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Chapter 3: Together
Magnus awoke with a feral groan. Dirt and grass slipped into his mouth as he tried to take in a deep breath through his half opened, drooling mouth. He snorted at shuddered from the raw taste of dirt, spat and tried to push it out with his tongue, only to bite more of it when seething pain shot across his back. The spasms wracking his frame forced his face flat against the ground, his eyes squeezed shut to muffle the searing pain surging through him.
Everything throbbed, and everything stung. For a moment, all Magnus saw were the stars dancing before his eyes. All he heard was the constant buzz, deep within his ears. He clutched his ears to block it, but it never stopped, just like the pain didn't relent.
A harsh growl raked at his parched throat when he managed to roll on his back and clutch his churning stomach. Yesterday's meal threatened to come out, yet Magnus clenched his jaws, breathed hard and fast, swallowed, and panted again. His nausea soothened, but the pain didn't.
Not that it mattered anymore. Magnus grew accustomed to it with every ragged breath he took, until it became nothing more than dull aches. He cracked an eye open, towards the dark sky sprawled above him, speckled with twinkling stars, blurred to white smudges due to the tears welled on the corners of his eyes.
White, the same color on the back of his mate's ears.
Cold fingers crept through Magnus' spine. Pard! He had to check on Pard!
The biting wind carried the metallic reek of blood. It drew the fire out of Magnus' stiff meat and replaced it with shivers, so intense his teeth rattled. First, he propped his weight on an elbow. Then, he gathered his legs underneath him and rolled onto his knees. His vision whirled from the effort, and Magnus coughed and swallowed the onrush of spittle that flooded his mouth, then gasped for a mouthful of stale air. He stood like that, bent over like a beaten hound, until his eyes cleared and his roiling stomach settled.
"Pard," he rasped. "You awake? You hurt?"
He pushed himself to his feet, staggered forward on too weak legs, and used his sword scabbard to keep from crashing back onto the hard packed ground. The more Magnus approached the pile of corpses in front of him, the harsher the stench of decay became. He dug his nose into the sleeve of his shirt when his stomach lurched, and shuffled past the corpse of a tracker.
"Pard," he croaked when he sighted her blood matted head, almost hidden beneath the girth of the fallen tracker that rested upon her. Her ears lay flat against her skull, and her whiskers only twitched when a gust of wind swept through the camp. Tents flapped, chainmail rattled, and Pard still did not move.
Magnus bit his lower lip, then wiped the frigid tears from his eyes. With the blur gone, Magnus's gaze hovered to one of her paws. Her palm faced the sky, the pads a faded grey. Magnus' heart skipped a beat. The weight of the dead tracker's body upon her interfered with her blood flow. It drew the color out of her pads and nose. Why didn't she push him away? Not that it mattered.
"I'm here," he said, his voice husky. "Your mate is up, you lazy kitten. Waiting for me to do the heavy lifting and warm you up..." his voice broke into pained shudders with every step he took towards her. She ought at least twitch her tail, or fingers, or flex her toes.
Pard did none of that. She was still, just like the body that covered her frame.
"She's still resting," Magnus said through a faint cough. "Lost a lot of blood, she did, the night before..." he paused to swallow emptiness as the memory of yesterday flashed through his mind. The thug, the spindly one, kicking at her, over and over again, while Magnus embraced the ground and doing nothing to stop it. Then, the dagger flashed in the harsh glare of the bonfire. It came down upon her just when his spell, a thousand needles Shaped from the wind itself, beheaded the wretch.
Magnus spotted his head, rested against another corpse. It rolled several steps away from his body, which crashed besides Pard. Good. It didn't add more to the weight of the portly thug that already sprawled upon her.
"I killed him. Killed him before he...he..." Magnus tried to reassure himself, but his words felt forced, empty, devoid of power.
More of Pard poked through the predawn gloom. Her feet, bent at odd angles; her nose, an ebony island standing out in a sea of crimson red; her eyes, glazed over.
Magnus moaned at that. His legs stiffened, and his shivers ceased as sudden strength washed through him. He grabbed the body of the portly thug and rolled it away, kicking and kicking at it until it uncovered her spindly form.
He sank to his knees besides her, his eyes wide and haunted, his face sallow like the corpses around him.
"I killed him I killed him I killed him. I swear on all the gods and the five elements that I killed him," he said while his hands sloughed through the clotted, crimson slime embedded in her fur. It stuck to her like sap, but it wasn't hers. It was the thug's, the one Magnus decapitated with his spell. Yes. That had to be it.
Magnus smiled wryly...
Only to freeze when he noticed a thin cut parting the luxurious fur of her neck. It split through a rosette, and her hide rolled in opposite ways to reveal...
Magnus squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his jaws to restrain a muffled yelp.
"No," he whispered under his breath. "I killed him. Right before he--he--"
His dagger didn't touch her fur. Magnus would know if it did. He killed him. Right before he swung his crooked blade at Pard.
He cracked an eye open, and blinked as hard as he could to clear the haze from his eyes. His vision deceived him. In the predawn darkness, everything seemed worse than it truly was. Pard had a deep gash lacerating her neck, but the blood filling Magnus' hands wasn't hers. It was the thug's. That much, he knew.
In the blink of an eye, Magnus drew his spell book from the satchel tied at his waist. He placed it on the ground besides her, away from the blood, and leafed through it with clammy, trembling finger. Each turn of a page left bloody imprints upon the yellowed paper. It matted the text, made the subsequent pages glue to one another. Magnus didn't care about staining his most precious possession. He leafed through his tome, page after page, until he reached the chapters detailing the earth element and its healing spells, amidst a plethora of useless information.
Each page had a headline about Pacting, the process through which a wizard acquired innate knowledge of an element by sharing a sliver of his soul with an elemental being. The page Magnus looked at required a giant groundhog for the spells listed below. Several pages later, a lesser earth elemental. Magnus turned a couple more pages, only to frown at the increasingly ridiculous spells and Pacting requirements. An Earth Wyrm?! Those ancient dragons had left Aesurai before Endoria even existed!
Magnus bit his lower lip to keep it from trembling while he turned more pages. Pacting, pacting, pacting. Everything required a thrice damned Pact. He glanced at the spells instead. They required reagents Magnus never heard of, and the endless rows of runes seemed to float across the wrinkled pages. He squinted, trying to find a measure of familiarity within them, but the text looked as foreign to his eyes as the earth element was to him.
He took in a deep breath, trying to still the rapid beating of his heart, and rubbed the soreness out of his eyes, forgetting about his blood stained fingers.
"Curses!" he spat, and fumbled through his satchel for the oiled leather meant for his sword. He used that to wipe the sting from his eyes before looking at Pard. So still, so serene.
"Just give me a moment. I will find a spell that works. You just rest meanwhile."
He stretched a hand to drape the cut across her neck with the oiled cloth. The morning chill had a sting to it, and Pard lacked the strength to shiver from the beating she took the night before. Magnus relinquished his book for a moment, and went to undress one of the thugs he had killed with a slice to the throat. He covered her with the fallen thug's leather tunic and cotton shirt, and placed his own jerkin on top of her belly to keep her warm.
His shivers barely disturbed him. So numb he was, that Magnus almost seemed to float on his swaying legs. After he grabbed his spell book, he strolled up to her feet, sat in front of them, and placed her freezing paws onto his lap. With the spell book sitting on his side, Magnus had easy access to the text while he rubbed one of her toes with one hand and kept the pages still with the other.
This wasn't the camp he imagined he would find himself in with Pard, nor that her feet would be so cold. Her smooth pads had an icy touch to them, and the coal black color faded to a deep grey that disturbed Magnus enough to close the book and focus on rubbing her pads with broad, thorough strokes. He fondled each of the bean shaped toes in turns, cupping them in his palms and using his thumb to caress them. Then, he shifted over to the big, central pad of each foot, applying a light squeeze on them while working his thumbs along their surface.
Pard didn't purr, like last time. Her toes didn't flex, and her pads did not turn slick with excitement brought by his pleasant strokes. Magnus clenched his jaws, rubbed her paws harder and faster.
"This wind hails from Damnation itself. No wonder your paws are freezing," he muttered under his breath. "I'll make them warm again Pard. If you could only purr...and show me...that you're not completely numb to my touch."
His gaze turned towards his spell book, and he pressed her paws between his thighs to keep them warm while he tried to memorize some of the shorter, simpler spells.
Unlike wind spells, an element that Magnus knew well enough to Shape with his mind alone, Earth required incantations, as well as innate memory of Shaping that Magnus did not gain from Pacting with a sapient creature attuned to the earth element. He recited the rejuvenation spells several times to get them right before turning towards Pard to catch a glimpse of her body. He squeezed his eyes shut, and tried to envision tendrils of ethereal energy fastening the wound on her neck shut while uttering the proper incantation.
It didn't work. His spiritual energy became nothing more than a smoldering ember after last night's battle. The shapes distorted within his mind, and his tongue tangled from the harsh, guttural words he uttered, too often and with no visible effect.
Even after Pacting with a creature attuned to the earth element to gain innate knowledge of Shaping it, wizards needed weeks, months of practice to master even the most basic of healing spells. What hope did Magnus have, when he didn't even meet the basic requirements for casting such spells?
Yet he kept at it, until his voice grew hoarse and his mind reeled from the strain of envisioning such complex patterns. Magnus released a deep sigh, grabbed Pard's paws into each hand, and resumed stroking them.
"Why don't you purr, Pard? 'Magnus has good fingers for that. Slim, without pads, and know what to touch, how to touch.' That's what you said to me." He paused to cup one of her paws into both of his palms while he remembered her smooth, pleasant voice. After thirty heart beats, his heat still didn't seep into Pard's pads. They remained cold, dark grey and rigid.
"You're tired, wounded, cold. But you can still purr. You should still purr." His strokes picked up, in spite of his stiff, half numb fingers. "I'm rubbing your paws, just like I promised, with the same touch you like. Show me that you still like it, that you're not..."
A tremor rocked his frame, and Magnus dug his chin into his chest. His head swirled. Everything did, and for a fleeting moment, all he heard was the pounding of his own heart. He kept kneading at her pads, his mind blank, devoid of thoughts and feelings. He should have felt great anger at failing to protect her, or overwhelming misery at allowing his weakness to get the better of him when Pard needed him the most.
Instead, Magnus felt empty, just like the numerous promises he made to Pard. He felt cold like her pads, and strangely calm.
"Why were you here? Why didn't you just..." He paused to sniffle and swallow a mouthful of spittle. "I told you to run. I did. But you didn't. You came back for me. Came back for your mate. Why, when I told you not to?"
Magnus' grime covered fingers smeared blood all over her feet. He withdrew his hands at the realization, and scoffed. Pard always kept good care of her coat and paws. Not only was he too slow to save her a beating and a nasty cut along her neck, but also marred her beauty with the color of death.
He scrambled onto his feet, tucked his spellbook back into his satchel, and whirled to a stop when he gagged. His last meal rushed forward, and no amount of self control stopped it.
Magnus retched. He retched until his limbs shook and his throat burned from the bile. Tears welled on the corner of his eyes, yet none slithered across his cheeks. He had to keep strong, to care for her, or pretend to. That's what mates did for one another. That's what Pard would have done, had he sat in her place, all battered after the encounter with the thugs and their scouts.
The thugs! Magnus drew his blade and strode out of the camp, looking around with wide, crazed eyes. Scouts accompanied the thugs. Scouts he didn't kill. He reached within himself for an ounce of spiritual energy, but none slithered back. He licked his lips at that and tightened his grip around the sword's pommel, slick with blood, only to snort a moment after.
Pard. She had killed them off already. Naturally.
He sheathed his sword and wiped his hands on his leggings. Bird song filled his ears, thin like her purr. Magnus listened to it on the way back to the camp, scouted the branches for the birds to identify their species. A blue jay on a branch, and the one lost in the thick canopy was a nightingale. The harsh caw in the distance belonged to a raven. No--several. The chorus increased in intensity with each passing second.
He hated it. Hated them all, so much that he began chucking everything his fingers latched onto at them. So much good, his actions did. The ravens had a clearer mind than he did, keeping to the canopies, out of his reach.
"Damnation swallow you all!" Magnus roared. "Stay away from her before I twist all of your necks with my mind alone and break every bone there is to break!"
Magnus dashed to Pard's body, huffing, sweating, mumbling the rejuvenation incantations to himself. He wanted to drag her inside a tent, perhaps light a fire to keep both of them warm while keeping the ravens at bay. Yet his eyelids felt like lead, and his legs turned to mush whenever he took a step away from her.
Even the short distance towards a nearby tend seemed too taxing, and dragging Pard across the blood drenched grass meant desecrating her body.
"I'll keep you warm myself, dear mate," Magnus said as he lied down next to her, on her left side where there was no blood. "You don't need no fire, no tent. You need me, resting besides you. That's what you always wanted, you rascal, to crawl into my bed and get my hands into that silken fur of yours."
He did that now, stroking her flat breast, smiling wryly at how forced everything felt. Without Pard's purr to guide him, his movements felt sluggish, awkward, unnecessary. What was he doing? Why was he doing it? Why, why why? Wasn't it obvious? Did he really have to keep doing this?
"Yes," Magnus said through a heart wrenching moan, nodding firmly, as if to convince himself of the necessity of his actions. "We're mates. New mates. I'm not about to let you go, not after a single day. It shouldn't...we should spend more time together than just...one night, one morning, one evening."
Tears threatened to spill from Magnus' eyes at her silence. That's not how Pard was. She used to talk with that thick accent of hers, to purr, flick her tail, grapple his feet with her flexible toes. She was never so silent, so cold, so...
Magnus banished that dreadful thought from his mind and pressed his forehead against Pard's. "I think...it was better to follow your lead. To remain in the forest, to make camp, to lie down together, perhaps mate." He released a frail sob before kissing her on that overly cold nose. "I like your idea. I love it so much. But we're both stubborn in our own ways, eh? I had to go against your request, as did you against mine."
He dragged her over his chest, fondling one of her ears while staring at the sky. He kept his jaws clenched and his breath low to keep from bursting into a fit of sobs. He almost did, if sleep didn't steal away his senses.
Magnus dreamt of cuddling with Pard in their little room at Larn's inn. Her fur oozed warmth, and her tight walls sheltered his cock in the slickest, tightest of embraces. She had both her arms and legs wrapped around him, clutching him like a prized possession that she never wanted to let go of.
"Pard don't deserve Magnus," she whispered. "Magnus too good for Pard, too good for a stray Zharyi. Should take mate of his own, who can grow heavy with his children. Why does Magnus not MROOOWL!" she cried out when Magnus pushed his shaft up to his balls inside her.
"I already have the most wonderful mate other humans can only dream of." He pulled out, allowing Pard a moment of respite. Her lips shuddered in his absence, and her features scrunched with displeasure.
"So wonderful, Magnus pulls out?" Her tail whipped playfully at his side, making him grin and work his hands across her chest, using his finger tips to plow through her thick fur and scratch at the sensitive hide underneath.
The pleasant treatment made Pard close her eyes and her breath hitch. Her back arched slightly, her crevice kissing Magnus' slick tip teasingly.
He didn't want to go back in there, not while he throbbed so heavily. He would cum if he did. He somehow knew it. He would cum before Pard and fail to please his mate once again.
"No." One word, one thrust of Pard's hips against him.
Magnus grinded his teeth, his brow furrowing from the strain of fighting back his climax as her muscles kneaded at his length with terse, hungry strokes. Pard didn't stop at that. She kept pumping her hips against him, her tail coiled about his torso while the lewd squelches of their coupling broke through her enamored purr.
"When mate, Magnus don't think. Don't worry. He just mate."
She reached forward to plant a wet lick across his face, warm and moist and full of passion. That made his arms wrap around her out of their own accord, his muscular chest to descend upon hers until fur mated with bare skin. Locked tight against one another, Magnus dug his face into the downy fluff of her neck as he began thrusting in and out of Pard with deep, hard, lustful strokes.
Pard's lips scrunched in a fierce snarl. Her toes curled around Magnus' shins, kneading at him in while her shudder heralded her climax. Magnus' eyes widened, and an elegant smirk spread across his lips.
He made her cum. He brought her the greatest of pleasures. His own climax threatened to overtake him, but Magnus remained lodged inside her, huffing over her pleasant yowl of bliss. Her insides rocked, gushing out rivulets of thin, aqueous leopard cum. It drenched Magnus' groin, filled his nose with her sweet fragrance.
Magnus' head swam for a short moment, during which Pard's tongue rolled across his neck, basking him in her slick warmth.
"You should thrust inside me, mate of mine." She drew back her head to stare into his eyes. "Cum inside Pard. Fill Pard with your essence."
Magnus shook his head, then kissed her to trap the words upon her lips.
"Shh," he urged. "Do not speak. Savor this moment."
Of course she spoke. Pard always doubted herself, always underestimated her beauty. Magnus had to mate her, hard and fast, and then cum in her overly wet pussy, flaring her purr to a deep thrum to keep her silent. He sank his face into the fur of her neck as he buried deep inside her, moaning his bliss while his seed rushed through his cock and burst into her rapidly clenching cunt.
"Cum, dear mate of mine," Pard cooed in his ear while her hands stroke his cheeks. "Fill Pard with your love."
Magnus couldn't see her face through his tightly shut eyelids. He felt her, though: her breath upon his face, the touch of her tongue across his chin, the light spasms of her tunnel along his length. She milked him with slow, careful strokes, easing his seed into her depths.
"Pard won't have cubs," she said.
Magnus opened his eyes when the caress of her tongue upon his face ceased. Pard looked away, her head bowed in shame, her gaze fixated upon the flexing toes of her paw. He wrapped his fingers around her chin and pulled her into a slow, fulfilling kiss.
"Don't worry about cubs for now. All I want is you," he whispered, then bumped his nose with hers. "And if our life gets too dull, a cub or two will keep us on our toes."
Her eyes sparkled with renewed hope. "How? Human seen can't make Pard's breasts grow."
"Zharyi seed does," Magnus said, much to her surprise. "Pard can always mate her own kind when she enters her heat."
Her gaze drooped again, and she began twiddling her stubby fingers. "But...Pard is mate to Magnus. Don't want any other inside me but my mate."
"Even if your mate is more than happy to oblige?"
Magnus kissed her, over and over again, until Pard's purr rang within his ears, so loud Magnus shuddered. "We'll have our happiness Pard, no matter what."
She hugged him then, so tight Magnus yelped. His heart fluttered in his chest, and overwhelming warmth washed over him. He would be a father. Even though his cubs would be felines, Magnus would care for them, love them, provide them with everything they needed. As long as Pard's body spawned them, they would be his.
When he next opened his eyes, the warmth vanished, along with Pard's purr and embrace. Magnus blinked several times, too dazed to remember where he was and why everything turned cold.
He had rested in his mate's embrace. They had mated. He had been inside her. He just came inside her! And they both had agreed to have a cub or two. Magnus turned around...
And saw her, still as ever.
He grabbed her hand between his.
He kissed her nose.
He petted her brow, scratched her neck, pinched one of her ears.
Still as ever.
Magnus placed his head upon her chest, running his fingers through her fur as his blank gaze stared into the distance.
"I was inside you, my mate. I came inside you, but only after you had your great pleasure first." His lips twitched with the faintest trace of a smile. "I finally managed to pleasure you. And then, we agreed to raise Zharyi cubs. We--we agreed to...to..."
Grief overwhelmed Magnus. He buried his face in her neck, like he did in the dream, and unleashed a feral cry, laden with pent-up sorrow. Magnus' whole body shook, and everything ached as tears sprung from his eyes, along with choking sobs that made him gasp for air.
He didn't know how long it took to spend his grief. Only that he no longer had the strength to cry, or tears to shed. He drew back from her, his eyes bloodshot, his hands wrapped around her right paw.
"I can't--can't leave you, my mate. I should have--should have done as you said. Stay in the forest, make camp, cuddle and mate."
Shivers wracked his frame, harsh and sudden. New tears welled within the corners of his eyes, and Magnus cried once again, cursing himself for being a damned weakling who lacked the strength to save Pard.
He crashed upon her chest eventually, singing one of his childhood poems to her, lulling her to sleep. She was the perfect sleeper, his mate. No complaints about his husky, shuddering voice. Not even a slight twitch of her tail.
"I won't leave you," Magnus promised to her. "We'll rest together in these woods, and cuddle for this night, and all nights to come."
So, this is chapter 3. It ends on a rather sad note. Okay, it ends on a very sad note. But you know what they say about how the clouds vanish after a storm. Tune in for the next chapter to find out whether Magnus manages to overcome his grief or if he succumbs to it. Pard was his mate, after all, and losing her is quite the blow.
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