Chapter I

"Echo! Come here!" My mother, Reah, was calling to me from across the clearing; she was in her human form, her brown hair flowing down to her waist. She was dressed in simple buckskin cloths. Her pale skin shone silver in the moonlight; it was midnight

I sat wearily up from where I had been laying at the edge of the camp and looked over at her, she was smiling at me like I was a baby, and, truth-be-told, that was all I was to her and everyone else; they thought I was just a dumb animal, I was mute so I couldn't tell them differently. They just assumed I was unsentient, it was rare but it had happened before, once long ago in the past, I had heard the adults talking about it once.

I was in my cat form and the three black bands on my right forepaw stood out in sharp contrast to my white fur. Unlike the rest of my family I was cheetah not a mountain lion. I was still as strong as the others but my muscles were more compact, less bulky. I also had other strange abilities, thought I didn't let anyone know about them, I could sheath my claws unlike a normal cheetah, I had stamina as well as strength and I could roar just like a lion, I could also climb trees. I seemed to have the abilities of most other cats.

I sighed mentally and stood up, shifting to my human form as I went.

When I was standing in front of her she reached down and took my hand, she then began to lead me toward the cave reserved for nursing mothers. Next to it was the cave for the Alkkis and the Alkkas, the alpha male and female, our leaders.

My mother was the Alkkas, but Fang, S'rowsa's mate, was the Alkkis. The Alkkas and Alkkis didn't have to be mates to rule together.

As we got nearer to the cave I began to notice a strange squeaking noise, we were about ten feet away when Rakill, one of the younger hunters, just a year older than Fell and I, walked out of the cave.

She smiled widely when she saw my mother walking toward her.

She ran up to us, smiling evilly at me before addressing my mother, "Hello, Alkkas Reah." She greeted respectfully before continuing. "S'rowsa's kit, Splash, is adorable! You have to come see her!" she gushed, pushing her dark black hair out of her eyes.

"I was the first besides S'rowsa herself to see her, it is my job to make sure all births are successful." My mother reminded her, "I was just going to let Echo see her."

I was straining my neck to see past Rakill into the cave; I wanted to see S'rowsa's kit too, but it was dim and I couldn't see past the glare of the sun. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Rakill's eyes widen with astonishment.

"Are you sure it's safe to let Echo near Splash? What if she freaks out and hurts her?" she whispered.

She was referring to the time I had flipped out for 'no apparent reason'.

I had just gotten so sick of everyone, especially her, treating me like I was an idiot that I finally let out all my pent-up anger and viciously attacked everything in my sight, I even attacked Fell when he tried to calm me down, giving him a scar on his shoulder.

I had raged for more than an hour before I realized what I had done, I then ran into the forest and hid. Minutes later the others hesitantly crept back into the camp, aghast at the destruction I had caused.

My mother continued on, oblivious. "I wont let Echo that close to her, I'll just let her see her, so that when she gets older and comes out of S'rowsa's cave Echo will recognize her."

"Ok then." Rakill agreed standing to the side to let us pass, inconspicuously she grinned at me and stuck out her foot.

I ended up cracking my head on low hanging branch, and I fell to the ground, landing hard on my stomach.

The breathed was knocked out of me and for a moment my vision went black, I worried that I was going to fall unconscious but then it cleared and I was looking up at the concerned face of my mother, standing at her shoulder was Rakill. "Oh my god! Is she all right?" she exclaimed with fake concern.

Her neon green eyes were glinting wickedly with amusement.

That does it!

I jumped up, ignoring my mother's offered hand and let out a strangled scream of rage as I leapt at Rakill. She feigned alarmed surprise and jumped quickly out of my way, letting me fly through the air through the space she had currently occupied. In midair I shifted into my cat form, twisting my body so I was up right when I landed.

I lashed my tail side to side, letting a grisly snarl roll up from my belly, I bared my teeth at Rakill and was just beginning to bunch my muscles to launch myself at her when my mother reached down and grabbed the scruff of my neck, lifting me up easily, though she was still in her human form and my cat form was almost as big as her.

"No Echo!" she growled her face close to mine; all motherly kindness replaced with the protective anger of the Alkkas, she had to protect all of her clan-mates, it was her duty, no matter who caused the danger. "You do not attack people!"

Behind her I could see Rakill, she was shaking with silent laughter, then she turned and walked away.

I growled softly and my mother glared at me.

My mind filled with disgust; how could she not notice what Rakill was doing, no one could be that unobservant could they? Or did my feelings not matter? After all I was just a dumb animal to them.

My mother dropped me on the ground and walked away toward the forest, "I'm going hunting, anyone who wants to come can." She called. There was a shuffle as several people stood up and followed her, Rakill looked over but stayed were she was. She was eating stew out of a stone bowl.

I crouched where I was until the hunting party was out of sight. Then I began to walk stealthily across the clearing toward the nursing cave, inside I could again hear the squeaking noise, and now I could hear S'rowsa's soft voice, whispering to her newborn kit.

"My little Splash." She crooned then she began to sing a familiar lullaby,

When the wind is howling, look to the sky,

See the smiling face of Yendemii.

The stars are her spots,

The moon is her eye.

This is the cat goddess Yendemii.

She protects when danger threatens,

And dispels our fears with a windborne sigh.

That when you are feeling lonely,

Look to the sky,

See the face of Yendemii.

As the song ended I sighed internally, no one had ever sung that to me, they thought I wouldn't understand it, but I had heard it sung to the other kids.

I hadn't realized I had acutely made a sound until S'rowsa moved into my sight, a curiosity in her kind grey eyes. She was in her mountain lion form, her long winter fur blowing in the breeze.

"Oh. Echo, it's just you." She mewed looking past me. Some of the Aloria had the ability to speak even in their cat forms, most didn't. Until I changed into my human form they just hoped I didn't have that ability, though Fell did, to a certain degree.

Her eyes wandering around the clearing, taking in the fact that only Rakill and a few others remained.

"Come here Echo, come see my little Splash." She invited gently with a flick of her tail.

I crept forward slowly; keeping my blue eyes locked on S'rowsa for fear that she would decide it was too dangerous for me to be near Splash and kicked me out.

I was the Agemo of the pride; the Agemo is the lowest ranking member, like the Omega of a wolf pack, and I had to do whatever someone told me, unless of course I beat someone in single combat, they would then become the Agemo and I would rise in rank.

But I had never really fought before in my life; I had never had the chance; every time I tied I was just yelled at, though the other kids did it all the time. One day someone was higher the next they fell again as they won and lost.

"C'mon Echo, don't be shy, and see, Splash wants to see you too." S'rowsa whispered kindly to me, she was the only one I really liked besides Fell, he was always nice to me, and stood up for me against Rakill. I guess he thought it was his responsibly or something; I was his twin after all.

I walked forward a few steps and the cave ceiling became higher, letting me walk without crouching.

Suddenly a flash of tanish-red slammed into my leg, I looked down in shock, to see a small kit about the size of my head, she had one cobalt-blue eye and the other was grey, and the strangest fur I had ever seen: it was tan like S'rowsa's but had darker striped like a tiger's. She almost looked like a tabby cat.

She must get the stripes from Fang. I thought; Fang was Splash's father, he was a large tiger and Alkkis—first in command.

Splash looked up at me with her strange eyes and smiled at me, I couldn't help but smile back; she was just so adorable! S'rowsa purred at my reaction and lay down in a pile of moss, "I think I can trust you to take care of her while I rest, right Echo?" she said sleepily.

She didn't get a response. She hadn't expected one.

I lay down in a nest near a wall and purred contently as Splash romped around; playing with my tail, pulling on my ears, and biting and pulling my fur.

It was strange, I had never really liked other kids; they all treated me like Rakill did for just avoided me; they knew I was different.

But little Splash didn't know I was different, she didn't care.

I lay there with Splash for hours, after the hunting party returned, my mother began searching for me, calling my name but I ignored it, it wasn't like I could tell her where I was.

An hour after that S'rowsa woke up, she looked at me lying on my side with Splash curled against me, and smiled. "Thank you Echo. You should go eat, you must be hungry." S'rowsa always spoke to me like she thought I would understand, and I was grateful, though besides Fell she was the only one.

I stood up quietly and picked my way toward the entrance to the cave, careful not to wake Splash up.

Out side the sky was beginning to lighten, it was almost dawn, I yawned and shifted to my human form, and stretched my tired muscles.

Then I walked over to the fire pit, hoping there was still some food left over for me. I looked in the pot that the stew had been in earlier and groaned wordlessly, it was empty. I looked in the other pots and found that all the food had already eaten.

The hunting party must not have caught anything. I thought dejectedly, hmm… I wonder if I could sneak off to go hunting, maybe I could catch a deer or something.

I began to walk casualty toward the forest, I usually wasn't aloud to go out alone, but I was hungry, and that was a stupid rule, I could take care of myself, and besides, no one followed the rule anyway.

As soon had I slipped into the forest I tied back my long hair with a string and climbed a tree, then I began to run and swing through the treetops, I was the only one who could balance so well up in the trees, the others just stalked their prey along on the ground, which gave me an advantage over the prey.

After about and hour of combing the forest for herbivores I came to the end of the trees, in front of me was a massive field full of long, white Rusuy grass, but Rusuy grass only grew in the Na'syll's territory, they used it to make their cloths, while the Aloria had to buy the cloth from the Traders when they came through our forest on their way to the sea.

I wonder what it's doing here. I thought idly to myself.

I scanned the field, using my high position to see across the field right up to a large hill, everything beyond that was invisible to me. Suddenly I spotted a brown patch galloping quickly across the field. Focusing my eyes, I recognized it as a deer, and a large one at that, on its head was a full set of antlers; twelve points if I wasn't mistaken, which I might have been; I hadn't really been taught to count.

Keeping my steps quiet I climbed down from the tree, careful not to snap any branches. Then I began to walk across the field, keeping my steps casual. With my white hair it would be easy to confuse me with a Lyetta, and the Lyetta were vegetarians, therefore they no posed to threat whatsoever to deer.

That was why I was going to try to get close to it in my human form; I wouldn't have to waste my time chasing it if it thought I wasn't a threat.

Once I was close enough I lay down on my belly in the grass, out of the sight of the deer, and shifted to my cat form, then I crept forward, ever so slowly until I was in pouncing distance.

The deer stood on top of the steep hill I had seen before, with the sun rising behind it the sight was magnificent, but as the deer raised its head proudly I crept closer still.

Suddenly a twig snapped loudly, on the other side of the hill.

Not waiting to see what had done that, I sprinted out of my hiding place and leapt for the deer. Too late, it was already fleeing back toward the forest.

I was sailing through the air, over the hill, it was much higher on this side, and what I saw confused me so much I thought for a second that I was asleep. Everything was in slow motion, each second seeming to take forever.

Something was flying toward me, something with large pointed ears, teeth and the brightest blue eyes I had ever seen.

A Nas'yll.

The last thing I was able to comprehend was that the fur was…


Like snow…

Like mine.

We collided in mid air and my head cracked against his, then I smashed to the earth, rolling roughly down the hill, feeling for the first time the jagged rocks that littered the ground. I lay at the bottom of the hill, my fur becoming bloodstained from small cuts. The breath had been knocked out of me and I was wheezing hard. Then my vision began to go black. The next thing I knew, I was floating in darkness.