SAMPLE from The Short Tale;
THE UNICATS OF HUNTINGTONIA
Tulitara twitched her plumed tail, chattering her jaw in an effort to keep silent. She gazed up at her dam, the Queen Indisera. The strong breeze ruffled her long coat, but she resisted the urge to groom. One must not show disrespect to the Queen and her court at such a time, princess or not. Tulitara focused on the fluttering bright colored robes of the Human delegates. The four humans, one equine, and two huge canines wearing battle armor, kneeled before the Court, begging the Unicat Queen for an alliance.
“Please Majesty, an alliance between us surely will guarantee victory and eliminate the MasterLord’s evil,” the human beside the bay Appaloosa horse implored. The horse snorted, as if in agreement with his rider. One of the canines, an enormous long-haired white warrior with piercing blue eyes and a short silver spike of a horn, uttered a soft yip, but did not speak. Queen Indisera glared at the delegation with baleful gold-green eyes.
“Wise to keep silent, King Eddypos. We will not meddle in affairrrs not ourr own,” Indisera responded, a growl in her voice. Tulitara disagreed with her dams’ adamant stance in this matter, and shifted her cream forepaws nervously.
“Nothing to be done, Beloved. Yourr Motherr’s worrdss are law.” Her mate purred softly in her ear. “And herr descisionss arre final.”
“I know,” Tulitara rumbled in reply, nuzzling Daemon’s thick, luxurious black ruff. She licked his spotless white bib. She glanced back at her sisters, who sat behind her. “But. . . ,”
“Please, your Highness,” The Head Human dignitary insisted. His fine red robe flapped in the wind, and sunlight glittered the fabric’s gilded ornamentation. The well-muscled steed beside him uttered a soft neigh. Both canines whined. Tulitara and the rest of the Unicats in assembly inhaled sharply, hissing in unison at the disrespect of their Queen. The Human continued, blithely unaware of his misconduct. “Please, please reconsider. The MasterLord endangers everyone, not just we humans, horses, Unicorns and Nardogs.”
“I will forrrgive such an outburrsst,” Queen Indisera retorted, exposing her fangs. She eyed the impertinent stallion and the Nardog King, her gnarled silver horn glowing a warning. “But we cannot involve ourrrssselves in human affairrrss.”
“Forgive us, Majesty,” The Human murmured. His colorful spotted steed nickered, dipping his head. “We will trouble you no further. Thank you for the audience.”
The Human Delegation bowed respectfully, and then mounting their steeds, turned away from the Throne Rocks. The Appaloosa shook his head, and uttered a strident neigh, then he and his rider disappeared down the steep mountainside with the Delegation.The Nardogs turned, but King Eddypos looked back, and met Indisera’s gaze, his blue eyes flaring.
“We horned clans should be united. I hope you change your mind,” he said softly before spinning away after the rest of the delegation.Tulitara stood up. She must let her dam know this was a mistake. She boldly trotted forward to the granite throne. She placed her red and cream forepaws on the bottom step.
“Mother, pleassse. We mussst help them.”
Indisera flattened her tufted ears. The females of Indisera’s court all hissed and growled their displeasure. Tulitara ignored her aunts, leaving it to Saronek, her sire, and his brother, to silence the harem.
“Daughterrr,” Saronek growled. “Thou blasphemes.”
“I do not wissh to, Fatherrr,” Tulitara bowed her head briefly, touching her gleaming copper horn to the granite. “But the humans are right. The MassterLord endangerrrss everyone.”
“You darrre question thy Motherrr’s wissdom?” Saronek bared his fangs, his own gnarled copper horn flaring. Tulitara trembled, but stood her ground. She refused to be treated like a kitten any longer. King Saronek rose to his feet, his impeccable long red-tabby fur gleaming in the sunlight. He pointed his horn at Tulitara. She minced up the steps, touching her horn to his. His sparks played over hers, but Tulitara did not flinch. She endured the punishment, accepting the small jolt of power that surged from his horn.
“Forrrgive me, Fatherrr,” she purred. She sat down, facing her agitated parents, defiant, but courteous. Saronek gazed back, his eyes narrowing into copper slits.
“Sspeak then, Daughterrr,” he rumbled.
“The MasterrLorrd frrightenss me. He iss a powerrrful Human Mage. The Humanss and theirrr horses are frightened of him. We can defeat him if we do sso beforrre he grrowss too sstrrong.” Tulitara shivered, and stuttered. “We must prroo . . . prrro . . . ”
“Pleasse, Majestiess. Permisssion to sspeak.” Daemon trotted up beside Tulitara. His golden horn, long and smooth with youth, gleamed as he entered the spot of spring sunshine. Tulitara forgot her fear and purred her pride. So enormous and strong, his long black coat with white markings glimmered so handsomely. Since kittenhood she adored him, and though, in Unicat tradition, she shared him with her sisters, the strong bond between them strengthened into something rare in Unicat society, beyond passion, known only in legend. A deep bond sprouted between them soon after they met. Stronger than the maternal and sister ties, going beyond paternal affections, their love burned, a beacon of hope to the Unicat prides, which over the centuries dwindled in number. She groomed her belly. Could she change that trend? Daemon exchanged quick glances with her, and she purred.
“Yess, my Beloved. Time iss now,” she murmured. Saronek glared at the young Unicat, but nodded.
“Majestiess.” Daemon’s voice rang across the open meadow. “Tulitara worrriess and forrr good rrreasson. “
”What good reason can sshe posssibly have?” Indisera growled.”Ourrr landss are shielded.”
“Kittensss.” Daemon cried out in triumph. His horn glittered as he pointed it skyward, his eyes closing in an ecstatic feline smile. “Tulitara carrriess ourr kittenss!”
“Kittenssss!” Indisera and Saronek sat bolt upright. “Arrre thou surrre???”
“Yesss,” Tulitara padded over to her mother. “Ssee forrr thysself.”
Indisera touched Tulitara’s belly gently with the tip of her horn. The silver appendage pulsed with sparkling stars that winked in illusive rainbow colors. Tulitara purred. Daemon, in the ancient paternity confirmation tradition, touched his horn to Tulitara’s belly. It flared in brilliant iridescence. Indisera leaped to the topmost rock on her throne, her blue-grey tail plumed over her back. Her white paws danced on the rock. Saronek leaped up beside her, and the King and Queen struck horns. Blinding beams of power sparked into the heavens.
“Rrrejoice! Unicatss! Huntingtonia will ssee young onesss once again!” Saronek’s cry echoed in the mountains. “Many sseasonss have passsed usss with no Unikittensss! Rrrejoice!”
Indisera bounded to the foot of her throne, her silky, long fur puffing with her jubilation. She rubbed her entire blue and white body along Tulitara’s in joy.
“My Daughterrr! Ssso young thou arrre. Prride fillss thiss Old One, who was fifteen before graced with her own kittenss. In the fifty yearss since, only three more litters did thiss one have. So many of usss never have that joy. So farrr along arrre thee!!” Indisera bared her fangs, and closed her eyes in laughter. “And this old one thought thee grrowing fat and lazy. Why did thee not sssay ssooner?
“We wanted to be abssolutely surre, Motherr,” Tulitara answered. “But Daemon’s horn glowed brrrighterrr each day. I wass going to wait, until they arrrived, and surrrprisse all.”
“Kittensss! Kittenss! Oh, how wonderrrful!” Tulitara’s sister bounded up to her, stifling her mother’s reply. Her other three sisters kept back, their eyes wide with awe. Phantara head-bumped Tulitara, her bushy tail straight up, her silver horn glowing with her excitement. Tulitara nuzzled Phantara’s long grey, black-striped fur. Tulitara head-bumped her sister back. Their horns clicked together with a metallic ring. She vibrated with her purring. She loved Phantara almost as much as she did Daemon.
“Yesss! It iss trrue. Kittenss live insside me.”
“Ssso wonderrrful!” Phantara danced around Tulitara. “You will have many kittensss by our Daemon! And be Queen one day.”
“Optimisstic arre thou.” Tulitara purred, rubbing her sister affectionately. “But thee may have morrre litterrrs than this one, and be Queen.” Tulitara trilled, bumping Phantara. “It matterrrs not, as ourrr Daemon will still be King.”
“Daemon! Son!” Two Elders joined the happy group. Daemon pounced at them like a kitten.
“Yess! Poppa! Momma!” He circled the old black male and his calico companion. Daemons’ aunts followed, tails waving above their backs. Sadness clouded the black Elder’s piercing green-gold eyes. “It isss ssad your Uncle is not here to see this day.”
“He will know,” Daemon said quietly, halting his antics. Daemon dipped his horn, zapping the ground, recalling the mysterious disappearance of his jovial Uncle. “Thisss one still believess he livess.”
“Betulya! Sabath!” Indisera touched noses with Betulya, shattering the melancholy aura. “My friend, thee had only two littersss, but thy second, producced a Prrince to be prrroud of, a Prrrince worrrthy of my Tulitara. It pleasssesss me that we borrre them the sssame ssseason.”
“Yesss. But thy second gave us a fine Prrince as well. He pleassses my first brood. All girlsss.” The calico female snorted in mirth. “Six, and your Indytor keepss them all happy.”
“My only wisssh iss to sssee kittens frrom that harem.” Indisera purred.
“Ah, but we have Daemon, and Tulitarrra,” Betulya trilled joyously. “We ssshould not be sssurprised. Thisss one knew good thingss would come of such a bond.”
Indisera’s sisters swarmed into the group, rubbing and head-bumping in glee. Tulitara forgave their earlier haughty actions. Celebration embraced the Unicats, and word spread to other Prides. Unicats converged on the lair of Saronek and Indisera. Tulitara sat with her mother on the Throne Rock, as each arrival greeted her, presenting a small gift. The stack of delectable morsels grew, and Tulitara nibbled constantly to keep the pile down. Her parents watched proudly, encouraging each bite. Daemon assisted, and his explanation of staying strong for his kittens met with mirth.
The sun sank behind the western peaks, splashing the clouds in brilliant scarlets, golds, and crimsons. Pinks and violets followed the fire in the sky to the horizon. The crescent of the small moon hung in the western sky. The breezes died, the air cooled, and, as dusk turned to night, the larger moon rose above the east peaks, glowing in golden glory. Moonbeams filled the mountain glade with light, mirroring the festive gleam in Unicat eyes. Tulitara watched the heavenly splendor, purring to her precious unborn kittens. Never had her home looked so beautiful. Exotic catmints and foodstuffs appeared as Dukes and Duchesses merrily magiked the items freely to the Gathering. Mage Lights illuminated the mountainside as the celebration carried through the night. With pride, Tulitara created her own Mage Light. It burned as brightly as that of any of the Adepts, flaring on the tip of her glowing horn like copper fire. Daemon touched his golden horn to hers, as he willed his own fiery Mage Light to life, illuminating Throne Rocks Glade in flaming brilliance.
Tulitara indulged in the catmints, only after being assured such would not hurt her unborn Unikittens. She watched with joy, as Daemon and Phantara frolicked at the base of the rocks, in attempts to produce yet more kittens. She joined the howling, wailing onlookers, cheering them on. If Phantara succeeded, she and Tulitara would bear kittens in the same season. Tulitara found great jubilation in that thought. Daemon loved Phantara almost as much as Tulitara did. Tulitara’s sisters joined the fray, and Daemon dutifully paid attention to his other Princesses. Phantara butted her way in, interrupting several times, and Tulitara leaped in to help, driven by unexpected twinges of jealousy. She hissed, swatting the three sisters with horn and paw. Tippea, Tynra, and Sylvea drew back, forming a semi circle around Daemon and Phantara. Their forlorn faces shamed Tulitara. She touched noses with each, ignoring the final antics of Daemon and Phantara.
“Is thou angry with usss?” silver tabby Sylvea mewed, her light blue eyes round and woebegone.
“No! Neverrr,” Tulitara purred. “Forrrrgive me. I do not know why I acted so.”
The three females purred relief. Tulitara led them to Phantara and Daemon, and the five snuggled together. Phantara’s horn pulsed in time with her purrs. Tulitara sang to the heavens, remembering how her own horn reacted last time she and Daemon danced in the moonlight. She swished her tail, hoping new life sprouted within Phantara’s belly. The rumbling song of contentment and joy lulled her, and her head sank to her paws. In moments, she drifted to dreamland, where kittens romped, filling the Glade with their high voices.
Daemon nudged Tulitara, waking her from slumber.
“Come. Phantara and the rest have gone back to our lair. We must go home, too.”
Tulitara blinked, yawned and stretched, glancing at the Throne Rocks. Her parents had long since retired to the cave beyond. The sky lightened to the east, signaling the arrival of dawn. She purred agreement. Together, she and Daemon started down the trail, and followed the path to the neighboring mountainside. Dew soaked their paws as they traversed the meadows and forest. The sun peeked above the eastern mountains, bathing the rocky terrain in its golden morning light. Tulitara soaked up the warmth of the early spring beams, envying for the moment, Daemon’s black coat. She twitched her tail. On hot, sultry days, he paid the price for that gorgeous pelt. Trees grew stout, waxing squat as they climbed higher. Soon, Tulitara easily saw over the tops of the dwarfed conifers. Alpine grasses and flowers blanketed the rocky terrain, and the trail wound through clumps of gnarled pines which hugged the ground. Daemon lead the way along the narrow ridge spanning the gulf between the two jagged peaks. Tulitara resisted the urge to frolic. She loved the heights, and if she ever ascended to Queen, those massive formations by their lair would mold into fine Throne Rocks! Yes indeed, she puffed proudly. With her and Daemon’s mage skills, they promised to become the most extravagant Throne Rocks in all of Huntingtonia.
A heartrending wail drifted up from the valley below, shattering Tulitara’s daydream. The anguished cry cut to Tulitara’s soul. She and Daemon turned as one. They sprang over the hedge of twisted conifers to a steep, granite outcrop beyond. They halted at the edge, poised above the steep headwall, ears quivering to catch every pitch of that sad cry. The howl repeated, followed by screams of rage. The echoes reverberated through the great gulf.
“Unicatss?” Tulitara questioned.
“Too high pitched,” Daemon rumbled angrily.
“Unikitten?” Tulitara bristled. She lashed her tail, slapping the rock.
“So it sseemss,“ Daemon hissed. “Outsside our landss.”
“How?” Tulitara asked in a sad mew. “No one has borne kittens in many seasons!”
“I know not the ansswerr,” Daemon said, confusion in his golden eyes.
The wail echoed again in the mountains, so full of pain and anguish that Tulitara bared her teeth.
“We musst help!” Tulitara focused on the valley below. “If it isss a strange Unikitten, we musst help!”
“I agree.” Daemon leaped from the rock. Tulitara followed, weaving through the wind-gnarled trees. They headed down the long slope, bounding nimbly from stone to stone. The twisted growth gave way to their taller brethren, as the Unicats descended the headwall into the forest. They glided furtively through the woods, homing in on the terrified wailing. The ground leveled out as they reached the valley floor. They passed over the border of Unicat lands, feeling a tingle of magic as they passed through the invisible barrier. Daemon picked up the pace. The pitiful cries continued to pierce their ears. They broke into a small clearing and halted, hissing in surprise.
The brown tabby object of their astonishment whirled to face them, its short fur on end, its green eyes wild with terror. Tulitara gaped, covering her fangs. A Unicat, a tiny, tiny short-haired Unicat with no horn, tied by a rope to a sapling, snarled inarticulately at them. Tulitara stepped up slowly, tail up, ears and whiskers forward in reassurance.
“Little One, poorrr little One. We will not hurrrt thee,” she purred. “Daemon, what kind of Unicat is thiss?”
“I know not,” Daemon answered. “But no doubt, this creature be brethren to our kind.”
The dwarf Unicat sat, growling. Tulitara halted and crouched, stretching her neck in a most unassuming pose.
“A Human did thisss.” Tulitara wrinkled her muzzle, as she sniffed the rope. The fetid odor repulsed her. “Filthy creature. Thiss poor Little One. Who did thiss to thee?”
The little feline only hissed a reply. Tulitara received only faint mental images.
“I do not believe this creaturrre can speak,” Daemon said softly. “Legend hass it that we arrrre desscended frrrom ssuch. It musst be trruth. We mussst set it frrree.”
Tulitara did not answer. Instead she swung her head. Her horn glittered in the filtered sunlight, and sliced the rope. The tiny cat squalled and bolted. Tulitara crouched reflexively as the brush behind her rustled. Danger! Her mind screeched. She spun around in time to see something whiz toward her head. She jerked back, but the club struck her face, just below her ear. She howled in agony. Daemon roared outrage. A second thud silenced his warcry. She slumped to the ground, her vision blurring. In the haze, a lone Human figure leaned over Daemon’s inert body, pounding him furiously. Tulitara opened her aching jaw and screamed defiantly. The Human turned, club hovering over Daemon’s body. She tried to aim her horn, but the blast of energy sailed harmlessly skyward. The human hurried to her.