Krav came out of the preparation area into the arena.

Jerik knew at a glance that the powerful Horse-wolf Taur had taken to this life very well. He'd put on even more muscle than he'd had before, and every movement radiated a self-confidence and pride of place that hadn't been there before.

"He's definitely flourished under your care." He nodded with a pleased smile for the strange person that he and Tomar had spent the better part of six months nursing back to health after buying him from a small arena that had suffered a mysterious fire after they'd left town.

"He just needed somebody willing to give him strength and a little run around the city once in a while, rather than lock him away in the dark," Jera agreed. "He was not meant for the Blight. Did you ever see him fight when he was in full shape?"

"No, last time I saw him was when I sold him to you." Jerik admitted.

"Maybe he'll be up for a round or two of sparing before we head out." Tomar rumbled in appreciation of the other warrior. "It's been ages since I had a quality 'taur opponent."

"If he's willing, we'll make time." Jerik reached up to scritch Tomar's jaw.

"Mmm ... let's see how he does here first," Tomar chuckled, rumbling appreciatively as the Shire stallion with the body of a draft horse sized wolf to make him a 'taur and the Wolf squared off, a rack of weapons available for each.

Tony took up a heavy hammer first, the other end capped with a blunted pick-head for piercing armor in a real fight, while Krav selected a long, heavy polearm that gave him an even greater reach than his form.

Tony brandished the long hammer, considering how best to get inside of Krav's reach, circling around him. He realized very quickly he was outclassed and the point of this was to see his best, and see how he took defeat ... and a few hits.

Krav made the first move, a swing low enough to be difficult to duck and high enough that it was difficult to jump, intended to take Tony off his feet.

Instead of trying to avoid it, he brought his hammer down to block it, trying to close the distance between them so that Krav would be forced onto the defensive. It earned him a grin of approval from his opponent as the polearm spun out of the block and Krav put his powerful wolfen hindquarters to good use in a short-range charge intended to simply slam into his opponent and barrel him over.

It was a move Tony hadn't been expecting, and that his armor didn't do much to absorb. The Wolf staggered back as Krav slammed into him, stepping back to keep his footing and realized a second too late that the charge hadn't ended. He hit the ground hard as the huge 'taur continued over him, and managed to get his hammer up enough to catch a leg as it went by.

It didn't trip Krav up much, but it was enough that Tony got back on his feet before another blow was aimed at him.

The younger Wolf was breathing heavily, fighting the urge to back away and get some space; he knew that that was exactly what Krav wanted him to do, so he could put his polearm to full use.

Instead, he kept pressing the attack, staying close, moving often and keeping a close eye on Krav to see if he was going to charge again. It made for a good show as much as it helped him, something he had to consciously remind himself was a good thing to do here. The bare month he'd spent in an arena before hadn't really sunk much in.

He ducked under another polearm swing and got his opening to dart forward and use the power of the blunted hammer to land a solid blow to Krav's chest between his forelegs.

"You've got good instincts," the senior warrior commented with a grunt before he lifted one foreleg and kicked forward hard, sending Tony staggering back.

"Still need the skill to back it up," Tony admitted, ducking back as Krav shortened his grip on the polearm and swung the blade across his midsection, the tip of it rattling the links of his light chain shirt.

"You'll pick it up." He assured the smaller male grinned at him and made a short, powerful lunge that slammed his bent forelegs into Tony's chest. He followed the Wolf down, pinning him very effectively. "It's my job to see to it."

Tony grunted, dropping his hammer and turning his hands so the palms were skyward, signaling his surrender for the round. Krav was keeping most of his weight off of him, for which he was beyond grateful, but there was still more than enough there to keep him well-pinned.

With a customary glance up at Jera for confirmation that the surrender was accepted, Krav tightened all the muscles of his draft-horse sized wolf body and hopped up to set his forelegs to either side of Tony without putting any extra pressure on him. He stepped back, swiveled sideways and leaned down to offer a hand up to the other warrior. "You'll be a fine warrior by the time you leave here."

"Thanks," Tony said gratefully, standing up and shaking himself out. It meant a lot, coming from the trainer of the arena, at least given the reasonably small amount of experience he had. It was good to have your trainer like you, no matter what it was about too.

"The next round will begin in two minutes," Jera called down to them. "Select your next weapon and prepare for it."

Meanwhile, up in the seats, a young Skunk rushed in, short of breath.

"Mage Jerik?" He asked, panting as he leaned against a seat, one of the guards quickly catching up with him and stopping once it was clear he wasn't going any further.

"Yes?" He focused on the youth immediately, sure it had to be serious for this kind of display.

"You have to talk to your she-Bear!" The boy said quickly. "She's raging like a storm!"

"Right," Jerik nodded even as Tomar was moving. "We'll be back to finish the deal." He promised Jera before rushing off after his Deference.

They made it back to the inn quickly; it wasn't too far away, and the noise inside made it clear that that was where Freyr was, whatever was happening. City guards were waiting outside, but they seemed content to do just that for now.

"Well, good to know she's got enough condition back to be intimidating yet," Tomar observed after they told the guards who they were and moved through.

"Good to know she can definitely handle the dangers of raising mage-cubs too." He chuckled as they stepped inside to see Freyr growling dangerously, holding a cream-furred Horse against the wall, pinned by the throat, his hooves barely touching the floor. Everybody was giving them plenty of room, but it was clear from her manner that she wasn't about to back down on her own just yet.

It was just as clear from the Horse's terrified expression that he really hadn't been expecting the still-skinny Bear to be nearly as strong as she was.

"Freyr, what did he do?" Jerik asked calmly as he walked up, not yet displaying any displeasure at what he was seeing.

"Before, or after, his friends joined in?" The Bear asked him, relaxing slightly and nodding towards the seriously bruised group in the corner, trying very hard to avoid being noticed.

"Before," he decided smoothly. "From the beginning of the excitement."

"He and his friends were drinking, and when one of the girls turned him down, he didn't take it well," Freyr explained, her calm voice at odds with the still-terrified Horse or the tension in her body that said she was ready to pin him against the wall again if need be. "He grabbed her, I stopped him, his friends came after me, I grabbed him to make sure things stayed stopped."

"Quite effectively," Jerik nodded in approval before turning to focus on the Horse. "Now, are you and your friends going to be cooperative and quiet if I tell her to let you go?"

"Yessir," the Horse nodded enthusiastically.

"And will you apologize to the young lady in question?" Tomar added.

"Yessir," he repeated.

"Let him go," Jerik said softly, though it was a command. It was one that Freyr obeyed, releasing the Horse and stepping back out of the way.

He rubbed his throat a bit before looking around for the girl so he could apologize, then escape, his friends close behind him.

"Shall I return to our room, Master?" Freyr asked, reaching over to set up a chair that had been knocked over in the fight.

"Unless you were down here for something," he said easily. "No one is in trouble for this."

"Thank you, Master," she nodded, heading up the stairs.

"Show's over, folks," Tomar told everybody. "Sorry for the hassle."

Everybody started milling about, going back to their business, the Skunk who owned the place walking over.

"Thank you, sir; I'm sorry to have my son interrupt you, but ... well, it was necessary. No serious damage at least," he observed. "She's good for the shape she's in."

"Yes, she is," he nodded with a slight smile. "It's good you sent for us. She would have probably held him there till dinner when we came back on our own." He chuckled slightly. "What was she down here for, before things got interesting?"

"She came down for a light dinner and drink, sir," the Skunk said easily. "I put it on your bill, of course. Not much; she's remarkably well behaved, when she's not protecting somebody," he chuckled.

"Yes, she is. If any is left, have it sent up to her." He said. "We'll be back in a couple hours."

"Good day then, sir," the Skunk nodded, going back to his business. "Have a good afternoon."

A Heritage of Power 4: Jerik's Story 9.99: Birthday in the Blight

NC-17 for M/F and H/H
Het Level is LowHet Smut Level is Low
Slash Level is
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is LowHerm Smut Level is Low

88 KB, Story is Closed-Unfinished, Series is Closed-Unfinished
Written April 17, 2006 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Karl Wolfemann

Setting: Galactic Alliance, SWAT Kats

Primary Races: Artificial Intelligence (AI), Bear, Dracon, Feline, Felsin, Fox, Gila Monster, Kat, Kat, Reptile, Rohr (Herm Wolftaur), Skunk, Taur, Undead, Wolf

Contents: Furry. Herm. Het (M/F). Slash (M/M). Violence

Pairings: Jerik/Tomar, Talessi/Tomar

Notes: An unfinished story from after the series.

Blurb: Seven years after graduation, Jerik and Tomar are on their way out of the Blight for a long sabbatical to raise a family. When they run into an old friend, their plays get pushed back a bit.

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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