Authors: Jaymin Eve
Copyright © Jaymin Eve 2014
All rights reserved
First published in 2014
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. All characters in this publication other than those clearly in the public domain are fictitious, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Mum, Grandma Joan, Nan Evelyn and Great-Nans Regina and Olga ... the wise women in my life
The two jag men waved their fronds, swishing around the tropical heat which encased Ria’s loft house. They had insisted on this task, but in reality the humidity did not bother Ria; she had been born in the rainforest and her blood hummed within the confines of this damp and natural environment.
Rising from her day bed, Ria stretched to her full height, working out all of the kinks from her slumber.
A few beads of sweat rolled along her body, usual for the weather here.
She waved off the
jags. They gave a brief bow to their queen before departing and leaving her to the morning ritual. Clothed only in her tawny skin, Ria strode across to the large opening which was hung with threaded vines to separate her home in the tree tops from the rest of the jungle. With the barest of thoughts the barrier shifted out of her way. She thanked her beloved plants with a blown kiss.
Standing in the perfect still of the jungle, Ria absorbed the glow of the six moons surrounding Regali. They cast soft filtered light through the dense wilderness. Her platform was two miles high, in one of the older trees, allowing the most unrestricted view of her territory.
Ria thought of the tales from the south. She’d never left her home but she had heard that other countries had clear land and expanses of flat grass-plains. She couldn’t really imagine that. Her country was the jungle of Artwon and there was no free space. They must feel exposed, not having the protection of undergrowth and high level tree tops.
She was not startled by the growled greeting. Her best friend and bodyguard was Klea, a leon. She turned around. The blue-tinged light from the moons highlighted the female standing in her doorway. She was shorter than Ria, as were all in this jungle, except the bera pack. Klea’s mane was a dark golden color, long down her back and wrapping around to coat her forehead and cheeks. The rest of her fur covering was a lighter gold, the same color as her eyes.
“You are well?” Klea said gruffly
. Her vocal cords only resonated in a low rough sound.
Ria nodded. “For once I slept uninterrupted. The tree spirits kept the dreams away.”
Klea growled. “The tree spirits? I do not know why you ask anything of them. They are your family and still you must be indebted to them after each favor.”
Ria’s mother, Theanine, was the matriarch of the tree spirits. The gods of Regali. Theanine was literally mother-to-nature. None of the spirits existed on the physical plane any longer
. Ria was the last to walk with the beasts. Her mother had taken a temporary corporeal form to conceive and grow her child. But then she had returned to the spiritual plane.
“You know that there must be equilibrium
; if I take I must also give. The spirits keep the natural balance.” Ria was steadfast in her defense of her mother’s people.
Right now Ria was the most powerful creature in Artwon
. All living plants heeded and obeyed her call. And for this reason she was Queen of the beasts who lived within these jungles. There were six main packs. The jags: small cat people; leon: large cat people; bera: grizzlies; eaglet: the flyers; slimes: reptiles; and munks: the apes. The smaller or mixed breeds were scattered around, mostly keeping to themselves.
“Where am I visiting today?” Ria asked as she clo
thed herself in leather and vines.
The sparse two
-piece set had been weaved from an array of donated skins from the packs. It was the right of the Queen to wear her people. In the long past the packs would sacrifice members for the honor of the leader wearing their skin. Today, thankfully, the leather was from those naturally fallen.
“It is the morning before the red moon, Ria. You must convene with the tree spirits and prepare for the shifting.”
A smile spread across Ria’s full lips. She should have known. Her blood was boiling this morning and her spirit extra restless. She was not pack and did not have to shift on the red moon, but she still felt the pull. Striding forward, her long mahogany hair fell almost to her calves. With her innate agility she leapt from the outer branch, landing in the next tree. From here she took a vine down to the ground level.
The thick undergrowth hugged her legs in greeting. A quick pause by the reflective pool where she bathed gave her time to trail a hand along her favorite purple
calia flowers. Their iridescent color was a perfect match for her own eyes. Her mother surrounded this area with the beautiful but deadly flower, as she knew they soothed Ria’s soul. The benefit of having a nature goddess as her mother. The negative was, of course, never having her physically around. Ria had been raised with the leons, hence why Klea was her best friend.
“Let’s go, you have many miles to traverse this morning.” Klea spoke after clawing her way down to where Ria stood.
They started at a run, in the direction of the sixth moon, toward the sacred tree. The undergrowth was dense, but that posed no problem. The plants and vines simply shifted for them. Ria had already sent out her energy along their path to let the forest know she needed a clear run. With the help of her plants they would be at their destination in no time.
She kneeled, allowing her chestnut-colored hair to fan around her; the vines that were imprinted across it shimmered green. Ria closed her eyes, her hands reaching forward to lie flat-palmed against the sacred one. It was the first tree in Regali’s existence, and from where all the tree spirits were born. Ria felt her energy separate from her being and entwine with the warmth of her ancestors. Words were never spoken out loud or internally; it was simply a joining of spirit, a moment for thanks and recharge.
Her head snapped up at the interruption. No one was ever to disturb her during these blessed moments. Where was Klea? Suddenly her friend moved into view. She had her muscled arms locked around the throat of a munk.
“Sorry, Ria, I was too slow to cut off his vocal cord access.” Klea lowered her head, shame spreading across her cat
Ria waved her hand, rising from her kneel
ing position to stand before them.
“Let him speak
,” she said.
Klea growled at these words.
“He would not have disturbed me if it wasn’t important,” Ria finished. She had great faith in her people. They were honorable.
With one last rumble from her chest,
Klea loosened her muscular arms, allowing the munk to suck in a deep breath. His dark fur was disheveled, but it was more the panic in his eyes which moved Ria.
“Speak without fear
,” she told him, flicking her head at Klea so she would back up a few steps.
“I apologize, your most majestic one.” He spoke in the tongue of the beasts, which had taken Ria many years to understand.
It was far different to the words of the gods that she spoke.
“I have been sent from my pack
. We need your help. The fringe are back.”
Ria straightened, adrenalin flooding her system. She winced as Klea’s roar of pain and anger echoed throughout the jungle foliage. The fringe,
as this group of misfits was known, had killed Klea’s sister: Agia. Ria also mourned the loss of Agia. They had been searching for the fringe’s hidden territory for years, but so far the plants were keeping it secret, even from Ria.
“How many of them?”
she asked as they started to run.
“At least ten,” he said.
There was no time to waste. The fringe had not been seen for many red moons, and this was a chance to stop the carnage. Ria mentally called for her people.
They had a system where the plants around each of the six packs
’ territories would alert them. Each pack had trained guards who had pledged their loyalty to her, but unlike other queens, she did not have them by her side all the time. She preferred they stayed to protect their packs, only leaving if she called for their help. But the fringe were strong and dangerous, made up of rogue members from every pack and, since they killed indiscriminately, Ria knew she would need help. Plus, each pack deserved the chance to avenge its dead.
They were fast through the jungle
. Klea and the munk used the trees, flying through the higher canopy. Ria was safer on the ground, her plants lending their assistance. The heat continued to beat down, humidity coating her shining skin. The six moons that circled Regali kept their world warm, and when the red moon rose, the heat’s intensity increased. Ria tried to calm herself as she travelled. As Queen she needed to keep the situation from escalating. She could never let go of her base instincts and unleash the fury inside. But these misfits were testing her patience as they wrought a path of destruction through the packs. She had to protect her people.
munks’ territory was in the south of Artwon, where the trees were extra high and the undergrowth sparse. Ria could hear calls echoing through the greenery. The soldiers of the packs were moving through the jungle, preparing to descend on the fringe.
Artwon wasn’t a large country and the packs lived reasonably close to each other. There were many rules for co-habitating
, and if they were broken by any members then there was a trial by their peer group and the final sentence was dealt with by the Queen.
It was these rules which had offended the animalistic sentimentality of the fringe members. They wanted to fight and war without repercussion. But Ria would be dead and back with her ancestors before she let anarchy rule the packs. Her appointment as Queen had been a hard
-fought battle. For the first time in history Artwon was ruled by someone not of the packs. She had worked to tame them, although it was wise to never forget their animal sides.
With a brief mental command Ria lifted her arms and called for the vines she used to swing her
self through the trees. She was fast and had unlimited stamina, but that was nothing compared to that of the packs, and so this was the easiest way for her to keep up with them.
To her left five
slimes swung into view. They nodded their heads in a deferential greeting to her. On her right were the jags. She could see bera grizzly guards beneath her, thrashing through the undergrowth. She winced as her plants were trampled. Her energy cleared the rest of the path, saving any further plant deaths.
The vines continued to swing her in graceful arcs
. Her advanced hearing detected the echoes of screams from the munks’ territory. She urged her journey on faster. She needed to get there now; the fringe members were probably tearing them apart. As a rule the munks were smart, agile and quick, but in brute strength they were near the bottom of the packs, except for their ape guards. But by the sounds of it they were in trouble.
The vines propelled her through the outer perimeter of the
And suddenly the carnage came into view.
The mangled body of a female munk, crouched over her two babies, was the first thing Ria saw. Pain exploded in Ria’s chest and she let out a cursing shriek that rang through the trees.
he had been too late for that family.
The plants around her immediately reacted to her pain and anger. The jungle sprang to life
: vines shooting around, branches descending and being used as weapons by the pack guards.
Ria’s rapid observations determined that the messenger
munk had been mistaken. There were not ten; there were at least three dozen fringe members. They were easy to discern by the red streaked throughout their fur. This was their gory calling card: blood of the enemies. And they were organized. Half of them were fighting through the pack, keeping them all occupied, whilst the other half were stealing food and healing stores.
The messenger munk was crouched over the fallen body of the female and young. He had gathered them into his arms, rocking back and forward, his howls ringing through the screams and fighting.
Ria’s heart ached for him. But before she could move closer, a tiny cry could be heard. The
munk’s head flew up in shock and Ria couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
One of the babies crawled out from under its mother and into his arms. Followed by the second baby. Ria felt both relieved and saddened; their
mother had died protecting them, but at least they had not been sacrificed.
munk cradled both the tiny creatures in his arms. As he stood he caught Ria’s eye.
She could see his need for help and sent the vines to him. They formed a safe netting into which he reluctantly released his offspring. As Ria’s warm energy mingled with the plants, she asked the vines to take and protect the young until she called for them. The greenery disappeared up into the canopy.
The munk dropped beside his mate again, kissing her once on the head and closing her eyes before he stood and turned away.
Ria lost him as he plunged into the crowd. The other packs
’ guards had arrived now and they soon had the fringe members surrounded.