Author's note: I edit this frequently. It's not yet perfect and so I may need to add something here and there. This also goes for the other chapters. That I put it on here in spite of that is because I was rushed to put one up by myself. I couldn't just stay on this site for the next year without putting anything up....

Thanks for the reviews, I would love more input. Honest critique please, and if you find fault, swing it at me like a blunt axe! For my sake, do not hold back. I am after all trying to improve. Can't do that without knowing the problems, I have too much of a jaded eye to seriously figure it out. But please don't knock my story with no reason, I'd like to know what you find wrong with it, not that it sucks.

To answer your question El Dood, why did blonde hair evolve? So people who hunted in snowy terrain would be less visible. Why are we taller than a hundred years ago? Because, though you need more food, when you factor that problem out with society being as it is, tall people simply are generally more sucessful in finding mates. Why are genetic defects like certain types of diabetes becoming more common? Because there is less weeding out of them than what would be in nature, so they survive to pass it on. There's a lot of reasons they could evolve with different fur colors. Including simply because it's visually appealing and so was thus bred into the family. It's not like they can't stop light from reflecting off of their unusually colored fur if they really need to take care of themselves. Why do we not have pink crocs? Because they die when they mutate like that out in the wild. Not in general society though. Case and point, conjoined twins live long lives, don't they?

Lol, don't take this offensively, but I like that they're light bending panthers and you find fault in the fact that they have odd coloring. I like the thought process.

Note: This IS a prelude though. It's not meant to be a story of it's own.

Just so there is no confusion for the next chapters. I use the *s for indications of both time lapses and character changes.

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^ This means time is passing. The amount of time is more or less constant.

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^ This means that there is a point of view change. It might mean a time lapse in addition to that.

And now for the story. Enjoy and please review honestly.

Prelude: The Lost People

The forest was quiet. Not one sound, for no squirrel, bird, wolf, or bug would have the stupidity to come out tonight. They all could feel it. The Stalkers were about.

The first thing you might see would be a glimpse of a dark, humanoid form, a rustle, just maybe a glimpse of an unusually brightly colored foot. This would be if you were both supremely observant and incredibly lucky.

They all came alone. No couples. It was just their way. They broke from their parties before they got to the forest and hurried on for themselves. This way, no questions. If you met with someone here it was unknown if you knew them out there. It was simply the way of the panther people.

Eventually they all ended up at the heart of the deep dark forest. By their simple, deadly, and secretive nature, it was brighter there, but not in a way to attract attention. The light simply would reach curious eyes from within and not without. They were invisible, and to people who could have passed through, it would have looked to be a knot of darkness.

When you finally penetrated their visual barriers, you would be amazed. The first impression of them would probably be the vast color ranges. That first glance would be confused with humanoid shapes that were, one and all, distorted with vibrant colors. New growth green, Brick red, deep mountain lake blue, and here and there the odd yellow. They were mostly natural colors, but there was also a couple of unnatural colors. There was one woman that stuck out that was a most beautiful mix of bright green, sky blue, and fire red.

The next impression would probably be embarrassment. All of the men and women, thickly furred, walked around in various states of bareness. Not a one had on any sort of foot coverings at all, though some had charcoal smeared on their feet so that they were less visible. Five or six were naked but for their silken and diversely colored fur, which was nevertheless not at all revealing but for shape, much like a diver's suit. Nine or ten somber ones who were hanging around the south edge of the clearing wore black leather from ankle to neck that almost completely covered their bodies. Those looked uncomfortable, but they showed not any sign of it. Some were in loincloths, some in tights. The majority wore dark colored and loose fitting shorts of various materials.

When you took a closer look, you would be put off of your thoughts of cute furry people. The way they move is usually what you first notice. They move incredibly gracefully, to the smallest child. As if they were one and all acrobats, moving with complete balance and perfect posture. The way that they moved faintly suggested to the mind of a predator's prowl. It gave the feeling that they could act with the terrible speed of a snake's strike, quicker than you could see, quicker than you could imagine.

Their forms were all on the shorter side, never going over five feet two inches at the maximum, and most of them were lean. Their eyes were those of the pinnacle of successful predators, slitted like a cat's and self-superior by the very shape of them. Their front teeth were all pointed, with only four molars in the back for chewing. They had no fingernails. Instead they had razor-like claws that popped out of their fingertips when they flexed, and retracted when they relaxed. Their feet, when you got a glance at the soles, were padded, much like an animal's paws might be. Claws also occasionally showed themselves from within their toes, peeking out with any tense movement.

All in all, they were humanoid, but not human.

They were the Stalkers, the immortal nocturnal race of panther folk that could and would hunt anything. They were the top of the food chain. Nothing could catch a fleeing Stalker if it did not want to be caught, save for another Stalker.

Nothing could stop them, not even old age, for they aged very slowly. Once they reach one hundred they stop completely at the peak of their health. One could usually estimate the age of the younger ones by multiplying their approximate age they appear to be by four. What looked to be a twenty year old man would most likely be a youthful eighty years old. They mostly act how they appear however, for they had the leisure to. If pressed, then any Stalker over age twenty could look after themselves with ease.

They were the top of the chain, there was no doubting that, not even now. But this crowd was uneasy all the same. They had overstepped their bounds, enraged the far too numerous humans with indifferent killings of innumerable kin. They had stopped their human killings, but it was too late. The elves had, for some reason, decided to rouse the humans and eliminate the Stalkers.

This was no casual meeting. This was a war gathering. A meeting to ensure the defense of the Stalker's holy land, the place at which the Stalkers had originated. The last remnants of the proud race had all gathered here. From the far corners of the world they had assembled. Their only common language was the ancient language of the Stalkers. The language called itself the Prien'thaoran. The Language of Stealth.

There was no sound but for the wind. Stalkers were quiet. Deathly quiet. From birth they trained to be silent in all things. For silence meant remaining unnoticed for those fading forms. Unnoticed meant surprise. Surprise was their ally. Silence was the key to keeping Surprise.

A smaller figure, what looked to be an eight year old child, came into sight, wandering through the crowd. Unlike those around him he was jet black. He had a small, pointed nose, slanted and slitted, green, catlike eyes. His name was Owen, and right now he had a confused and lost expression on his face. Owen brushed a low hanging branch away with a midnight black furred hand, looking odd with the absence of fingernails. Small glints of white showed at the end of each finger. Retracted claws. His teeth were sharp in his slightly open mouth.

Owen walked aimlessly among the shades of gray, blond, green, blue, and white. He was looking for the ones that were the same midnight color as he, the Black Furred Ones. He was looking for his mother.

The Night Stalkers he passed were of all professions. Farmer, blacksmith, poacher, tanner, and wildmen who lived off the land were all here. They usually took on the shades of the environment around the place they called home, so you could usually tell where they live. One that was a light gray, almost white, was most definitely from the north. The wheat colored one was either a farmer of wheat or a lion hunter of the plains. That dark green one must be a native to the dark towering monsoon soaked forests of the Orient and the lands surrounding. That one with gray shot with red… must have been a city dweller. Before all of this….

Owen saw a flash of darkness ahead and broke into an almost silent run. It was by far the loudest noise among them. People glared at him as he ran flying past making the windy swishy sound of grass shuffling sound to their ears sensitive enough to pick up on bat's conversation. He didn't care. He could now see that flash of dark in the crowd. Black.

The person he was running to turned and lit up. Her jet black face was soft and loving. Owen's mother.

"I felt fear for a minute there. But here you are," Owen whispered softly as a breeze. "Please don't make me go alone again."

A look of utter sadness crossed her face. What she would do next she would never forgive herself for. With a sigh of hate for herself, of sadness and suffering, his mother took Owen's head in her gentle midnight hands and looked into his face, tears in her eyes. "I must ask you to do much more than that." She breezed back. She paused, steeling herself. "We will stand and fight the Elves and their... pets. The humans. No more running. We will fight."

Owen though for a moment. He squared himself up and bravely, but still quietly, proclaimed "Then I will help."

She shook his head gently. "No…. You must go. You are the crown prince. If we fall, then you will be responsible for gathering the remains of the kingdom. No, you must flee so that should we fall, we will live on."

She sighed. "There is a mountain roughly north from here. There you will find a dragon. She is a friend of the tribe, and has been for a while. You will meet the other we shall send there. You must go. Stalker's must live after we die, or we will have died in vain. Now go! North! To join the other we sent! To join Riedre!"

And with that, she turned him west and shoved him hard to get him running. Even as he did this he noted the distant clanking and clicking of fully armored warriors approaching with all the weight of doom. Almost a roar of clanking and excited voices talking in foreign tongues. At that moment he knew that his family would die, that all of his people who had so courageously gathered from all corners of the world would perish in a sea of lusterless steel and pointed ears. He looked back and saw... horrors. He looked back no more, but he smelled smoke and blood scented winds, heard hard crackling of fire, clanking of weapon on armor, weapon on steel, weapon on flesh. He heard screams. Nightmare screams.

He began to run and, after a few minutes, blacked out.

When he came to he was alone. It was uneasily quiet. Too much so.

He ignored that for the moment. He knew what he had to do. He could never go away without knowing. He checked the sun. It was up and according to the it, it was mid-morning.

He ran, much more silently this time, the way he had came. What he saw on that bloody field that was no longer home was something that killed a large part of him. On the inside.

Owen couldn't believe that Riedre had escaped this, when his father lay there, the greatest warrior of the time, dead.

He wondered who was responsible for this. He had no idea. And he wouldn't be able to help if he knew anyway. He was useless. His only use was to survive so that Stalkers had some remote hope to live on.

He turned south and began a long journey, fading from all sight as he ran silently and undetectably forward, the shadows embracing him as a son, as an equal, as a lover, as a home.