Sunlight filtered through the trees

Disclaimer: You know the drill, none of this is mine, it belongs to its original owner. Now that that is done with, on with the story!

Sovereign Warrior

Chapter 1

The forest floor spread out cool and shady, spots of sunlight dappled the loam where they'd managed to dance down through the leafy canopy. The scent of wildflowers seemed to spice the air just right. The forest seemed only to stop when the soil stretched out to border a polished lake. Adjacent that the earth ended in an abrupt but fairly gentle drop-ff, where a brier-choked valley extended away to the edge of the world. It was on that small stretch of beach that a lone figure stood.

Cye tossed another stone across the still lake that stretched out before him 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. It skipped five times before finally slipping beneath the waters calm surface, the water rippled slightly as it struggled to regain its smooth glass-like skin.

Something had been bothering him for some time now, and he had yet to figure out what it was. He had come out here to think it through and to take a small break. Being very careful to keep his usual cheery disposition lately had become surprisingly difficult. But, above all, he didn't want to make his friends worry about him. He knew it sounded silly but this was how he felt. The strange feeling had turned to something more menacing now, like he had felt while battling the Dynasty. Maybe I should get back to the mansion, he thought, just in case.

He bent down and picked up one last stone, it was so peaceful here, and flung it across the water, waiting for the familiar 'skit' sound it made. But it never came. He picked up his head and listened carefully. The breeze was no longer rustling the leaves, and in the silence not a chirp or an insects buzz could be heard. He couldn't even hear his own breathing.

Cye shook his head, trying to think, and slowly began to notice something else. It was happening so gradually that he had to stare hard before he was sure.

Everything green, the wild grass, the leaves overhead, the buds and sprouts and every berry, all were changing color, were fading to a dull, overcast gray. Cye watched the color seep from the sky and turn a sickly white. He stood still, watching in wonderment, at the gray silence, waiting for it to pass.

Instead of turning back to green, as he stared the forest around him slowly turned a thick, dark red, a tide the color of blood washing over the ground and dripping off the leaves of the trees.

Cye wanted to run but a sound stopped him in his tracks, it was the first he had heard in minutes. Was this nightmare over? But the sound seemed odd, a low rumbling getting louder every second until he recognized it. It wasn't a rumbling, but a deep and angry growling, and it was getting closer.

Breath quick and shallow, fear an acid taste on his tongue, all thought of running vanished. He stood frozen, his whole body trembling, there was nothing left but this vast, red, world.

It wanted him to turn around. How he knew this, he didn't know of care. But the thing behind him demanded it, and before he could stop himself, he inched around, raised his head and looked back along the edge of the bluff. . . .

And there it was.

A blinding yellow-orange blaze that moved like an onrushing forest fire. Mind spinning, he heard the growl deepen, and the flames flowed into the figure of a huge cat, towering over him, its tail lashing at the bloody undergrowth and its eyes searing down into his soul and burrowing to the very core of his being as if to decide whether he was worth the trouble or not.

The fire of those eyes swept over him, and with a roar like thunder the thing sprang. Ebony claws flashing from a paw bigger than his head and slapped him aside with a force that knocked the wind out of him, sent him tumbling and gasping, and pitched him over the edge on the bluff down into the brambles, thorns snagging and tearing his clothes, till he hit the ground under the bushes with a splintering crash.

The sudden, sharp snap of a twig shocked him to awareness, the afterglow of fire and claws and terrible burning eyes flashing before him every time he blinked. He was lying on his back, and when he moved to drag himself into a sitting position, the pain that raced through his body due to the gashes he received made him grit his teeth. He forced several shaky breaths, then raised his head and traced the path of his descent back up the slope through the litter of broken branches to the top of the incline.

He could here birds singing in the trees, the leaves green and rustling in the morning breeze once more. The sky shone blue and the air again sweet with pine scent. Most importantly, though, the horrible cat thing was gone.

Cye wanted to go home, but fear kept him crouched under the brambles. That thing could be hiding somewhere, waiting for him. It could even be waiting back home, waiting because it knew he would want to return, and it would tear him to tiny shreds, but he had to go.

* * * * *

Mia Kogi stood watching out the window at the four boys playing soccer for a moment before returning to the desk to finish her work on the computer. She took another sip of the tea Cye had made her before leaving earlier that morning. He had been acting awfully strange lately, and there was something about him that she just couldn't put her finger on. He was hiding some thing that was for sure.

The dull thump of a soccer ball hitting the wall outside her office jerked her rudely back to reality. The ball fell back to earth and had barely a moment before Sage came by and started to kick it up field. When he met with no resistance, he glanced over his shoulder to see what was going on. He found Ryo, Kento, and Rowen grouped around a pale and scared looking Cye. Ryo quickly ran to the house to get Mia.

Mia, at the moment, had been calmly typing at her computer when Ryo suddenly burst through the door.

"Mia!" He gasped, out of breath. "It's Cye!"

Cye was finding it extremely hard to keep even on his hands and knees, his consciousness kept threatening to slip away at any moment, and he was using the last of his strength to keep it with him. He could feel a warm wetness across his side, and with it a sharpening pain. His heart was pounding in his ears. Faintly he could hear his friends moving about him and trying to help him up and into the house. Mia's worried voice was the last he heard before darkness overcame his senses.

* * * * *