The air near the village smelled of fear and desperation as well as blood and death. His sharp ears picked up the sounds of fighting, the clash of human weapons.
He cautiously used Craft to probe the village and bared his fangs in a silent snarl as he detected a Green-Jeweled Warlord Prince. Something about that one's scent...
Reaching a spot in the trees that looked directly on the back of the she-kitten's den, he heard a female scream and a male's roar. Then a window opened. A young human female climbed out the window and jumped into the snow. But when she tried to rise, she fell again, lame.
Kaelas burst out of the trees, charging toward the spot where the she-kitten lay at the same time an Eyrien Warlord came around the corner of the house. Spotting the she-kitten, the Eyrien raised his bloody weapon and moved forward for the kill.
The human male sensed no danger until eight hundred pounds of hatred slammed into him.
Kaelas bit off the arm that held the weapon while his claws tore open the belly. One blast of psychic power burned out the human's mind, finishing the kill.
He paused to bite some clean snow. Like its psychic scent, there was something about this human that tasted like bad meat.
He shook his head, then turned toward the girl, who was staring at the dead .male. *Little one,* he growled.
She pushed herself up and looked around desperately. "KaeAskavi?"
*Kaelas,* he said. With the same gentleness he used with his own kitten, he seized her by the middle and loped off with her, heading for the shelter of the trees.
She made no sound. She didn't struggle. He approved of her courage. And now she was an orphan, as he had once been.
Choosing a spot where the snow had drifted deep, he set the girl down on air, quickly dug a small den, set the girl inside it, then covered up most of the entrance. *Stay,* he ordered.
She curled up in a small, shivering ball.
He loped back to the human den and passed through the wall next to the window the girl had come from. The room smelled of her—and other things, bad things.
The door leading into the rest of the den was open. He could see a bloody female arm. Sensing no life, he didn't bother to go over and sniff her to be sure.
He wished Ladvarian was there with him. Despite living almost all of his life among humans, he didn't understand them as well as the dog did. The dog would have known what the little female needed most.
He thought for a moment. She would need human fur. Using Craft, he opened the drawers and wardrobe, and vanished everything inside them.
What else would Ladvarian bring? Looking around the room, he vanished the puffy bedcovering that smelled of feathers. The kitten could be wrapped in that and kept warm. The urgent need to leave this place pushed at him, but he thought for a moment more.
Kindred had little use for things, but...
He saw it, lying next to the bed. At first, he felt blind hatred, but when he went over to sniff the white toy cat, he realized it had been made from fluffy cloth and not Arcerian fur as he'd first thought. It smelled strongly of the she-kitten—and, fainter, the she-cat's smell was there, too. And there was a psychic smell on it, a smell he associated with the Lady. The High Lord had called it love.
Vanishing the toy, he moved cautiously toward the open door. The dead female had a knife still clutched in one hand. She had fought a stronger male in order to save her kitten—as his own dam had fought against the hunters so that he could escape.
He thought, looking at her, that if she could know her kitten was safe and protected, she wouldn't mind the little female being among the Arcerian cats now.
Passing through the back wall of the house, he stopped near the dead Eyrien male. Using Craft, he passed the remains through the first few inches of snow, then pushed them down deep. The snow was stained with blood and gore, but he didn't think anyone would be looking for this one right away. And until they dug up the body, they wouldn't know that the human hadn't been killed by one of his own kind.
Hurrying back to the trees, Kaelas summoned KaeAskavi. *Come quickly... and silently.*
Reaching the makeshift den, he dug out the entrance. Calling in the puffy bedcovering, he laid it on the snow, using two spells he had learned from the Lady—a warming spell on the inside and a spell to keep the covering dry on the outside. Lifting out the she-kitten, he awkwardly wrapped her in the covering.
She just stared.
Feeling uneasy, he sniffed her carefully. She wasn't dead, but he knew those staring, unseeing eyes weren't good.
Sensing KaeAskavi's approach, he lifted his head. He could detect the faint shadowing of the lighter-Jeweled sight shield, and softly growled approval.
*Della!* KaeAskavi sniffed the bundled female.
*Take the she-kitten to my mate,* Kaelas said. *Use the Winds as soon as you reach a thread you can ride. The little one needs help quickly.*
*My dam will not accept a human kitten in her den,* KaeAskavi protested.
*Tell her the human she-cat fought against hunters to save the kitten—and died.*
KaeAskavi stood perfectly still for a moment, then said sadly, *I will tell her.* Carefully gripping the covering with his teeth, he trotted off with the she-kitten.
Kaelas waited, keeping track of them through a psychic thread. When he felt KaeAskavi catch the Wind that would take the young cat closest to the home den, he turned back to the village.
3 / Kaeleer
The Green-Jeweled Eyrien Warlord Prince looked upon the carnage with satisfaction. This Gate was now secured for the Dark Priestess's use. She had already selected the sixty pale-skinned, fair-haired people who would replace the ones he and his men had just slaughtered—people she had acquired at the last couple of service fairs. As long as the village looked inhabited and the people appeared to be going about their usual business, he doubted anyone would give any of them a second look. And if a visitorshould know the village well enough to realize that the people were all strangers, what was one more corpse?
He turned as the Warlord who was his second-in-command approached. "Did that old bitch Priestess send the message?"
The Warlord nodded. "Sent to Lord Morton, the Glacian Queen's cousin and First Escort."
"And he usually responds to those messages?"
"Yes. And he usually comes alone."
"Then we'd better figure on having company soon. Assign five men with longbows to take up a position behind the landing web."
The Warlord studied the carnage. "If Morton sees this, he might just catch the Winds again and go back to report."
"Then I'll just have to make sure I provide a strong enough lure to get him off the landing web but still within easy range of the bowmen," the Warlord Prince said. "The old Priestess is dead?"