Cera’s feet were aching and her legs were sore from so much walking. They had gone from her house, to Lily’s, and then dropped Shadow off where he was staying with the Nerts and their thunderwolves. A pack of the elemials rushed out to greet him, yelping excitedly with their tongues lolling out of their mouths. A little girl was in their midst, her flowery summer dress getting tangled around her legs. She tripped and a thunderwolf instantly ducked under her to catch her.
Thunderwolves were said to be the one elemial that bonds with more than one human, since their animal counterpart lived in packs. They controlled sound waves and were actually the most dangerous elemial in the fighting ring. That’s why the Nerts preferred not to become fighters, because they knew they’d put everyone at a disadvantage if they couldn’t hear. They mainly served as scouters alongside the Dios.
“Shadow!” the girl cried happily. Shadow grinned and scooped the girl up from among the thunderwolves. They surrounded him, nudging him and barking in greeting.
One thunderwolf departed from the others and trotted over to sniff Lily, Cera, and their elemials. Pookee snuffled right back, trying to imitate the thunderwolf, and Asie sat still with only her tail twitching nervously.
With the small girl on his hip and Jera on his shoulder, Shadow walked over to them. The pack moved from him to the thunderwolf near them, lowering their ears and tails warily.
“It’s okay, they’re friends,” Shadow told them. The thunderwolves relaxed and nuzzled Lily and Cera. Asie hissed when they got close, bristling fearfully. She dashed up Cera’s leg and onto her shoulder. Her ginger fur was so fluffed out it tickled Cera’s ear.
What’s wrong, Cera asked.
I don’t like dogs, she explained.
Pookee, on the other hand, bobbed in and out of the thunderwolves paws. He seemed happy at the opportunity to exercise his agility. Lily knelt to the eyelevel of one thunderwolf and offered her hands to it. After a quick sniff, the thunderwolf seemed to grin. It shoved its muzzle into her palms. Smiling, Lily scratched behind its ear.
“Lily, Cera, Asie, Pookee, this is Molly,” Shadow gestured to the girl he was holding. Molly Nert shyly smiled at them, waving five stubby fingers.
“Well, I’ll see you guys tomorrow then.” Shadow turned and walked to the house, thunderwolves following him. Molly peered over his shoulder. When she smiled there were several gaping holes were teeth should have been, and Cera smiled. The young girl had new teeth coming in!
“She’s cute,” Cera commented to Lily.
“Yeah, he is,” Lily sighed, staring after Shadow.
“Not he, she. Molly,” she clarified.
“And I was talking about Shadow. You’re thinking it too, aren’t you?” Lily winked at Cera and she rolled her eyes.
“Not my type,” she said. Indeed, Shadow’s black hair and brown eyes weren’t entirely appealing to her. She gave him a second look and repressed a shudder.
He looked so much like her father.
“Come on, Lily. I’ll walk you to your house,” Cera offered, but Lily waved her off.
“No, that’s okay. You get home; it’s going to be dark soon. Later!” Lily chirped. She turned on the heels of her sandals, and half-walked half-skipped down the sidewalk. Pookee followed her, his tube-like body bending and unbending as he bounded alongside her.
“Let’s go, Asie,” Cera murmured. Her firecat leaped off her shoulder and landed lightly on the ground, her paws making almost no sound at all.
They began their trek toward their house in silence. Asie trotted in front of Cera so her master could keep her in sight. The sun slid behind the tree line, darkening the world around her.
She was almost at the door of her house when she heard a strange noise. The back of her neck prickled uneasily, and Asie let out a faint hiss. Cautiously she glanced over her shoulder, blood pounding in her ears.
A smoky figure stood in the middle of the street, light from the street lamps seeming not to touch him. At his side a cat-figure sat, tail swishing in the air. It mewed in greeting at Asie. The firecat froze, fur splaying in all directions and eyes the shape of small green moons.
Tiliy, she gasped.
Tiliy? Cera stiffened. That means…
“Dad!” Cera shouted, leaping away from the door and racing toward the figure of her father, Asie right behind her. Joy sprang in her heart. Her dad was back! He was here!
The figure took a step forward, arms lifting towards Cera. She laughed, and outstretched her own arms.
“Dad,” she whispered, and jumped into the waiting arms…
She crashed into the road.
The air was pushed from her lungs and her arms barely caught her fall just in time. Hands bleeding, but otherwise unscathed, she rolled over with a groan. Asie nuzzled her cheek and yowled.
Cera! Cera! Are you okay? Asie kept yowling until Cera’s mother rushed outside.
“Oh my goodness! Cera,” her mother knelt and supported her with an arm. “What happened?”
“I…” she knew she would scare her mother if she said she saw her dad, so she lied, “Asie ran into the road and I chased her. I tripped.” Asie huffed at being blamed, but let it pass.
Her mother hurried her inside, washed the cuts on her hands, and wrapped them up. Iwin weaved into the kitchen, smelling blood. She stalked over to Asie and sniffed her. Suddenly, the blue firecat bristled and yelped. Her mother froze.
“Iwin says…says she smells smoke and Tiliy on Asie…” she whispered.
Cera forged a look of confusion. “Tiliy? But she and dad disappeared…”
Cera’s mother didn’t reply. She busied herself with cleaning up the leftover bandages. Meanwhile, Iwin growled at Asie. Twitching her tail, Asie growled back.
Asie, Cera called her firecat to her. She snorted at Iwin, and then slunk over to Cera. Cera’s mother said nothing else other than she’d be in her office, and left with Iwin following. Cera stroked Asie, disturbed.
Now what happened back there, Asie mewed.
“No idea, Asie,” she sighed. “No idea.”