The giant cat crouched on a field of freshly fallen leaves, hiding below a low lying great Oak branch. Its breath, barely a whisper, producing soft plumes of moisture that disappeared, lost in the early morning mist. Despite its bulk, it remained motionless, invisible to all but the keenest of observers. Its quarry was cautious and alert yet needed to replenish from the fresh spring that gushed through the moss-covered pebbles. The deer’s ears pricked at the slightest sound but the lapping stream and chatter of the small colourful finches were enough to cover the sound of its doom.
The hunter was unaware that it was also being watched, from above, lying motionless on an overhanging branch. Nothing really threatened the wild cats in these parts, there was little that the cats had to fear, except maybe losing its prey to another of its kind.
Saiyin’ used this fact to her advantage. Alert to everything around her, the soft sway of the leaves, the slight dissipation of the mist, a small inquisitive male wren venturing closer than expected. But what really triggered her attention was the soft heartbeat of the great cat and the faster beat of the deer. Saiyin’ was used to having heightened senses when In-Between, but lately there seemed to be an echo of that power when she returned home. This morning even more so. She could feel the residual effects of holding the power of captured Souls and that was frightening, but exhilarating!
Was it possible that her power could be enhanced while on her home plane of Onathien? Lately the hunger for that power was growing to the point of distraction. She had to test her theory; she was not desperate enough to outright kill an innocent being, not yet. She also suspected the deer would provide very little power. But she had to find a way to explore her growing abilities. If she could capture the Soul of a mindless beast, even to feel a wisp of power, what would she try next… she smothered the thought, she hadn’t regressed that far yet…
She was always ambitious and adventurous as a child, curiously drawn to the mystical powers that many of the elders possessed. Her blood uncle, Tailyn, was a powerful mage, having had a hand in teaching many young elves. He was one of the elders of her sect, a well-respected artisan that traded with people across the length and breadth of Onathien. The travelling lifestyle was an important part of elven society and education, providing an exciting and interesting way to learn about the world. Saiyin’ loved entering a city for the first time, absorbing the sights, sounds, smells, languages and customs.
She remembered the days fondly, trying to learn anything and everything about the world and the mystical powers which she was fortunate enough to possess. Even at a very early age she could heat water with her bare hands, or help her older brother lift heavy fallen tree stumps, using the power to enhance her strength. She had the gift and her hands were the conduit to that power. Her uncle had tried to steer her towards using her power to heal, and she was very adept in using her powers this way. Saiyin’ was a young woman in conflict, she had felt the warm satisfaction of healing unwell beings but she also was drawn to the raw power she had been wielding In-Between, mostly for destructive purposes.
The glyphs that marked her as one of the summoned champions tingled, or was it her imagination. Either way, it woke her from the reverie as she noticed a slight change in the air, a subtle stillness.
The great cat was about to make its move, the deer was head down, lapping at the fresh running stream. Saiyin’ focused, trying to imagine herself In-Between, where she could feel the Souls of those about to be released. Her trancelike state did not distract her from her physical presence. She needed to stay aware of the hunt and pounce to steal the kill. This would be no simple task and could turn dangerous. No one liked having their meal taken away and the cats of the northern reaches would be no different.
Too late, the deer noticed the stillness, its head jerked forward and its hind legs pushed against the moss-covered pebbles, ready to bound away. The hunter was already in motion, its claws extended and its teeth, dripping with anticipation, were bared in a vicious snarl. Its prey was caught mid-flight as the jaws clamped down hard on the side of the exposed neck, warm blood gushing forth. The deer’s front legs buckled as its eyes bulged in terror…
Saiyin’ leaped down from her branch, hitting the ground in full stride. Her mind was attuned to the deer’s pulse as its life drained away. She slowed and focused her mind, the way her uncle had taught her, entering that void within her mind that allowed her to draw on the natural power she possessed. She could feel her hands warming as a slight blue shimmer enveloped them.
The cat growled at her presence but kept its jaws clenched, dragging its weakening prey to the ground. The forest paused, watching the macabre dance between beast, prey and elf. Saiyin’ circled the two animals waiting for the precise moment. Then with a sudden burst of energy she thrust her hands forward, fists clenched tight and hit the deer beneath the front shoulder. The magic pulsed and her hands hit much harder than their childlike size would suggest. It was a clean hit, stopping the heart of the animal as its last breath expired through blood soaked nostrils, dissipating with the early morning mist.
The deer went limp and Saiyin’ stepped back as the cat turned towards her, exposed teeth dripping with blood and a low growl emitting from its throat, standing protectively in front of the kill, less than an arms length away. Saiyin’, with heart pounding, had to stand her ground, knowing her leather body armour would provide very little protection from those razor-sharp teeth. Then she sensed it, an echo of the pulse that she felt while In-Between, but it was there. And if her mind was not playing tricks she could see a very faint tinge of blue emanating from the deer’s body. She stretched her hand forward and tried to embrace the essence of the slain deer before it floated away, she could feel it, faint as a feathers touch. The great cat lunged forward, instinct taking over as it sensed a possible competitor. Saiyin’ had little time to think, but she had survival instincts of her own, plus the need and hunger for power.
In a flash she felt the sudden surge of energy, very similar to In-Between, though much less intense. Quickly she shifted herself to a defensive stance and thrust her hand towards the onrushing beast. Contact was made, her open hand catching the beast full in its muscled chest. There was a flash of blue light, the great cat roared in pain and was thrown back, almost somersaulting and landing with a deep thud, beside the deer, its chest smoking, singed.
Saiyin’ was pushed back slightly with the impact but was unscathed. She blinked in shock, staring at the cat and then her hands. It had worked, the power was miniscule compared to the increase she could wield In-Between, but there was no mistake, she had never been able to wield that much power using her natural gifts, not here on Onathien.
The cat stirred, momentarily stunned, but began to rise. Saiyin’ quickly regained her senses, turned and fled through the thick shrub, heading for home.
As she ran her mind raced at what had just occurred and questions kept forming within her thoughts. She had partly captured the Soul of a wild beast, here on her home plane. What did this mean, were the new gods losing control of the summoned champions, or was their power leaking into Onathien? Was she becoming one of the Chosen, a god herself?
She had to experiment further, the surge of power had left her but the memory remained and traces of the exhilaration still pulsed through her body, emanating from the summoning glyphs that were hidden beneath her clothing. As she entered the boundaries of her homeland her thoughts were still racing, this was just a deer, a small beast, she let that thought and the possibilities it pertained linger, before pushing it away…