Part 3 in all it’s glory.
“Where was she?” Aquil asked panicked.
“She was at a stream not far from here.”
“You told her not to control it and look what happens.”
“I told her not suppress it. She was not born a shapeshifter, Nae created her.”
“Nae came upon a sickly child that was abandoned by villagers, both healers had tried to cure her, but the girl was dying. Instead of giving up, she merged a panther cub with the human baby creating Morishta as she is now.”
“Is that way she struggles with the panther side?”
“Perhaps,” Aeji said thoughtfully then noticed Morishta’s uneaten food,” she has to eat to keep up her strength.”
“She’s afraid that one day the panther will take over completely.”
“I believe that day will come soon if she gives up.”
“I would not be so sure of that.”
Determination crossed the young man’s features.
“How could she have gotten marked?”
“There are several ways to become marked by Signess. The most common is eating a tainted animal.”
“She doesn’t eat meat.”
“The panther must to survive. Unless…” he took a closer look at the markings on her arms following them up to her upper arm. She stirred watching Aeji as he checked the markings.
“Unless?” she asked
“You were using dark magic.”
“I used it only in the hopes that it would help separate me from the panther.” She defended
“You could have endangered the whole tribe.” He chided
“I was outside of the borders near the lake.”
“Even worse things lurk in the darkness of those waters. Signess’ servants are everywhere.”
“You don’t know what it’s like to be weak and sick your entire life.” She snapped, snatching her arm away from him.
“Is being an outcast worth it?”
“Death would be worth it.”
“You may very well get your wish.” He said returning to the woods.”
“What has gotten into you? He is just trying to help.”
“By treating me like a child? I don’t consider that helping. I’m tired of the lectures about how I should learn to coexist with the animal. I want her gone.”
He sighed, “Get some rest you’ll feel better in the morning.”
He settled into an uneasy sleep.
Aeji was just about to drift off when he heard an animals cries, running to the source he found the panther attacking an adult deer. The animal tried to kick away but was no match for the feline as it tore into skin. The very sight of this mindless butchering would have easily sickened his human form, but the wolf found it normal and stood in the shadows watching. The animal was gorging itself on the fresh kill when it bent down as if it get another mouthful when it began to shimmer turning human. The woman found herself encircled by the carcass and screamed. The wolf howled its ears hurting from the loud noise.
Aquil came running finding a horrific sight before him. In the middle of it was Morishta who was loudly throwing up chunks of raw meat as well as blood. He stepped closer to collect her. It was then he noticed the markings on her arms were to her upper arms now, darker and more of them.
“Morishta.” He said softly, trying not to spook her.
She looked up and him, her eyes rolled into the back of her head and he caught her just before her head landed. Gathering her up carefully and taking her back to camp. Laying her near the fire and covering her in a fur. It was then he spotted Aeji .
“She’s lost to us.”
“Why didn’t you stop her?”
“She can’t be stopped. We should leave Signess will soon claim her.”
“No, I am not leaving her in this condition. She needs help.”
Morishta began to twitch murmuring in her sleep.
“What’s happening?” Aquil asked frightened.
“Signess is invading her mind, causing her worst nightmares to come true. “
“Can we stop it?”
“No, she must fight it alone.”
“What happens if she doesn’t?”
“She turns to Him quicker.”
Aquil took her pale clammy hand in his as if to try to pass his strength to her. He whisper to her trying to calm her.
Aeji turn away with a heavy heart, “Do not lay too much faith in her.”
“Do you not trust her?”
“It is not her I distrust, but the panther. Signess is relentless and will break her.” He walked towards the woods then pausing as if an afterthought,” There is a cottage half a day’s journey from here. She may be too weak to walk there herself, you may have to carry her. But you are both expected.”
“You’re Leaving?” he asked in disbelief.”
“ Yes, there is nothing more I can do here. You have crossed into Hagemage. You have made it this far, the rest is up to you.”
It was midday when she woke herself up crying, tears streaming down her cheeks her heart was racing. Aquil calmed her down, easing her into a sitting position.
She blanched at the sight of the bread, shaking her head.
“He left said there was a cottage not far from here.”
She looked into the horizon, tears started forming again.
“I can’t make it.”
“No, you won’t. If you fall in the snow, I’ll pick you up. I’ll even carry you if I have to.”
She looked at him, his face was sincere. The drained of the past few days crept into his otherwise young features.
“Putting you through all this.”
“ You didn’t put me through anything. I volunteered to go with you.”
“You could have stayed with the tribe.”
“I didn’t want you to be alone.”
“Thank you.” She took his hand in hers and squeezed it gently.
A moment later she was on her feet unsteadily using a nearby tree to regain her balance and they began a slow but steady trudge through calf deep snow.
They are almost at the cottage when Morishta drops down sweating despite the cold.
“I can carry you.”
“No.” He tries to reach for her but she pushes him away.
Her face twisted with anger , “I don’t want your help or pity.”
“It’s not pity I just want to help you. We’ll rest here then and when you’re ready we’ll continue.”
Her black hair hung low covering her face an evil laughter come from her,”You fool. Don’t you know it’s already too late?”
“What do you mean?”
Silence, he dared to step closer to her, gently lifting her head to his and brushing away the hair from her face. The dark circled were again under her eyes, green eyes were slightly clouded. They almost rolled back into her head, he shook her violently.
“Morishta, stay with me. We’re almost there.”
“ I’m sorry.” she whispered.
“It’s ok. We’ll make it.”
“No, you don’t understand, I can’t stop her this time. Save yourself. .”
And with those word Morishta’s eyes rolled into the back of her head and she fell backward into the snow. Her body began to shimmer taking the shape of the panther. Aquils’ heart thumped against his chest as he realized what she meant, he turned and began to run. Knowing full well the panther could outrun him and tear him to shreds, but the cottage was so close if he could just make it to the door.
His thoughts were silenced as he came upon a larger than normal grey wolf staring at him just before the walkway to the cottage.
A split second later his world went black.